First drive: a touch of class with the Hyundai Santa Fe
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Mechanically, there is nothing new about Hyundai’s new fourth-generation Santa Fe. The stronger new platform that underpins it, the smoother eight-speed automatic gearbox that enlivens it, and the new steering system that so emphatically directs it were all debuted in this market by the new-gen Kia Sorento earlier this year.
The difference is that the latest Santa Fe comes with an extra layer of electronic features, including a Wi-Fi-independent app that’ll allow you to monitor it by remote control from your phone. Add that to other new tricks like rear-seat occupant alert (prevents you leaving a pet or a child in the locked car to cook), safe exit assist, front and rear collision avoidance assist, blind-spot avoidance assist, and a host of others that comprise a package Hyundai calls Smartsense, and there’s little doubt that this is a highly artificially-intelligent new SUV.
The chief geek at Hyundai Automotive New Zealand, Gavin Young, is probably being only a little generous with the truth when he hails it as “the most technologically advanced SUV on the market right now.”
Ditto, when HANZ general manager Andy Sinclair points to the beautifully designed and more spacious cabin as I drive him northwards in the Santa Fe, he can ask, with some confidence and a cheeky grin, the rhetorical question: “wouldn’t a premium badge sit comfortably on this?”
I have to affirm that it would, simply because it is such a convincing effort. To me, the cabin is a bigger reason than the extra electronic sophistication to buy the Santa Fe over the Sorento. It gives a better sense of occasion along with textures and visual cues that look and feel natural. Plenty of the lessons learned by Hyundai when it created the Genesis luxury saloon have obviously been carried over.
Although not nearly as calming as the mid-drive visit to the great kauri god-tree, Tane Mahuta, the cabin design attempts to place its human cargo in a natural context.
For example, the light/shadow play of the rippled speaker covers for the 10-speaker, dual-amp, subwoofer-equipped Infinity audio system (Elite and Limited models) can be reimagined as the surface of a river sparkling in bright sunlight at first glance. The dashboard appears to crest like an approaching wave when sitting in the front seats of the Santa Fe. The roof liner is made of a material that looks like felted houndstooth.
It all combines to make a drive through heavy traffic feel more like a day at the beach, or walking the Heaphy Track, and that’s before ordering the no-cost beige synthetic leather seat covers and door cards that would complete the nature-inspired design theme (be prepared to experience a longer delivery time if you do).
Turning from the poetic to the practical, this cabin will be more things to more people. Things like more roomy, more comfortable, and more easy to tailor to the load of the day. It’s easier to access and exit all seven seats of the Santa Fe through a wealth of levers and buttons that can reconfigure the seating arrangements in seconds. If the calming effects of the cabin design begin to really take effect, a bed-like flat floor can be created by folding down the second- and third-row seats with the push of a couple of buttons.
Most of the 70mm stretch in the overall length of the Santa Fe pulled the front and rear wheels 65mm further apart, leaving a further 5mm to be added to the rear overhang in the interests of increasing third-row legroom. The more upright C-pillar of the new body also adds an extra 42mm of third-row headroom. As a result, the third-row seats are more accommodating and so the Santa Fe can cart seven humans rather than five plus a pair of hobbits.
As is usual with Hyundai Motor Company structural upgrades, more higher tensile steel is used to increase body rigidity without adding mass, and torsional stiffness rises another 15 per cent. Also consistent with the usual HMC method is the consuming of any weight-saving that results by adding extra sound-proofing, leaving more aerodynamic exterior design to add any fuel efficiency gain.
With a drag co-efficient of 0.34, the new TM-generation body cuts through the air pretty cleanly for a large, high-riding SUV. However, it’s the significantly hushed noise levels during highway driving that buyers will fully appreciate.
There are two adaptive 4wd power-trains: a 138kW/241Nm 2.4 litre direct-injection four-cylinder petrol driving a six-speed automatic, and a 147kW/440Nm 2.2 litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel driving the new eight-speed automatic motivate the new Santa Fe models. Expect the latter to command a $7000 premium in the entry specification and $6000 in the Elite and Limited model tiers.
All launch driving impressions were gleaned from the wheel of the Elite and Limited diesel models ($75,490 and $82,990 respectively), and although the 2.2 made its debut in the previous DM-generation Santa Fe, it shows its age only via its Euro 5 emission classification, and has now found a perfect mate in the responsive new eight-speed. The result is a highly-drivable, size-L diesel SUV capable of producing refined and safe overtaking performance while achieving 7.5 litres/100km fuel use figures. Towing capacity remains at 2000kg (braked).
A new power-train innovation is the HTRAC system, which adjusts front-to-rear torque distribution according whichever of the four driving modes is selected. In “Eco”, the engine sends the majority of driving force to the front wheels, with only minor allocations sent rearwards when required. “Comfort” increases the front/rear torque split to a maximum of 70/30 at, and “Sport” can divvy up the engine output to 60/40.
An encounter with one of Northland’s winding gravel roads revealed the Santa Fe to be an involving and stable drive in the sportiest configuration. Traction control was also held more in reserve, a vast improvement on the more trigger-happy TC system fitted to DM Santa Fe models. Topping these three driving modes is a fourth selection called “Smart” mode, which monitors the driver’s use of the vehicle and automatically adjusts the Hyundai to whatever in driving scenario is being encountered.
The new Santa Fe benefits from a suspension tune tailored specifically to the road conditions experienced in Australasian markets. It therefore rides our heavy-vehicle ravaged state highways if it was born for them, soaking up everything in its stride.
The entry point to the TM-generation range is $1000 lower than pre-runout DM models at $59,990, and entry-grade equipment includes 18-inch alloy wheels, rear view camera, front and rear parking assist, HTRAC, cloth upholstery, daytime running lights, 7-inch touch screen, tyre pressure monitoring, and a Smartsense package that includes blind-spot monitoring, front and rear collision avoidance assist, lane keeping assist, and radar-guided cruise control.
Elite models start at $69,490, and feature 19-inch alloys, leatherette trim, the Infinity audio system, sat-nav, LEDs, and power front seat adjustment. The two power-train-defined Limited models ($76,990 and $82,990) up the ante with the auto-link remote phone control, a TFT touchscreen, surround-view parking vision, auto-park, panoramic sunroof, and heads-up display.
There’s plenty to attract buyers to the new Santa Fe models. Given the similar price positions to the cars they replace in the HANZ line-up while offering substantial lifts in equipment, safety, refinement, design and comfort, few would bet against this new TM-generation regaining the place once held by the outgoing DM range as New Zealand’s most popular large SUV.