Hyundai Santa Fe first drive: the shock of the new
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Hyundai Santa Fe Limited 2.2D
- That's a big, bold grille
- Sophisticated 2.2D powertrain
- Plenty of high-tech
- That's a big, bold grille
- Heavy, takes a while to pick up speed
- High cost of flagship Limited model
“New” is an overused word in the motor industry. But very, very occasionally, it’s not used enough.
Ostensibly the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe is a facelift. According to the maker’s model codes it still belongs to the TM-generation launched in 2018 and it certainly looks the same; there’s a gleaming new dentist-dream grille at the front and other detail changes, but most of the body panels are carried over.
However, this is really a new car. The platform has changed, the powertrains are seriously upgraded and there’s a whole lot of new tech. Most of the range has also muscled up to reach a tow rating of 2500kg. So you might not need that double-cab ute to tow the boat after all.
This Hyundai certainly has heritage in NZ. Santa Fe celebrates its 20th year on sale in 2020 (precisely 21,668 new ones sold to Kiwis at last count) and it’s a consistent top seller. If you take rentals out of the equation (“rentals” is basically a euphemism for the Toyota Highlander, by the way) it’s been the number one large SUV for a long time. In the Covid-19 world of 2020, it’s number one no matter which way you look at it.
As always, the diesel is the core model. The new one has a heavily revised 148kW/440Nm 2.2-litre mill and brand-new wet dual-clutch automated 8-speed transmission – yes, the same powertrain we recently tested in the Kia Sorento (the two also share a platform and lots of tech).
Diesel accounts for 85 per cent of Santa Fe sales, but petrol has still grown from just five per cent of the mix when TM was launched, to more like 15 per cent.
There are now two petrol Santa Fe powertrains on offer: the 132kW/232Nm 2.5-litre with 6-speed automatic and the return of a V6, the 200kW/331Nm 3.5-litre with 8-speed automatic (but not the new dual-clutch unit from the diesel).
So yes, that’s three different transmissions for the three different engines. All 2.5 and 2.2D models are AWD, but the V6 petrol is FWD only.
You can have the entry, Elite and Limited specifications with either 2.5 or 2.2D powertrains, but the V6 is Limited-only. You can wind your way up from $62,990 for the 2.5 entry to the fully loaded Limited cluster: $82,990 for the 2.5/V6 or a heady $89,990 for the 2.2D.
That’s expensive for a mainstream four-cylinder SUV, but high prices have never put contemporary Santa Fe buyers off. The Limited has traditionally been the most popular model in the range (40-plus per cent of volume). The Sante Fe Limited is technically the number one large SUV model in NZ.
The Limited boasts a whole lot of high-tech, as it should: a 12.3in customisable digital instrument cluster (to match the 10.25in infotainment screen), huge 8.25in head-up display, the Blind-spot View Monitor (BVM) that projects a high-res video feed of the rear of car in the main instrument panel when you indicate, and for the 2.2R and V6: Reversing Collision Avoidance (RCA) and Remote Smart Park Assist (RSPA), which allows you to move the Santa Fe in and out of a parking space from outside the vehicle.
We drove the 2.2D in Elite and Limited forms through the central North Island to Poronui Lodge (near Taupo) on a couple of days where the weather was especially wet and wild, so we hope you'll excuse the filthy cars in the photographs. But it kind of works for a big SUV, right?
The Santa Fe diesel powertrain is the same one we've just tested in the Kia Sorento. It's just as impressive in the Hyundai, delivering a wave of torque via a high-tech dual-clutch transmission that combines the smooth takeoff and shifting of a conventional automatic (which it's not) with the responsiveness and economy of an automated manual (which it is). Six litres per 100km for our first 200km stint is pretty impressive for a 2.5-tonne SUV.
Although being 2.5 tonnes also means it takes a while to gather up its skirts and run. You have to plan overtaking manoeuvres if you're stuck behind a truck at 70km/h, but add another 20km/h and the whole thing really starts to sing.
It's outstandingly refined for a diesel, too - even more so than the already impressive Sorento.
The cabin has has had a major overhaul. While the wheelbase hasn't changed, there's an extra 34mm legroom in the rear; it's a truly spacious second row.
Up front, the new "floating" centre console is said to be inspired by the Nexo hydrogen car (which we've just tested on NZ roads). The quality is outstanding, but there are also a lot of buttons, which may not seem very 2021 to some people.
There's no conventional gear selector, just a cluster of chunky buttons for Drive, Neutral, Reverse and Park. There's a new rotary drive-mode controller which can be twisted to change settings, but also pushed to change between road and off-tarmac "Terrain" configurations.
It is a beautiful cabin though, with luxury-car finish and Jaguar-like "hoops" creating separate driver and front-passenger areas.
The Limited goes completely virtual in its instrumentation, with a panel that can be set to three traditional layouts with faux-dials or one very sci-fi one called "Cube" that presents speed in a square graphic that spins every time you gain another 10km/h. Compelling.
The Limited also gets a massive head-up display, with a variety of information presented in a tight and colourful cluster.
It's an undeniably impressive package of technology and practicality.
But the elephant in in the room is the Kia Sorento Premium, which has a similar suite of high technology to the Santa Fe Limited. It costs just $76,990 - $13k less than the Hyundai.
Hyundai NZ is okay with that. General manager Andy Sinclair points out that the gap is smaller than it used to be ($20k in the previous models) and the Santa Fe is the top seller in the segment - with the Limited being the most popular variant.
"If people buy cheaper cars, they’re still cheaper cars - maybe much cheaper cars - when they go to trade them in," says Sinclair. "What we’ve proven with our brand is that when people buy [Hyundai], they get strong residual value.
"There's a big difference in NVH [between Santa Fe and Sorento], there’s certainly a difference in the materials used, but the biggest difference is brand. People trust our brand."
HYUNDAI SANTA FE
ENGINES: 2.2l turbo diesel, 2.5l and 3.5l V6 petrols
POWER: 148kW/440Nm (2.2), 132kW/232Nm (2.5), 200kW/331Nm (3.5 V6)
GEARBOXES: 8-speed automated dual-clutch (2.2l), 6-speed automatic (2.5l), 8-speed automatic (3.5l V6)
ECONOMY: 6.1l/100km (2.2), 8.7l/100km (2.5l), 10.5l/100km (3.5 V6)