2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander CRDi 2

What is it?

What a disappointment.

Not the car. The Santa Fe is bonza.

We had planned to drive the Santa Fe from the Blue Mountains to Bundaberg in Queensland, and catch up with some old friends along the way.

But COVID put a stop to that. In fact, it’s the second major holiday we’ve had to cancel because of the pandemic — and we are probably not the only ones in that boat.

So, instead of a few thousand kilometres, we managed only to clock up 700km or so behind the wheel in the time we had the car — disappointing, but what can you do?

All is not lost, however, because it’s an opportunity to tell you about the features that make the seven-seater an ideal choice to weather a pandemic.

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander CRDi 1

What’s it cost?

There’s four models, priced from $44,700 plus on-roads.

And they are all available with a choice of 3.5-litre petrol V6 or 2.2-litre turbo-diesel four cylinder engines, all with an eight-speed automatic.

The auto in the V6 is a standard slush box, but the turbo-diesel acquires a dual-clutch style auto — I guess they felt it was a better fit.

If you’re going out (bearing in mind that everyone is encouraged to stay home), then you may as well go out in style — and in this case that equates to the top of the line Santa Fe Highlander 2.2-litre CRDi.

The diesel adds $3500 to the price, but it’s worth considering because it boasts better performance and and uses very little fuel.

That means less fill-ups and that in turn reduces the number of encounters with random, possibly infected strangers.

Premium paint by the way adds $695 and a camel or cognac brown interior is an extra $295.

When you tick the box for the diesel, you also step up from two- to all-wheel drive, and that’s reassuring to know if things really go south.

With Multi-Terrain modes to take the guess out of off-roading, you and the family will be able to go bush with confidence, leaving civilisation behind.

Other worthwhile features include climate air conditioning, with rear outlets and controls — plus a cabin air filter to keep out the nasty germs.

Unfortunately, the filter is a standard one, but can be replaced by an aftermarket PM2.5 rated filter from one of the big auto parts retailers.

The power tailgate also comes into its own for click/drive and collect at your local shopping mall, another potential source of infection.

But a separate boot is a better option because it provides total isolation, so probably best to fit a mask before you hit the button.

Stay in the car, push the tailgate release and they can place your groceries in the rear, without any need for social contact.

There’s also a 12 volt outlet provided in the luggage area for a car fridge. You have got one, haven’t you?

Of course, you’re probably thinking a heavy duty 4×4 might be a better option at this point.

But hey, let’s not get carried away.

I for one would be reluctant to give up Nappa leather, ambiente lighting, heated and ventilated front seats, heated outboard second-row seats, heated steering wheel, driver seat memory and that ginormous sunroof — which brings back memories of the ‘chariot’ from TV’s Lost In Space.

The 360 degree monitor is also handy to warn of any approaching hostiles, while the big 10.25-inch touchscreen comes with voice control, built-in navigation, DAB+ digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.

That’s plenty of entertainment to while away the hours while you’re waiting in one of the many long queues for a COVID test.

There’s also Qi wireless phone charging and premium 10-speaker Harman Kardon audio.

Rear DVD screens would have been nice addition to keep the hostiles in the back quiet.

Standard driver assistance includes Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist with Junction Turning (FCA-JT), Driver Attention Warning (DAW) and Blind-Spot Collision Avoidance-Assist (BCA),  Lane Following Assist (LFA), Rear Cross-Traffic Collision-Avoidance Assist (RCCA)  and Smart Cruise Control (SCC) with Stop & Go.

Highlander adds Blind-Spot View Monitor, Parking Collision-Avoidance Assist and Remote Smart Parking Assist systems.

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander CRDi 6

What’s it go like?

In these challenging times, you want a car that is safe, roomy and reliable — and one that uses little fuel.

Santa Fe ticks all these boxes and while we liked the V6, the diesel with 440Nm of lovely torque is the pick.

That torque is available from a low 1750 revs and just makes everything so easy.

It’s easy to get off the line, easy to drive and easy on the hip pocket, with fuel consumption rated at a miserly 6.1L/100km.

We were getting 7.7L/100km after 717km, while the trip computer reported long-term consumption of 7.3L/100km after more than 2400km.

That’s what we might have expected to get on our cancelled trip to Bundaberg which is around 2600km return, without any side trips.

They have somehow managed to make the Santa Fe look smaller than it actually is over  the years, belying a spacious interior and cavernous boot.

The seven-seat wagon sits low and wide, riding on 20-inch alloys with expensive 255/45 Continental rubber.

The optional camel-trimmed seats are not by accident reminiscent of something from BMW or Mercedes.

The 8-speed auto has paddle shifts, with Comfort, Eco, Sport and Smart drive modes available.

The last one reflects your driving style and is where you are probably going to leave it.

Changing between drive modes changes the look of the instrument panel, from pale blue and white dials to angry red ones in the case of sport mode.

Turning on the indicators transforms the left or right dial into a camera that provides a view of the blind zone either side of the car.

We found the transmission a little slow to hook up at times, but it is nothing annoying.

For a large car, the steering is light and easy to use.

At 4875mm in length Santa Fe seats seven and shares a platform with the Kia Carnival and Hyundai’s new Santa Cruz 4×4 ute.

Up front the face has been redesigned to reflect the Hyundai’s radical new look, with an elaborate light arrangement that features T-shaped LED driving lights.

The rear looks fairly similar to the previous model.

The dash has also been totally redesigned, creating a ‘bridge’ to the console area that sits at a 45 degree angle.

It brings controls closer and makes them easier to access and use, rather than having to reach out and stab at buttons.

This is still the case, however, with the high-mounted, free-standing touchscreen.

Air outlets are provided for second and third row seats, with a second set of aircon controls for the second row, along with USB and power outlets — two for the second row and one for the rear seats.

Other highlights include a clever, vertical wireless phone charging pouch close to the driver’s hip.

Driver Talk employs a microphone and the audio system to allow the driver to communicate easily with rear seat occupants.

Remote Smart Parking Assist System (RSPAS) means you to park the car while standing outside, using controls on the smart key.

It’s good for tight garages and back to the wall parking spaces, but you could inadvertently lock in cars next to you without access to the same technology.

Given its size and power at 2500kg the tow rating is disappointing for those wanting to pull a van.

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander CRDi 9

What we like?

  • Smooth
  • Powerful
  • All-wheel drive
  • Uses little fuel
  • Built in satnav
  • Separate volume control for audio
  • 10-speaker Harman Kardon audio

What we don’t like?

  • No DVD to amuse kids
  • Fiddly gear change buttons
  • Handbrake release difficult to access
  • Can only tow 2500kg

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander CRDi 7

The bottom line?

Well, there you have it.

Santa Fe is good drinking now and better still during lockdown.

The economical diesel means you won’t have to worry about masks and filling up too often.

While the power tailgate is perfect for drive and collect. Stay in the car, push the button and they can stick the stuff in the back without any need for social contact.

And then there’s that big boot, with plenty of storage for rolls and rolls of toilet paper — with even some room leftover for a bit of food — happy days!

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander CRDi 8

CHECKOUT: Robby the Hyundai coming soon

CHECKOUT: Hyundai does the heavy lifting with XCIENT

Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander CRDi, priced from $65,200
  • Looks - 7.5/10
    7.5/10
  • Performance - 8.5/10
    8.5/10
  • Safety - 8.5/10
    8.5/10
  • Thirst - 8/10
    8/10
  • Practicality - 8/10
    8/10
  • Comfort - 8/10
    8/10
  • Tech - 8.5/10
    8.5/10
  • Value - 8.5/10
    8.5/10
8.2/10
Hyundai Santa Fe: At home with COVID

Riley

Chris Riley has been a journalist for almost 40 years. He has spent half of his career as a writer, editor and production editor in newspapers, the rest of the time driving and writing about cars both in print and online. His love affair with cars began as a teenager with the purchase of an old VW Beetle, followed by another Beetle and a string of other cars on which he has wasted too much time and money. A self-confessed geek, he’s not afraid to ask the hard questions - at the risk of sounding silly.