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First drive: R-rating for Hyundai’s refreshed Santa Fe

R-rated: Hyundai's new Santa Fe diesel engine delivers best-in-class fuel economy and almost unbeatable performance.

Cracking new R engine heads Hyundai's simpler, sexier, all-diesel Santa Fe range

29 Oct 2009

HYUNDAI’S mid-size family SUV will go all-diesel from December, when the facelifted Santa Fe becomes available exclusively with seven seats and a cracking new, even more economical ‘R’ series engine.

Again available in three equipment grades and two transmissions – but no petrol engines, at least initially - the upgraded all-wheel drive crossover wagon will be priced from $37,990 for the SLX R-2.2 manual ($39,990 for the automatic).

That is $2000 less than sister company Kia’s new seven-seat Sorento AWD SUV, which debuted Hyundai-Kia’s cracking new R engine in Australia last week. It costs $39,990 for the AWD manual and $41,990 for the AWD auto.

As the headline act of the 2010 Santa Fe range, the new piezo electric injector-equipped 2.2-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder produces the same 145kW of power at 3800rpm and 436Nm of torque at 1800rpm (421Nm for the manual) in both vehicles.

Mated to six-speed manual and automatic transmissions in both models (the latter an all-new design developed in-house by Hyundai), both new SUVs also offer the same class-leading combined fuel consumption of 6.7 litres of diesel per 100km (7.5L/100km auto).

While the Sorento’s R engine replaces its five-seat/full-chassis forebear’s 2.5-litre diesel engine, the Sante Fe’s third-generation common-rail R-2.2 oil-burner is 27 per cent more powerful than the 114kW/343Nm 2.2-litre diesel it replaces, as well as seven per cent more fuel-efficient. Correspondingly, CO2 emissions fall to 176 grams per kilometre (manual) and 197g/km (auto).

While the up-specced Santa Fe doesn’t quite match the performance outputs of the Mitsubishi Pajero’s 3.2-litre turbo-diesel (147kW/441Nm), it is both more efficient (Pajero: 8.8L/100km auto) and affordable the Pajero opens with the $49,230 3.2 GL.

The improved Santa Fe offers more efficiency and performance than all other mainstream mid-size diesel SUVs, however, and should still be a match for the 2.7-litre V6 diesel that from 2011 will power the only Australian-built SUV, the Ford Territory, which is priced from $39,490 (RWD) and $44,490 (AWD). The Territory’s current 4.0-litre straight petrol six returns between 11.6 and 12.5L/100km.

Hyundai’s R-engined Santa Fe shames the 127kW/410Nm 3.0-litre diesel (9.3L/100km auto) that powers Toyota’s segment-leading Prado, which opens the range at $48,600.

Toyota’s popular Kluger crossover makes do with a 201kW/336Nm 3.5-litre petrol V6 mated to a five-speed automatic (11.0L/100km), priced at $41,490 in front-drive guise and $45,990 as an AWD.

In the absence of another entry-level five-seat 2.7-litre petrol V6 variant (previously $33,990) or the return of the mid-range 3.3-litre petrol V6 version, which disappeared when Hyundai revised its medium SUV range only 12 months ago, the Santa Fe starting price increases by $4000.

For now, Hyundai has no answer for another new Korean medium SUV to be released in December, Holden’s front-wheel drive 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol-engined Captiva five-seater.

The Captiva is currently available with a 110kW/320Nm 2.0-litre diesel that returns 8.6L/100km as a 2WD (from $35,490) and 8.7L/100km as an AWD ($39,490), but at $27,990 manual ($30,990 for the AWD auto), the four-cylinder version will undercut every mainstream Japanese medium and compact SUV on the market - as well as Hyundai’s own AWD Tucson 2.7 auto ($31,490).

Nor does the MY2010 Santa Fe match the Sorento’s $36,490 starting price in front-drive/2.4-litre petrol-engine guise.

1 center imageBut although diesel accounts for 85 per cent of Santa Fe sales, it’s understood Hyundai could soon add to the range an AWD-equipped entry-level version powered by the same 128kW direct-injection 2.4-litre petrol as seen in the new Sorento, mated to both six-speed manual and automatic transmissions, in both five and seven-seat formats.

GoAuto has learned a front-drive/auto-only version is also a possibility, powered by a 204kW 3.5-litre petrol ‘Lambda’ V6 (as a belated replacement for the previously discontinued 3.3 V6), and with the option of seven seats and side/curtain airbags, which are standard across the MY2010 range.

As it stands, however, at less than $38,000 for the new combination of a manual diesel with seven seats, the base 2010 SLX costs just $1000 more than the SX CRDi five-seater it replaces ($36,990), while the sub-$40,000 SLX diesel auto is actually $2000 cheaper than its direct predecessor – the SLX CRDi auto, which was $41,990.

The mid-range Santa Fe ‘Elite’ costs $43,990 ($3000 less than before), while the new top-shelf ‘Highlander’ model, which is also an auto-only affair and wears a nameplate used by Toyota’s top-selling Kluger in other countries, costs $1500 more than the previous Elite flagship at $48,490.

Standard across the range include seven seats, twin front/front-side/curtain airbags, stability/traction control, active front head restraints, rear parking sensors, cruise control, power windows and (heated) mirrors, iPod and USB connectivity, steering wheel audio controls, rear map lamps, rear spoiler, 17-inch alloy wheels and front foglights.

To this, the mid-range Elite grade adds an air-conditioned centre coolbox, ‘conversation’ mirror, automatic headlights, a power driver’s seat, roof rails, third-row heating/cooling, keyless entry/starting, leather-clad steering wheel and gearshifter, dual-zone automatic climate-control, chromed door-handles and a ‘supervision’ instrument cluster.

The flagship Highlander model features exclusive equipment like a rear parking camera, black leather-faced seats, a powered front passenger seat, six-CD in-dash stacker, rain-sensing wipers, an electrochromatic interior mirror, power-folding mirrors, ‘Sante Fe’-badged stainless steel door scuffs, an electric glass sunroof and 18-inch alloy wheels.

Sharp diesel performance, economy and pricing aside, the first major mechanical change since the current Santa Fe went on sale in Australia in May 2006 (six months later for the diesel) also brings safety, styling and dynamic improvements.

The Santa Fe’s hydraulic-powered steering rack is now quicker, featuring three turns lock-to-lock (down from 3.25), while suspension spring, damping and anti-roll bar rates were tuned specifically for Australian conditions for the first time, following a similar process to the new i30.

For 2010, the Santa Fe now comes with an improved five-star crash safety rating from ANCAP, members of which travelled to South Korea last week to validate the safety credentials of the upgraded model, which now also features electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and rollover sensors that trigger the side and curtain airbags and front seatbelt pretensioners.

Differentiated primarily by a new ‘flying chrome wing’ grille (to replace the previous two-slat matt-black grille) as seen on the i30 small-car, the MY2010 Santa Fe also comes with new headlights, tail-lights and foglights, plus fresh front and rear bumpers and new alloy wheel designs.

Different side sill mouldings, exhaust outlets and roof rails complete the exterior revisions, while inside there are carbon/graphite and aluminium-style highlights.

Metallic/mica paint is a $375 option, while Santa Fe accessories continue to include a roof-mounted Playstation/Nintendo-compatible DVD/CD/MP3 entertainment system, Bluetooth mobile phone kit, front parking sensors and roof racks.

The Santa Fe has a maximum unbraked/braked towing capacity of 750kg/2000kg and all models come with a full-size alloy spare wheel. The manual range-opener now also gains a gearshift indictor, while all models continue with an on-demand AWD system with 50/50 locking function.

Sales of the outgoing Santa Fe are up by 2.9 per cent in a depressed segment. Hyundai’s medium SUV entrant ranks eighth with a 3.6 per cent share, behind the harder-core Prado and direct rivals like the Kluger, Captiva, Ford’s Territory, Pajero, Mazda CX-9 and Nissan Murano.

Hyundai says its new 16-valve DOHC R-2.2 engine is claimed to be the smallest, lightest and most powerful diesel engine in its class.

Developed over four years at a cost of $227 million, it features third-generation Bosch (CRDi) common-rail direct fuel-injection with 1800-bar of fuel pressure, a polymer intake manifold, an electronically-controlled variable-geometry turbocharger, drive-by-wire throttle and an intercooler relocated to the lower front of the engine.

Similarly, Hyundai’s new six-speed automatic is both 40mm shorter and 12kg lighter than the five-speed it replaces. Featuring 62 fewer internal components than before, it and the R-2.2 (a 2.0-litre version of which will power next year’s new ix35 compact SUV) are products of Hyundai’s powertrain division, which houses 275 dynos running non-stop.

2010 Hyundai Santa Fe pricing:
SLX R-2.2 seven-seat $37,990
SLX R-2.2 seven-seat (a) $39,990
Elite R-2.2 seven-seat (a) $43,990
Highlander R-2.2 seven-seat (a) $48,490

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