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Hyundai's 2017 seven-seater was one of the best softroaders in the market.

Early Santa Fes were solidly made, but the 2013 model took the Hyundai brand to a whole new level. This vehicle had impressive specifications, was strongly made and towed well. However, the Santa Fe is becoming softer and less suitable for bush work every year, so we’re not planning to test post-2017 vehicles.

hyundai santa fe Santa Fe is a relatively small volume model in Hyundai terms, but it’s found a niche in the seven-seat SUV category. Styling was initially bland, but the post-2013 shape was right up there.

The 2017 Santa Fe was available in three trim levels  – Active, Elite and Highlander – with a choice of a Theta II 2.4-litre GDi petrol engine, or an R-series 2.2-litre CRDi diesel engine and both engines were available with a six-speed automatic, with electronic sequential manual mode, or six-speed manual transmission.

The petrol engine had power output of 141kW at 6300rpm and maximum torque of 242Nm at 4250rpm. Much better is the intercooled turbo diesel, with maximum torque of 421Nm (manual) and 436Nm (auto) between 1800rpm and 2500rpm, with 145kW of power at 3800rpm.

The six-speed manual transmission utilised multi-cone synchronisers for improved shift quality and a button-operated reverse gear lock-out. A gear shift indicator prompted the driver to shift gear to maximise fuel economy.

The six-speed automatic transmission, with sequential manual mode, had an Active ECO system that modified engine and transmission control to smooth out throttle response and potentially increased fuel economy.

We chose a Highlander auto diesel for a test and lined up a Cub camper trailer to assess its towing ability.


What you got

hyundai santa fe Ergonomics for driver and passengers are first class, with second row seating that slides, reclines and three-way splits. The second-row and two third-row seats folded flat easily and access to the third row seats is quite good. Most seat reconfiguring could be done one-handed.

A cargo area roller blind was standard across the range and stows in a purpose-designed well in the cargo area.

Elite and Highlander 2013 variants featured solar control glass with dark tint aft of the B-pillar; retractable mesh blinds on the second-row windows; proximity key with push-button start; auto-dimming mirror with in-built compass and climate control air-conditioning, The Highlander model also had a full-length panoramic sunroof with electric tilt-and-slide glass front section.

Elite and Highlander models had a 12-way power driver’s seat, with four-way lumbar support and Highlander models incorporated a power-adjustable front passenger seat and heated front and second row outboard seating.

The Highlander also scored HID Xenon headlamps and LED rear combination lamps.

There were twin 12V outlets in the console, one in the second row and one in the cargo area. There were also USB and AUX sockets in the console.

Speed sensitive electric power steering was standard on the Santa Fe. ‘Flex Steer’ offered three driver-selected steering calibrations: Normal for balance between steering effort and feedback; Comfort for low-effort manoeuvring and Sport for higher wheel effort, with increased feedback.

hyundai santa fe

Early Santa Fes used a viscous coupling to distribute torque to front and rear axles, but the 2013 model had Advanced Traction Cornering Control (ATCC) with an electro-mechanical multi-plate 4WD coupling, working in conjunction with the Vehicle Stability Management (VSM) system. ATCC transferred torque front to rear and applied individual wheel braking to adjust torque delivery to each wheel.

In loose or slippery conditions 4WD ‘Lock’ mode was engaged at the push of a button, giving a 50:50 power split front:rear. When the vehicle reached 40km/h the system switched to ‘Auto’ mode, and once vehicle speed dropped below 40km/h the system re-engaged ‘Lock’ mode.

A Vehicle Stability Management (VSM) system integrated the active safety systems in the vehicle, including the electric power steering, ESC, TCS, ABS and EBD.

In Elite and Highlander 2013 models, Electronic Park Brake (EPB) and Automatic Vehicle Hold (AVH) systems were standard.

The Santa Fe featured seven airbags, including driver and front passenger, driver knee, and side curtain airbags in the front and second rows. A reversing camera was built into the tailgate handle.

Elite and Highlander models had a 10-speaker sound system with Bluetooth, auxiliary and USB inputs. The system featured an LCD touchscreen with satellite navigation system that had quite good bush road and track mapping.

Hyundai’s iCare program included five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty; complimentary roadside assist for 12 months; capped price servicing for three years and NAVTEQ MapCare updates for three years.


2015 models

In September 2014 the Santa Fe scored a number of improvements for 2015. A darker chrome grille, daytime running lights and cornering ights were fitted across the three-level Santa Fe range.

Both mid-spec Elite and range-flagship Highlander came standard with Hyundai’s Smart Tailgate, with hands-free operation. Stand near the back of the car for three seconds and the boot opened automatically.

The 2015 Santa Fe Highlander had standard lane departure warning and Hyundai Smart Parking Assist, which parked the vehicle automatically.

The Santa Fe Highlander’s features also included ventilated leather/leatherette front seats and a panoramic sunroof which allowed operation after the vehicle was switched off.


2017 upgrades

In August 2017 Hyundai added a suite of SmartSense active safety technologies as standard.

Elite and Highlander models also featured a new 200mm multi-media system with satellite navigation. Using a new hardware platform, it offers both Apple CarPlayTM and Android Auto compatibility.

Hyundai’s SmartSenseTM package for Santa Fe incorporated Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) with Forward Collision Warning (FCW), Lane Departure Warning (LDW), Blind Spot Detection (BSD) systems as well as radar-guided Smart Cruise Control (SCC).

For MY18 the Active and Active X models also gained a 105mm colour display in the instrument cluster (previously a 90mm monochromatic display), electronic parking brake, electro-chromatic interior mirror and power-operated folding side mirrors incorporating puddle lights.

Manual transmission-equipped Active variants were no longer in the model mix, making the Santa Fe range an automatic only model line-up.


On and off road

hyundai santa fe

The evaluation Santa Fe was a diesel/auto Highlander 2013 model, fitted with the optional heavy duty towing kit that included an upgraded towbar, trailer connector and wiring, and a set of factory-specified, higher-rate rear coil springs.

These springs allow increased towball weight, from the standard vehicle’s 100kg, to 150kg, but the trailer weight rating remained at 2000kg (auto) and 2500kg (manual). You’ll know that the dealer has actually fitted the heavy-duty springs, because they’re painted bright yellow.

We towed a 900kg Cub camper trailer for part of this test and measured its ball weight at 110kg. Fuel consumption in town, country and trail driving averaged 10.6L/100km, which was excellent. Loaded, but without the trailer, the vehicle averaged 8.5L/100km.

While fuel consumption was very good for this class of vehicle we felt that the Santa Fe’s 64-litre fuel tank was marginal for long distance touring in Australia. However, those towing a camper or van could always stow a couple of diesel jerry cans on the trailer.

The diesel engine’s performance – solo and when towing – was effortless, with no sign of turbo lag. The auto box shifted smoothly and kept the engine operating in its most economical zone whenever possible. The six-speed auto’s overdrive gearing kept cruising revs to 1750rpm at 100km/h and 2000rpm at 110km/h.

Ride, handling and steering were first class and the variable-assistance power steering was quite functional. On loose dirt, where it’s easy to dial in too much lock on occasions, the ‘Sport’ steering setting weighted the rim effort nicely and gave good feedback of tyre grip.

On sharp undulations we noticed some ‘hobby-horsing’ that felt like the rear dampers were struggling to control the reaction of the higher-rated rear springs. In all other situations the heavy-duty rear springs seemed to have no effect on ride or handling.

Like all softroaders the Santa Fe had limited off-road ability, but an experienced off-road driver could take one to places that may surprise traditionalists.

However, limited ground clearance and mechanical vitals that are covered by only a plastic underbody shield need to be considered when off-roading.

hyundai santa fe The Highlander’s 19-inch, 55-profile tyres were unsuited to any type of off-bitumen driving and we were nervous when off the blacktop. Without the Santa Fe’s full-sized spare wheel we wouldn’t have ventured off-road at all.

For those who want to go bush in a Santa Fe Elite or Highlander we’d suggest trading the larger wheels for the Active model’s 17-inchers and Hyundai dealers should be only too happy to do this.

There are light-truck-rated bush tyres that can fit on the 17-inch wheels and an example is a 225/70R17LT that has only slightly more diameter than the standard 235/65R17 passenger car size, but with much greater carcass and tread area strength.

The Hyundai Santa Fe is an excellent seven-seat SUV, with good performance, quality fit and finish, comfortable ride, predictable handling and braking and realistic towing capacity. I’d have one.

Santa Fe history

hyundai santa fe Hyundai unveiled a concept car, the ‘Santa Fe’, at the 1999 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. This vehicle and subsequent production Santa Fes were styled at Hyundai’s California design centre with inputs from Hyundai’s other design centres in Germany, Tokyo and Seoul, and with some suspension calibration work done in Australia.

The production model went on sale in Australia in the first quarter of 2001, with a transversely-mounted 2.4-litre, four cylinder, twin-cam, 16-valve petrol engine. In December 2001 a 132kW quad-cam, 2.7-litre V6 petrol engine was introduced.

Full-time, all-wheel drive was via a viscous coupling.

In September 2003 four-disc ABS brakes and front passenger airbag were added and the four-cylinder model was discontinued.

In late 2006 a new-look Santa Fe with CRDi (common-rail direct injection), diesel power and a five-speed, driver-adaptive, Selectronic automatic transmission was released. Outputs were 114kW at 4000rpm and 343Nm between 1800rpm and 2500rpm.

In mid-2008 ESP Stability Program, Traction Control System (TCS), front and rear curtain airbags and side front airbags were made standard across the Santa Fe range.

hyundai santa fe

For 2010 a new ‘R’ series diesel engine was introduced, with 145kW and 436Nm (auto) and 421Nm (manual), coupled to six-speed transmissions.

The awards kept coming for the Santa Fe, with the NRMA calculating the  Hyundai to be the least expensive medium SUV to own and operate. The UK’s What Car? Magazine’s gave the 2007 Santa Fe 2.2 CRTD CDX seven-seater its ‘Best Used SUV’ accolade.

The last update for the second-generation Santa Fe came in early 2012, with styling refinements, plus Down-Hill Brake Control (DBC) and a ‘Trail’ model, with rear-view camera and roof-mounted entertainment system.

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