Hyundai is currently completing a transformation from bit player in the NZ car market to unstoppable juggernaut. Key factors in the change have been raw enthusiasm and a workmanlike attitude. Just like any tradesman, Hyundai understands the importance of quality tools and its heavy hammer is the Santa Fe SUV. First launched back in 1999 the Santa Fe has helped smash up negative brand perception for Hyundai and has proved a solid revenue source selling over 2 million units worldwide. In 2009 the Santa Fe was NZ’s best selling SUV, knocking away stiff competition from the Toyota Rav4 and the Holden Captiva. Now, for 2010 the second-generation Santa Fe has been given a facelift, but will it keep breaking new ground? Car and SUV made use of a refreshed Santa Fe to get the answers.
Cosmetically, the Santa Fe was, and still is a smart looking SUV. The grille, both bumpers and light clusters have all been updated but the sheet metal remains the same. While the vehicle’s flanks are still well chiselled the updates have given the Santa Fe a smoother more rounded face. The chrome framed grill, and revised front bumper with fog lamps has helped refresh the exterior look. At the rear, new red and clear four-piece tail lamps look great as do the twin chrome tail pipes. Newly designed 18-inch wheels fill the guards and silver integrated roof rails add function to form. Overall, the changes are fairly subtle but have modernised the Santa Fe’s aesthetic and are bold enough to distinguish it from older versions. It’s not what you’d call a boxy SUV but it’s also not feminised in any way, Hyundai has found a good balance.
Like the exterior, the cabin also plays host to some small upgrades. The same basic layout has been retained but some switchgear has been changed and a new steering wheel with audio and cruise controls has been added. Push-button start and carbon fibre-styled trim round out the reworked interior. The central control stack is busy with buttons and dials but is separated into audio and climate controls and remains easy to use. The new high-contrast instrument cluster is large and well illuminated with a small screen that displays trip info. A foot-activated park brake frees up space in the centre console for small storage, cupholders and a deep cooler/storage bin. The equipment list on the top-spec Elite model is impressive and includes a soft leather interior, a 6-disc 7-speaker stereo with subwoofer and excellent iPod integration, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and a handy reversing camera that displays in the rear view mirror.
The electric seats are wide and comfortable for front passengers and the driver gets 10-way adjustment making it easy to get comfortable. All seating is mounted high in the Santa Fe which combined with generous glass and large wing mirrors allows for excellent visibility but shorter drivers may find it a but steep getting in and out. Head and legroom for back seat passengers is very good and a third row, 7-seat option is available. There is a large loading area in the Santa Fe; 969-litres with the rear seats in place expanding out to a massive 2,247-litres with all rear seats folded flat.
Under the bonnet is where the big change has come for the facelifted Santa Fe with the introduction of a new diesel engine. Replacing the old 2.2-litre diesel engine is another unit of the same capacity but boasting increased power and torque. While a petrol option is still available in the Santa Fe, few would want to take it after driving the new R-Series diesel. This engine is magic and puts out a healthy 145kW of power and a massive 445Nm of torque. These are impressive figures from the Hyundai/Kia motor that took 42 months and 150 engineers to fully develop. It uses an aluminium block and head, variable-geometry turbocharger and a high-pressure common-rail injection system. The end result is a strong engine with a bolshy torque surge that makes for surprisingly rapid acceleration when shifting the 1800kg SUV’s body around. It offers decent refinement during urban driving and quietly hums along at low rpm when motorway cruising. There is some turbo lag on occasion, but the six-speed auto transmission works hard to keep the Santa Fe in the power band. There is also a sequential manual mode that can help extract all available grunt.
The strong performance from the R-Series engine doesn’t come at the cost of fuel economy with the engine sipping away on just 7.5L/100km of diesel on the combined cycle. Spend some long stretches on motorways and open roads and that figure could reduce to around 5L/100km.
On road the Santa Fe offers a refined ride with compliant suspension that negotiates most bumps and ruts. Good soundproofing guarantees that very little road or wheel noise enters the cabin and the engine remains quiet unless under heavy load. The suspension is set on the soft side and while it adds to the comfort level on straight roads it can leave the Santa Fe feeling floaty during cornering. Body roll is felt on twisted roads but the Santa Fe has a good level of grip and remains predictable and enjoyable.
Off-road the Santa Fe uses an on demand 4WD system, with the rear wheels only engaging when the front wheels lose traction. Up to 50% of the vehicle’s torque can be switched to the rear treads. This is a clever system that functions impressively well but the absence of a dual-range transfer case could deter hardcore off roaders. That said, during the Sana Fe launch day the vehicle negotiated a variety of surfaces including off road terrain and sandy beaches without problems, showing just how far a modern 4WD ‘soft roader’ system can go. Towing capacity across the Santa Fe range is rated at 750kg unbraked and 2000kg for a braked trailer.
Standard safety features include sash seat belts in every position, six airbags, a stability control system with traction control and ABS brakes with brake assist. These features helped score the Santa Fe a 5 Star ANCAP safety rating.
Priced at $65,990 for the top-spec Elite model, the Santa Fe isn’t the cheapest option in the segment. However, to say “that’s too much cash for a Hyundai” is now a major error as the Santa Fe is a quality vehicle that can easily match Japanese competition. Hyundai has really nailed it with the R-Series engine; it’s powerful, modern and economical. The Santa Fe’s exterior styling is sharp and the interior comfortably practical. If there is any badge-snobbery left dissuading people from Hyundai vehicles, then the Santa Fe is the right tool to finish it off.
What we like:
- Powerful and economical engine
- Practical interior
- Comfortable ride
What we don’t like:
- Body roll
- Elite model is expensive
Words and Photos: Adam Mamo
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Hyundai Santa Fe CRDi Elite (2010) – Specifications
CC 2,199 cc
Power 145 kW / 3,800 rpm
Torque 436 Nm / 1,800-2,500 rpm
Transmission 6 speed automatic
Weights and Dimensions
Length 4,660 mm
Width 1,890 mm
Height 1,760 mm
Towing Capacity Braked 2,000 kg
Towing Capacity Unbraked 750 kg
Min. Turning Radius 5.4 m
Kerb Weight (lightest / heaviest) 1,900 / 1,982
Fuel Tank Capacity 70 l
Boot Capacity (SAE) 969 l
Fuel Consumption Combined 7.5 l/100km
Fuel Emissions 197 g/km