Hyundai: Santa is coming to town
Hyundai's doing well globally and locally, with sales up in a market that's been bad news for most competitors. Dealing in won, not yen, has helped it consolidate its growing rep for well-thought-out, nicely built cars. Think of Hyundai as a slightly more affordable Toyota and you've got it pinned.
This 145kW/436Nm 2.2-litre R-series diesel engine is new to Hyundai - if not to New Zealand, for it arrived here in Kia's latest Sorento in October.
A 128kW/226Nm 2.4-litre petrol replaces the less powerful 2.7, and there's a 206kW/335Nm 3.5-litre V6.
All are more frugal than their predecessors, with the range-topping 2.2 claiming a 7.5l/100km thirst. No doubt the six-speed auto in place of four-speeds can claim some credit.
Also new is keyless entry and start, a rollover sensor connected to the airbag ECU and a five-star crash test rating.
The Elite spec gets some extras, like the reversing camera and leather seats.
Santa Fe's body remains the same, albeit embellished with redesigned bumpers, tail lights, grille and wheels plus some minor differences to stuff like steering-wheel controls.
The company line
Hyundai plans to be number one in the passenger market, ahead of Toyota, by 2013. And number two overall; "we'll never be number one without a ute" says ambitious national sales manager Tom Ruddenklau. Increasing share from 7 per cent to overhaul Toyota's 21.4 per cent "is a big goal," he agrees, "but we've got to have big goals."
As for Santa Fe, Hyundai spent $227 million to develop the car.
Hang on - didn't Kia spend much the same? No, it's not a $454 million vehicle - the two cars are close to identical under the skin.
What we say
Not for nothing does Santa Fe lead sales of medium SUVs. It's smart, nicely built, well-thought-out and makes a good wagon for active families.
Those families will appreciate the cabin's plentiful practical touches - such as the "conversation mirror" for seven-seat models that lets parents eyeball the kids without turning their head.
On the road
Hyundai calls this a family wagon - the purpose for which most people buy it - however, it does have four-wheel drive and we did go off-road in it, tackling damp grassy lumps, bumps and slopes that reminded me yet again just how far a soft-focus SUV on road tyres can go.
On seal, Santa Fe's car-like handling feels assured and more refined than its Kia cousin.
Basic suspension architecture is the same, but it's likely spring rates, damper curves and anti roll-bar stiffness get different tuning, and alternative tyres may play a part.
Our drive suggests the diesel's the pick of the bunch. It's sufficiently smooth and quiet under way to scotch all those outdated oil-burner preconceptions - and grunty enough to please.
Why you'll buy one
You want a practical family wagon with a grunty-yet-frugal engine and a five-star crash test rating from a go-getting company.
Why you won't
You can get the same 2.2-litre diesel from the cheaper Kia. And you're not persuaded Hyundai's the next Toyota.