What is it?
The Santa Fe is fast approaching its 20th anniversary.
Launched in 2001 it quickly became a firm favourite after launch.
In 2018, Santa Fe was given a solid makeover and emerged with a clean silhouette.
In late 2019, Hyundai announced the sleeved-back 3.3-litre V6 petrol engine would return to a 3.5-litre capacity.
As is normal with the Korean car maker, it’s a three-trim level range — Active, Elite, and Highlander.
All sport an eight-cogger automatic.
Unusually, Hyundai offers bother engines with each model — rather than reserve the oiler for the top shelf spec.
What’s it cost?
Hyundai’s website, at the time of writing, indicates a starting price of $62,425 driveaway for the Highlander petrol, $65,575 for the diesel.
The test car was clad in an unusual hue named Earthly Bronze that takes the price to $66,600.
The range itself starts from around $47,200. That includes a 7-year warranty for vehicles delivered before December 31.
Optional Trek and Tow packs add more than $2000 apiece and offer heavy duty spring kits, electronic brake controller, and body additions.
The Metro pack consists of floor mats, a fabric material rear bumper protector and dash mat. That tickles the wallet at just $286.
Outside the most noticeable changes to the 2020 spec are to the front and rear.
Headlights are now lower in the front end and separate to the LED driving lights.
It’s a look that Jeep started and is certainly an “eye of the beholder” choice.
Driving lights are located in the lower corners.
The rear lights are more slimline and have lost the hook on the outer flanks.
Wheels were 19 inches with a 5×2 spiral design. Rubber is 235/55 ContiSport Contact.
Inside is a material Hyundai calls Dark Beige. To our eyes it’s more a light cocoa look.
By no means is it offensive and makes a welcome change from the Henry Ford offering of black, black, black, or black.
The roof lining from the base of the pillars upwards and around the full length glass roof is a speckled grey. It’s at odds with the trim, yet oddly complements it.
The front seats are heated, powered, and vented — yay!
They also have shoulder mounted fore and aft adjustment switches.
The tiller is heated, there is a 360 degree camera, and a console mounted differential lock for the occasional off-road excursion.
Wireless charging and a pair of 12V sockets up front mean no one’s phone or tablet should go flat.
It’s a seven seater and the third row gets its own aircon controls. In the review car the third row was covered by a material protector.
Audio is courtesy of Infinity with a DAB tuner, plus apps and Bluetooth.
The speaker covers are a little different with raised, diamond-look glossy metal frames.
Only the driver’s window gets one touch up/down.
Drive is a choice of five modes, engaged via the centre console. Each mode such as Eco or Smart changes the look of the full colour LCD screen for the driver.
Hyundai have been advertising the Santa Fe quite heavily and making some noise (no pun intended if you’ve seen the commercial) about its rear seat occupancy warning. That’s mainly for the airheads that forget they have kids in the back.
The console itself is stylish and features a Jaguaresque arch that sweeps from A-pillar to A-pillar at the base of the front windows.
It’s a long list.
- Advanced Smart Parking Assist System (ASPAS)
- Blind-Spot Collision-Avoidance Assist – Rear (BCA-R)
- Driver Attention Warning (DAW)
- Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist (FCA) – City/Urban/Interurban/Pedestrian/Cyclist (camera & radar)
- High Beam Assist (HBA)
- Lane Keeping Assist – Line/Road-Edge (LKA-L/R)
- Rear Cross-Traffic Collision-Avoidance Assist (RCCA)
- Rear Occupant Alert (ROA)
- Rear Occupant Alert (ROA) – Advanced Safe Exit Assist (SEA)
- Smart Cruise Control (SCC) with Stop & Go Surround View Monitor (SVM)
What’s it go like?
Herein lies the conundrum.
The 2.2-litre diesel produces a normal for its size 147kW of power.
Torque is a steel bending 440Nm. The problem is that below the 1750 to 2750 rev band where it lies — it’s almost non-existent.
Getting underway is simple: foot on brake, punch the Start/Stop button, engage Drive. All good so far.
Get to a Stop sign, check for traffic. Again, all good.
Hit the go pedal and there’s a nothing before a whole lot of kick in the back suddenly appears.
The delivery is simply not linear — there’s no roll on.
It’s at odds with the way that 440Nm makes driving the two tonne plus machine on the highway.
It’s effortless, easygoing and relaxed thanks to the engine and gearbox already just on the beginning of that torque.
It also makes overtaking an absolute doddle because it’s already drinking from the torque fountain.
Economy wasn’t horrible either. Our highway figure saw a best of 6.7L/100km, with an overall figure of 7.9L/100km.
Hyundai claims 9.9L/100km for the urban, 7.5L/100km for the combined, and 6.6L/100km on the highway cycle from the 71-litre tank.
Towing is rated as 2000kg and the engine is EURO5 compliant.
We took it off-road and on to some low level gravel and rock tracks.
The suspension is superb, with ruts and rocks making only the occasional and minor intrusion into the suspension.
Pounded at legal speeds on these tracks also showed that Hyundai have got the steering weight and feel pretty much spot on too.
The second downside however is the brake feel.
There’s plenty of pressure needed to get the pedal to feel like it’s biting.
With 328mm and 309mm discs front and rear, the pedal doesn’t FEEL as if the pads are gripping.
No matter how hard you push the pedal, it’ll only give 80 percent bite.
What we like?
- Somewhat sleepy looks belie a competent soft-roader
- Well packaged interior
- It’s a very easy car to live with
What we don’t like?
- No real brake feel when needed
- Torque is off, then mightily and overwhelmingly on — from a standing start
- Front end design is not for everyone
The bottom line?
Santa Fe Highlander diesel is a hell of a good vehicle.
But it’s let down in two critical areas: wham bam torque delivery and the soft, marshmallow brakes.
Other than this, it’s a cracker to drive — comfortable and well equipped, and a brilliant highway cruiser.
Go and get dirty and it’ll shrug off a bit of soft-roading. It’s not in the same league as a Land Rover — but it’s not intended to be anyway.
And in that respect, where it puts the dukes up makes it a winner in our eyes as more than fit for purpose.
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Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander AWD diesel, priced from $60,500
- Looks - 7.5/107.5/10
- Performance - 8/108/10
- Safety - 9/109/10
- Thirst - 8/108/10
- Practicality - 8.5/108.5/10
- Comfort - 8/108/10
- Tech - 8.5/108.5/10
- Value - 8/108/10