– Great exterior styling
– Value-packed features
– Fairly comfortable ride
– Soft handling
– Most safety features optional
– No low-range gearing
The ubiquitous family sedan is increasingly under threat from the ever-popular crossover genre. And the latest Hyundai Santa Fe is a poster-child of this revolution. Previously just a cookie-cutter SUV, it’s transformed into an attractive wagon in its 2013 iteration.
The exterior styling is as resolved as it gets for a Hyundai, whose other designs have generally bordered on curvaceous overkill. In terms of size, the Santa Fe is a little longer than most other compact crossovers, but not long enough to be considered a midsizer. With 19-inch wheels, dual exhaust tips and judicious use of chrome in the top trim, it easily looks pricier than an Audi Q5 even.
The interior is a detailed amalgam of shapes, which some may like and some may not. There’s generous amounts of soft-touch surfaces on the dash and doors, a welcome contrast to the hard-plastic cabins of its Japanese rivals. All armrests are padded as well, with leather upholstery that matches the seats in our top-spec test car.
Very spacious on the inside, the Santa Fe offers class-leading legroom for rear passengers, while headroom is not compromised by the panoramic glass roof. But then there’s those third-row seats thrown in there for the heck of it, very cramped and best used for kids under five. Drop down that split-folding bench, and boot space is massive.
In the top V6 version, there’s gadgets galore. There’s touchscreen navigation, rear camera, HID headlights, good dual-zone a/c, power-adjustable cooled front seats and even a Qiblah compass. Lesser trim levels still get rear a/c vents with third-row fan controls, panoramic roof, fog lamps and a decent CD/MP3 stereo with USB/AUX ports. Only the higher trim levels are blessed with stability control and side-curtain airbags though, in addition to the standard dual front airbags and ABS.
We’ve driven both, the 174 hp 2.4-litre with 227 Nm of torque and the 266 hp 3.3-litre with 318 Nm, both mated to 6-speed automatics. The smaller inline-4 motor struggles to move the car, with a 0-100 kph time as high as 12.5 seconds in our February testing. We’d put down our money on the larger V6 motor, which managed the 0-100 kph run in 9.1 seconds, not particularly fast, but more than enough for the street. The V6 also burned 12.2 litres/100 km of petrol in our time, only a bit more than the 11.5 litres/100 km we got with the 4-banger.
On the road, the Santa Fe rides pretty smoothly, with no floatiness, and silent enough for a relaxing commute at 120 kph. In fact it’s smoother and quieter than both the Toyota RAV4 and the Honda CR-V in our measured tests.
But the Hyundai gives up some of its handling edge to keep that ride comfortable. Even with 235/55 tyres, it runs out of grip and understeers way too early. On sudden lane-changes, there’s sizeable body roll. And the steering offers limited feel, even if it has a gimmick to change the firmness at the press of a button. At least the stability control, available only on the V6, works well when it does lose grip, unlike the Renault Koleos that we spun into a wall last year. The ABS-assisted disc brakes work decently with linear pedal feel.
The Santa Fe is a crossover, but it’s got all-wheel-drive, a 50:50 4×4 lock and an “ESP off” button. With the right throttle inputs, it manages soft sand surprisingly well, although it’s best to avoid the steeper slopes due to the low front-end. There’s no low-range gearing either, but if you don’t know what that is, then stay off the loose stuff.
Hyundai’s march up the sales charts has been tremendous over the past few years, and the redesigned Santa Fe will only help towards that goal. Beyond the sporty-looking well-resolved styling, there isn’t even an ounce of sportiness to be found, and judging by sales figures, the kind of people who buy crossovers don’t really seem to mind. The Santa Fe gives them all they need in terms of value.
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