Hyundai’s Santa Fe has been gracing our roads for a few years now, and you wouldn’t think Hyundai could make such a good vehicle even better. However, with the extra refinements they’ve incorporated into this year’s new model, they’ve done just that.
The main exterior changes to the 2016 model are confined to modifications such as redesigned wheels, a slightly changed front end (involving bumpers and grille) and redesigned squared exhaust outlets. The more significant changes have been made to the engines, both petrol and diesel, to further enhance performance, and the ride quality has been enhanced thanks to improved suspension.
There are three models: Active, Elite and the top-of-the-range Highlander. The Active and Elite don’t have too much less in the way of features, and provide considerable cost savings.
The model I reviewed was the Highlander, which has a diesel engine as standard. The only petrol engine in the Santa Fe line-up is offered with the base Active. The petrol engine is a 2.4L 4-cylinder unit outputting 138kW of power and 241Nm of torque, and it comes in a choice of both 6-speed manual and auto transmissions.
Hyundai likes to add bling, and the Highlander reviewed comes with 19” wheels, which are larger than those on some of the dedicated 4WDs on the road at the moment! This top-end model also has a panoramic sun roof, privacy blinds for windows, Xenon Headlights, lots of leather and a carbon-look finish to add contrast to the faux alloy sections of the vehicle’s dash. All combine to provide a luxury feel for this 7-seater.
High levels of comfort all round are what we’ve come to expect from a Santa Fe, along with a very good, solid, drive experience. The Highlander builds on this even further.
Behind the wheel the driver is pampered. Every control and switch is on hand, with 8” touch sat/nav screen linked to a system that’s quite user friendly. The seats have electric adjustment to spare and can be either heated or cooled in seconds. With variable lumbar support those seats were very comfortable on long highway runs. There’s also a high driving position, and externally there’s a very high lift power tailgate.
Passengers are also pampered. There’s leather seating, face level vents for rear seat passengers, and ample interior room all round. The sun roof is there for the right kind of day, and the premium sound system can really thump it out. As you’d expect, USB, AUX, digital iPod and Bluetooth are standard.
As a 7-seater the Santa Fe is a roomy family wagon. However, as is the case with others that offer rear seating, the last two seats are best left for agile youngsters to negotiate their way in and out of via the left where the nearest second row seat slides and tilts to allow easier access.
As an SUV, the Santa Fe’s ride and handling were more than satisfactory. Front wheel drive is the norm (AWD is there on demand) and the car takes corners in its stride. The steering feedback and weight were spot on in most circumstances. Road holding ability without the need for driver correction on the winding bits is very pleasing.
Fuel consumption during a mix of city and a 4-hour highway run was 8.5-9L per 100km. Few owners would be unhappy about that, given the size of the big SUV.
Safety features within the auto-only Highlander include active cruise control, i.e. the vehicle slows as it approaches a car ahead. This feature can be applied at all speeds, so at traffic lights you’ll come to a halt. When the light turns green you can move off freely once the sensors detect the car ahead is moving away.
There’s also blind spot detection, forward collision warning, lane changing assistance, hill start assistance, hill descent control and a powered parking brake.
Hyundai have optioned their Highlander with several driving modes. In normal drive (Eco) the turbo diesel 147kW, 440Nm diesel engine would run down to less than 1800rpm when gaining on traffic. Sport mode was entirely different.
The Santa Fe’s 6-speed auto transmission is a state-of-the-art unit. Driver intervention is never necessary to keep the vehicle running sweetly as long as revs are kept up in Eco mode, but Sport mode is a much different story. With the gear selector pushed across to the left and the loud pedal pressed onto the floor the auto unit will not change up a gear until the tachometer reaches red line which sees just a little noise coming from under the bonnet (where diesel engine noise is usually negligible) and an enticing ‘launch’ feel for the driver.
Rounding off the package is the roomy luggage compartment. Levers flip the second row seating forward in a jiffy, and with both second and third rows of seats lowered there’s 1615L of cargo space on hand. A full-sized spare tyre is under the boot floor so if a tyre needs changing you have to empty cargo first, the same as with many similar vehicles.
Although the Santa Fe has reasonable ground clear clearance, diff locks and 4WD on demand, a lot of people won’t take it off road. That’s OK though because this vehicle is also good for city dwellers looking to commute and park. Highlights include an auto park system, reversing camera, blind spot detection system and very large external mirrors to further assist parking.
All in all, I believe that Hyundai has indeed made a good thing better in their top-of-the-range Highlander. It’s an ideal family wagon in every respect given its levels of performance, features, space and comfort. Towing specs are 750kg for an unbraked trailer and 2000kg for a braked unit, which is going to cover a lot of boats or camper trailers. And although the Highlander has the lot, it’s well worth taking a look at either the Active or Elite models as they’re more affordable and also come very well equipped.Reads: 739