Hyundai Santa Fe road test: Ho, ho, ho, here comes Santa (Fe)
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The Hyundai Santa Fe can carry seven occupants, apply its modern diesel muscle to towing two tonnes, tackle some moderately rough terrain and provide efficient family motoring with achievable fuel consumption better than 8 litres per 100km.
And the third-generation Santa Fe launched in 2012 was also a vehicle that proved a mainstream brand can successfully move upmarket to luxury status and premium price points. The themes are repeated with the TM-designated fourth-generation Sante Fe which recently went on sale in New Zealand.
While there’s a $59,990 entry point for the base model 2.4-litre petrol, the top-end R-Series diesel-powered models are priced at $75,490 and $82,990 in Elite and Limited grades. And it’s with diesel and the higher grades of specification that Hyundai has found the greatest success with the Santa Fe being a top-seller in the large SUV category and the clear favourite diesel SUV with Kiwi customers.
The fourth-generation Santa Fe’s arrival is one of several big new product moves by the Korean brand in 2018 alongside its electric push with the Kona EV and performance car debut with the i30 N hot-hatch.
The new Santa Fe has grown a little in dimensions, updated its robust styling appeal and modern cabin quality and has gained performance and refinement benefits from a new eight-speed automatic transmission for the diesel models. And, at the premium end of the range, Hyundai has packed the Santa Fe Elite and Limited with a comprehensive roster of new safety and driver assist technologies.
I sampled the flagship Limited model but I always have to double-check Hyundai grade status because it seems most natural to me to call the flagship model Elite. Hyundai takes the opposing view and applies that badging on the mid-grade model.
The 2.2-litre version of the R Series diesel engine is largely carried over from the previous DM generation with a few detail refinement upgrades. It develops 147kW at 3800rpm and has 440Nm of torque available from 1750-2750rpm. The new eight-speed auto provides closer ratio gaps across a broader overall spread of gearing and works with the easily accessible torque of the diesel to deliver smooth acceleration.
The diesel is now little more than ticking over at 100km/h on the highway using only 1500rpm in top gear. Paddle shifters or some throttle pedal pressure will prompt kickdown to 1900rpm in seventh gear, 2300rpm in sixth and 2900rpm in fifth. The big wagon builds pace nicely on its part-throttle flexibility and provides good overtaking response.
Hyundai claims combined cycle fuel consumption of 7.5 litres per 100km. On a Tauranga-Taupo return run the Santa Fe Limited averaged 7.3L/100km and my overall road test figure was 8.3L/100km.
The driving experience can be adjusted via Normal, Sport and Eco driving modes. The throttle response is rather too sedate in Eco mode for my liking but Normal works well in most situations.
Hyundai’s new H-TRAC all-wheel-drive system is also integrated with the drive modes, sending progressively greater torque to the rear as you select the Eco, Comfort and Sport modes. It’s also a quiet diesel and the cabin is well insulated from road noise. The ride quality has a settled stance with the suspension coping well across uneven surfaces.
The choice of Continental ContiSportContact5 tyres in a generous 235/55 R19 size puts plenty of rubber on the road with the Santa Fe carrying itself through sweeping corners with plenty of grip and only really reveals its weight when hurried through the tight and twisty stuff.
Accompanying the family-size wagon layout with three rows of seating and muscled-up diesel performance, the other primary appeal of the Santa Fe Limited is the scope of the standard equipment that is on offer.
It’s not a vehicle that requires a deep — and costly — dive into an optional equipment roster and the value of what has been included as provided as standard equipment is the best way to work through the value equation of an $80K-plus vehicle.
It starts on the outside with 19-in hyper-finish five-spoke alloy wheels while the new body design has more defined feature lines and a distinctive new grille and dark silver roof rails. The Limited cabin boasts black leather seat trim with silver stitching, panoramic sunroof and a 14-way power adjustable driver’s seat.
I found the seat position and driving visibility excellent on a two-hour trip. The driver’s seat has good lower back support with power cushion height/tilt, slide/recline, cushion extension and four-way lumbar adjustment. The increased dimensions largely benefit the second row occupants while a larger rear glasshouse brings significantly improved visibility from the third row, which is a reasonably tight fit and better suited to children.
Other features at the top end of the Santa Fe range are a Surround View parking monitor, Head-Up display, LED interior lighting, smart parallel and perpendicular park assist, ventilated front seats, a 7in TFT information display, powered tailgate and a laminated acoustic windscreen. It’s also in the Limited model where Hyundai’s new Auto Link Premium Connected Car Service is introduced as standard.
Other key features shared with the mid-grade Elite include satellite navigation, rain sensor wipers, heated front and rear seats, paddle shift, a 10-speaker Infinity audio system and Qi wireless charger.
The safety content — grouped under Hyundai’s SmartSense branding — includes the usual Lane Departure, Smart Cruise Control, Forward Collision Avoidance and Driver Attention warnings and introduces new elements including an avoidance assist function to the Blind Spot and Rear Cross Traffic monitoring. There’s also a new Safe Exit Assist. The Santa Fe is a leader in lifestyle versatility and comprehensive equipment content. It might be $82,990 in its most lavish guise but that’s the price of significantly smaller
SUVs from Euro brands without the seven-seat accommodation, family wagon cargo capacity, tow rating or capability in rough road conditions.
And many of the Santa Fe Limited standard equipment features will be found on the option lists of Euro brands.
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