Hyundai’s waved the makeover wand over its longest serving SUV nameplate and it’s a mix of quiet revolution. There’s been a nose job and a refresh of the interior, bringing the Santa Fe up fair and square into the gunsights of its sibling, the Sorento, and into a sharper focus against competition from Japan and Germany. There are four models; Santa Fe, Active, Elite, and Highlander.Pricing starts from $48,933 for the entry level petrol version, $52,134 for the same and with a diesel. The Elite starts from $59,000 and moves to $62,214 with white paint. Metallics, such as the Magnetic Force on our review vehicle, bump the diesel to $62,944. These are driveaway prices for our location. The top of the range Highlander is $66,783 and $69,984 in white.
Slightly changed are the engine and transmission. It’s the “familiar” 2.2L (whereas it’s slightly smaller than before at 2,151cc) capacity diesel, with oodles of torques, all 440 of them from 1,750 to 2,750rpm and 148 kW (up one kW) with a weight reduction of 19kg thanks to the use of alloys. It drives the four corners via a torque-split all wheel drive system. Connecting the two is a slick eight speed “wet” (thanks to oil-submerged clutch packs) dual-clutch auto.
Except, in this case, our Elite spec had an urge to creep forward at a stop sign or red lights, with a surge and back off, a surge and then back off. It’s not a phenomenon we’ve experienced in either of the Korean brand’s SUVs however this is not the normal torque-converter auto, of course. What we did see was 5.4L/100km on the freeway with a final overall average of 7.4L/100km.Changed though is the front and noticeably. It’s a change that brings it closer to the recent addition to the Hyundai stable, Palisade, and strengthens the imaging with coming models, we suspect. Hyundai are using LED technology to define a look, and in the Santa Fe there is a line that runs vertically in a T shape from the eyebrow driving lights down into the restyled and slightly repositioned headlights. The grille is a mix of bigger plates laid horizontally and meshed in a hexagonal pattern. The upper sections loses the dressing the previous model has and the whole design sees the grille compressed vertically to join the new headlights. Underneath there is a redesigned intake and alloy-look strip that runs into a fairing which funnels air into the leading edge of the front wheel-well. This varies in colour depending on trim level.Hyundai have minimised the body cladding around the wheelarches for a cleaner look. The wheels themselves are a funk black and alloy design at 20 inches of diameter, with 255/45 Continental Premium Contact 6 rubber. The rear has a powered tailgate which opens to the familiar pull-strap third row seats and capacious cargo section, complete with rear section aircon controls, USB and 12V. The rear lights have the same external design and appear to have been only lightly restyled inside. One dimension has changed slightly too, and this is because the Santa Fe rides on a newer platform, one shared with the new Carnival. Width is up by 10mm to 1,900mm, length and height stay the same.
Inside there is the floating centre console with a USB and 12V socket in the nook, push button Drive/Neutral/Reverse/Park selectors (seen in Active, one level blow, and rotary/push dial for tarmac and off-road modes. The lower section has two cup holders, a USB port, and an interesting twist on the wireless charge pad. Initially, after noting the Qi sign indicating such, a phone was placed vertically. Yes, vertically, into the marked space. It wasn’t until a slight push had a flap underneath open that the phone could be pushed down to sit safely and engage the wireless charging. Cool, space-saving, effective. There are a pair of USBs for the second row seats.For the driver, the Elite stays with a separate binnacle and 10.25 inch touchscreen in a double arch upper dash design. The binnacle has the two analogue dials still and the font is of a different, almost Star Trek, style. The touchscreen is a widescreen style and houses plenty of sub-menus including the lifestyle sounds such as walking on snow or a fireplace crackling. OK then…Sounds came from a Harman Kardon system with very good depth clarity all round.
Passengers sit in leather clad seats however the Elite dips out on heating and venting for the front. The centre row are manually flipped and when they do they go flat to provide a surface from the tailgate through to the front seats. Close to 1,650L is the total capacity when in this configuration. The centre row passengers also have window shades for extra comfort that slide up from their own nook. And, thankfully for some, the spare is a full-sizer, just in case the 176mm of ground clearance when soft-roading sees something untoward happen to one of the big Continentals.Elite doesn’t want for safety either, missing out on a very short list of items seen only in Highlander. It misses out on the Blind Spot View Monitor in a digital dash display plus the Surround View Monitor, Parking Collision Avoidance Assist-Rear, Remote Smart Park Assist, and has a four sensor, not six, Park Distance Warning system. There’s airbags everywhere except in the centre console and a driver’s kneebag.On-road performance is “typical Hyundai diesel”. In layman’s terms that means the torque makes it very drivable, the suspension makes it fun and comfortable to be in, the grip is solid and tenacious, and rolling acceleration makes it safer on the highways. Insulation levels and a refined engine just work so well in keeping noise levels down, the steering is beautifully weighted and calibrated with 2.53 turns lock to lock, meaning quick response when required in turning and changing lanes.
The final drive ratio has the engine turning over, at freeway speeds, just below 1,750rpm, allowing a cog or two to change the revs up into that band where maximum torque is on tap. When dropping into Sport mode, selected via the dial, the electronics hold those gears longer and transfer more control over the engine to the driver’s right foot. Smart mode seemed, unusually, less sure of itself that normal, with the dual-clutch delay in engaging gear more readily apparent. However overall response seems quicker, with the changes of the dual-clutch and perhaps the characteristics of the new engine block combining to add extra spice.
Bump absorption is stellar, with the big 20 inch wheels and relatively thin sidewalls unaffected by most road imperfections, as was the steering. It was only the larger and sometimes unavoidable ruts that had a minor bang-crash feel, yet the steering was again unaffected in bump-steer. In normal road situations then, the Santa Fe “wafts” and the ups and downs are briefly noticed and just as quickly forgotten by the suspension’s tune.Ease up to a stop sign, a red light, and the brake pedal has immediate feel. Intuitive for the driver is how any brake system should feel and the Santa Fe Elite has this well sorted. Travel is perfectly modulated and at any point the foot knows exactly what pressure is needed for the appropriate stopping distance. Unfortunately, the Hyundai and Kia lane assistance is still over-eager to tug the wheel if the electronics feel the Santa Fe is going where it ought not.
Warranty is the standard five years and unlimited kilometres, with online servicing costs provided for each vehicle.
At The End Of The Drive. The Santa Fe in Elite trim wants for little in comparison to the Highlander and for those that don’t need those features such as heated/vented seats, a couple of extra parking sensors, and the like, it’s a relatively bargain. A starting point for info is here.