BMW X3 VS Hyundai Santa Fe
- Scorchingly fast
- Gives its rivals a run
- Terrific chassis
- Apple CarPlay price is extortion
- Some (not me) find the ride too hard
- Needs more visual aggro
Hyundai Santa Fe
- Wireless charging
- New advanced safety tech
- New grille design
- No high mounted centre console on entry grade
- Curtain airbags don’t cover the third row
- Warranty could be longer
Big fast SUVs have long been a guilty pleasure of mine. My brain has been telling me for years, since the first time I drove one - the first-gen Audi SQ5 - that they're silly and wasteful and 'not my kind of car'.
The Europeans - and latterly, the Americans - seem to be playing to an audience of me, convincing my prejudiced head that my try-anything heart is right: over-engined, jacked-up, stiffly-sprung family wagons are as much fun as anything else.
The X3 M is BMW's first full-fat M version of the X3, a car that has never really fired the imagination until this third generation. First we got the very good X3 M40i, now we have a 375kW, twin-turbo straight-six screamer, the M Competition.
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Hyundai Santa Fe
Good timing. Why? Well if you had bought a Santa Fe halfway through 2020, you’d now be driving around in the old one.
See, Hyundai has just updated the Santa Fe and it’s not a small revision, it’s a pretty significant overhaul which has added a new look, new features, new and refreshed engines and new safety tech. I’m here to tell you all about it.
And I should know, because not only did I go to the Australian launch of updated Santa Fe, where I drove it on beautiful country roads but I also lived with it in Sydney on awful traffic-choked roads.
I drove it in the rain, battled for spaces in multi-level car parks, did the preschool run, the swimming lessons dash, ferried home small trees and cow manure in it (don’t tell Hyundai) and then turned it from a Santa Fe into Santa's sleigh when we did the Christmas presents shopping in it.
Anyway, there’s a lot to tell you. Ready? Let’s go.
|Engine Type||2.2L turbo|
As much as I love the mental GLC63 - complete with V8 bellow - the X3 M is the one for drivers. While that's a silly thing to say on the surface - what 'driver' is going to buy an SUV? - this is the new reality. We love these things and they're not going away.
While it may not be quite as comfortable as any of its competition or have the V8 cachet of the Jag and the Merc, it still takes the fight to them in what is easily the roomiest and most practical in this niche part of the segment. And it's an enormous amount of fun.
You have plenty of choices in the mid-size fast SUV market - X3 M, GLC63, Alfa Stelvio Quadrifoglio - what's your choice?
Hyundai Santa Fe8.1/10
The previous Santa Fe was outstanding among its rivals and this new one in most ways is even better. Yes, I didn’t find the new Santa Fe quite as engaging to drive as the outgoing one, but it’s comfortable and easy to pilot, plus the new features, tech and safety equipment, along with increased practicality make the new version better overall than the old one.
The sweet spot in the range is the Active grade which comes with a proximity key, dual-zone climate control, leather seats, the high mounted centre console and privacy glass without the price tag of the Elite or Highlander.
The third-generation X3 is by far the best-looking and isn't as badly blighted by BMW's current oversized, hatchback-straining grilles. It's not small, no, but in the flesh, it looks fine.
The usual M accoutrements are present, with new front and rear bumpers, skirts and a whopping set of 21-inch alloys. It looks different and marginally more aggro than the M40i and just enough so a vaguely interested observer will notice.
A quick look at the rest of the similarly-sized hard-and-fast SUVs reveals a similar approach.
The seats add some serious excitement, they're a proper set of M seats, complete with the slightly naff light-up X3 M logos in the backrest. But it's predictably well-made, is very comfortable and is full of nice materials.
Hyundai Santa Fe8/10
This updated model looks so different from the front that we were stopped in a car park by another family in a Santa Fe who asked if this was the new-generation car.
The answer is no, but it’s a really big update which has added a new rectangular grille, inset LED headlights, T-Shaped LED running lights and new tail-lights which are now joined by a horizontal reflective strip.
This generation Santa Fe has always been a good looking mid-sized SUV and the new face lands a punch filled with attitude.
It’s interesting that this grille is a departure from the Y-shaped frame used across the brand’s range during the past decade and if I didn’t know better it could be a glimpse of the changing face of Hyundai.
The Santa Fe isn’t huge, but you should check to see if it’s going to fit in your garage. A glance at the dimensions reveals it’s grown in length by 15mm and now measures 4785mm end-to-end. With roof rails the Santa Fe stands 1710mm tall and it’s 1900 mm across.
From the outside all Santa Fes look pretty much the same, but inside there are two quite different cockpits. Look at the images of the entry-grade Santa Fe’s dashboard, now look at the Highlander’s. Yep the entry grade Santa Fe doesn’t get the ‘floating’ high-mounted centre console which is on all the other grades above.
That’s a shame, as the new centre console not only looks great but puts the buttons for climate and media within easier reach. The shifting buttons on the raised centre console also look beautiful – the entry-grade misses out on this, too.
Still, the cabin, even on the entry-grade car, is a premium feeling place with the layered effect to the design of the dash we first saw in 2018 when this generation Santa Fe was introduced. The range-topping Highlander goes ‘next level’ with Nappa leather seats and the virtual instrument cluster.
The Highlander is the grade I spent the most time in and while the cabin looks posh, the interior feels tough. Our car had the 'Camel' Nappa leather, but the Highlander also can be had with black Nappa leather at no extra cost. The standard black suede headliner is also a nice touch on this grade.
The entry-grade Santa Fe has black and grey cloth upholstery (see the images), the Active gets black leather, while the Elite comes in a choice of black or 'Cognac' leather.
There are eight exterior paint colours. The two standard ones are: 'Glacier White' and 'White Cream.' The premium colours are: 'Typhoon Silver', 'Magnetic Force', 'Phantom Black', 'Taiga Brown', 'Rain Forest' and 'Lagoon Blue.'
This X3, if you need reminding, is bigger than BMW's first SAV (ugh), the X5. That means plenty of room up front, heaps of legroom for most in the back and enough room for five aboard.
Front seat passengers score a pair of cupholders with a cover and the centre rear armrest has two more for a total of four. Add to that bottle holders in each door and your beverage holding capabilities are pretty standard.
The boot starts at an impressive 550 litres, almost tripling to 1600 litres when you drop the 40/20/40 split fold seat. You get a good flat load space when you do that, too.
Hyundai Santa Fe8/10
I think the Santa Fe can pull off a better balancing act than its mid-sized SUV rivals of being practical while still being stylish.
There are seven seats as standard and yes that third row isn’t big enough for me, but I’m 191cm (6'3") tall and I can sit behind my driving position in the second row with even more room now in this updated version. Headroom in the second row is also excellent – even with the sunroof.
My six-year old son had no issues climbing in and out of the second row, and those wide opening rear doors offered plenty of space for me to get in and fasten him into his car seat.
The front passenger seat has a power adjustment on the side of the bolster for rear passengers to move it back and forth. Parents beware: kids will be drawn to this and small fingers might get squashed if they play with it.
Boot space with the third row in place remains the same at 130 litres, but with those back seats folded there's 24 litres more space now with a luggage capacity of 571 litres.
The handsfree tailgate opens just by standing next to it with the key in your pockets which sounds brilliantly convenient but there were times when it opened when I didn’t want it to and was just walking past.
Cabin storage is good with cupholders on either side of the third row, two in the second row and another two up front.
There’s a large centre console storage box and medium sized door pockets. And under the floating centre console (on the Active grades up) is an area large enough to stow a small backpack
The upright design of the wireless phone charger with its little trapdoor is ingenious. All Santa Fes come with the wireless charger, plus two USB ports for the second row and two more up front.
There’s dual-zone climate control, and that means no temperature setting for the second row, although there are directional air vents in all three rows.
Price and features
For $157,900, before on-road costs, you may think this car should be absolutely loaded with stuff. And it is. Whether that's enough is up to you, but the price is about right for its segment.
It's worth remembering we only get the up-spec Competition version, BMW saw no point in offering the 'normal' version nobody was going to buy.
For your cash you get 21-inch alloys, multi-zone climate control, ambient interior lighting, keyless entry and start, active cruise control, electronic damper control, digital instrument cluster (not the new 'Live Cockpit'), sat nav, auto high beam, auto LED headlights, launch control, leather seats and steering wheel, electric front seats, head-up display, auto parking, power everything, auto wipers, huge panorama sunroof and a tyre repair kit.
The big central screen features BMW's iDrive, controlled by either the rotary dial or via touchscreen. It's a belter of a system and I reckon it's still the best, although you have to pay for Apple CarPlay - this remains controversial and I wonder how long the company will persist.
Hyundai Santa Fe9/10
The entry-grade Santa Fe is now simply called the Santa Fe and the petrol version costs $44,700. Then, there’s the Active for $48,300, with the Elite next up at $54,300, and at the top of the range is the Highlander for $61,700. These are the prices for the petrol variants, and diesel versions are $3500 more for each.
New features on the entry-grade Santa Fe include: super bright LED headlights (the previous entry-grade non-LED headlights were really dim), there’s the 8.0-inch screen (an inch bigger than before); and there’s a wireless charger now.
The rest of the standard features list includes cloth seats, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, air con, leather steering wheel, drive modes, rear parking sensors, roof rails, a rear-view camera and 17-inch alloys.
There’s also new safety tech which I’ll cover in the section below.
Stepping up to the Active adds 18-inch alloy wheels, leather seats, a proximity key, front parking sensors, rear privacy glass, dual-zone climate control, puddle lamps, electronic child locks, rain-sensing wipers and power folding mirrors.
The Active also gets new stuff in the form of paddle shifters, plus a raised centre console with gear shifting buttons (and a terrain mode control).
The Elite sits above the Active and scores new equipment such as 20-inch alloy wheels, a 10.25-inch media display, and a Harman Kardon stereo. This is on top of its previous standard features such as sat nav, digital radio, power driver’s seat, power tailgate, luggage net and rear door blinds.
The top-of-the-range Highlander gets the most new stuff. There are 20-inch alloy wheels (19-inch on the old car). Also new is the Nappa leather interior, the 10.25-inch media screen, a Harman Kardon stereo, and a 12.3-inch fully digital instrument cluster and remote smart parking assist.
That’s on top of other standard equipment such as the panoramic sunroof, head-up display, heated and ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel and heated rear outboard seats, plus LED tail-lights.
All Santa Fes come with seven seats, too.
Is it good value? The prices have gone up a smidge, but the value is outstanding.
Engine & trans
The X3 M arrives from the US with a shiny new version of BMW's modular six-cylinder performance engine. While the M Performance M40i has a single turbo (B58) straight six, one tiny change to the name - from B58 to S58 - means a heck of a lot.
The S58 takes the same fundamental formula, bolts in two new single-scroll turbos, throws in forged conrods and a few other changes to boost the power to 375kW (500 horsepower) and 600Nm.
That torque figure is available across a nice wide 3350 revs, between 2600rpm and 5950rpm.
Getting all that to the wheels is the M version of BMW's all-wheel drive system xDrive and an active rear differential. The near-ubiquitous eight-speed ZF brokers the connection between that system and the flywheel and it's all impossibly smooth and feels bulletproof.
Hyundai Santa Fe8/10
You can choose between a diesel or a petrol engine to power your Santa Fe, and a hybrid powertrain is coming soon.
The petrol is a refreshed version of the previous 3.5-litre V6 making 200kW/331Nm, while the 2.2-litre diesel is new and produces 148kW/440Nm.
Also new is the eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission found in the diesel variant. It’s a wet-clutch type of DCT and it’s smooth and quick.
The V6 has a regular eight-speed automatic.
The hybrid power train arriving in 2021 looks to be promising and it'll be all-wheel drive.
The reality, of course, is different but not unexpectedly so - a week in my hands in the suburbs and a cobweb-clearing early morning run delivered a 14.1L/100km average. Again, not bad given the kind grunt that's on tap.
Hyundai Santa Fe8/10
Hyundai says that after a combination of open and urban roads the V6 petrol should use 10.5L/100km. That’s pretty thirsty.
The diesel engine goes through less, even though it’s powering all four wheels. Hyundai says the mileage after the same sort of combination of roads should be 6.1L/100km.
I covered 174 km in my fuel test of the diesel Highlander and the trip computer said I used an average of 8.1L/100km.
A hybrid variant makes so much sense on an SUV which is likely to spend a lot of time in urban and suburban settings and we're expecting it to be highly fuel efficient.
One of the things I love about BMW is the company's ability to produce a car that on one hand is so normal and competent for the every day but also produce a version that is completely doolally.
The fine folk at M obviously involve themselves from day one so that when they get a finished car they can get cracking on making it properly fast. Obviously, quite a bit has to change for that to happen.
The X3 M is very stiff. Pop the bonnet and you'll see a piece of whatever the metal equivalent of four-by-two keeping the two sides of the car apart.
This is something M does whenever it gets a vanilla BMW, as it has with the M2 and outgoing M3 and M4 pair. To name three. The difference from the driver's seat, when compared to, say, the M40i, is immediate.
The steering is super-responsive, the front of the car reacting incredibly quickly given the X3 M's two-tonne weight.
Even in Comfort mode, the X3 M's ride is pretty firm. That doesn't bother me especially, nor my wife, who has a keen sense of ride quality. It never really falls over the line of being uncomfortable but it's worth knowing if you're considering this and you have to carry passengers.
If you drive around town in either M1 or M2 (in the factory settings at least), you're mad - the suspension becomes very hard and the steering too heavy. In fact, the steering in its Super Sport setting is just too heavy and uncooperative.
Cheerfully belting the 7200rpm redline at every upshift, barking between gears and delivering torque the way a hungry Labrador delivers a headbutt if you get in between it and food, the straight-six is glorious.
The 4.1-second sprint from 0-100km/h is only part of the story. Not many cars can cover ground so quickly and fewer still SUVs of this size and weight can do it with such precision.
When you turn the wheel on the X3 M, the front goes where you want it, instantly. All that under-bonnet bracing prevents the front flexing and shimmying, which is the enemy of going fast. So that sorts out getting into the corner. The best thing is you can push through corners and slingshot out the other side, riding that huge torque slab, the rear wheels doing most of the work with the occasional wriggle to keep you smiling.
A good chunk of the applause goes to the way the xDrive all-wheel drive system and its 'M Active' diff at the rear work together in Sport+ mode.
As colleague Steve Corby discovered at this car's clay-pan launch, the front wheels aren't doing much of the driving when you've turned it all up to 11 in '4WD Sport'.
When the road goes from straight to twisty, the excellent brakes come in to play, hauling the car down from big speeds without complaint. Even better is that in normal driving, they're not grabby and the pedal always lets you know what shape you're in.
Hyundai Santa Fe8/10
This generation Santa Fe came out in 2018 and since then I’ve covered thousands of kilometres in all grades in every engine variant. I’ve also driven and tested its competitors and it has stood out from them in terms of how good it is to drive.
Not many of its competitors were able to offer the combination of connection, comfort and easiness which the Santa Fe offered.
For this updated Santa Fe only the diesel variants were available to drive at the Australian launch and I tested the top-of-the-range Highlander and the entry-grade Santa Fe.
To me this new Santa Fe rides more comfortably than that previous model, but offers less of that connected feel that made the outgoing car feel planted and sporty. This may be down to a different suspension set-up.
Hyundai told us that for this new Santa Fe, rather than have an Australian-specific suspension set-up (as with the previous car), this new one has a global, one-size-fits-all tune. Hyundai still had an input, but the tune isn’t exclusively for Australia.
Yup, the last Santa Fe was so good that this new one has big shoes to fill, and to me it can’t quite match its predecessor’s all-rounder driving qualities.
Still, the new Hyundai Santa Fe is better to drive than almost all of its competitors, with good engines and transmissions, great visibility, and ease of control which makes it a breeze to pilot anywhere from dirt roads and motorways to car parks.
The X3 M rolls out the door of BMW's North Carolina factory with six airbags, stability and traction controls, front and rear parking sensors, around view camera (including reversing camera), forward and reverse AEB, blind spot sensor, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, reverse cross traffic alert, speed limit recognition and tyre pressure monitoring.
There are also two ISOFIX points and three top-tether restraints.
The X3 scored a maximum five ANCAP stars in 2017.
Hyundai Santa Fe8/10
For a car that’s not a new-generation model there’s been a lot of changes and this goes for the safety tech as well.
Previously, all Santa Fes came with AEB, effective from 10-65km/h for pedestrian and cyclists, and up to 75km/h for cars. Now there’s a 'Junction Turning' function from the entry-grade up.
This means that when you’re turning right at an intersection with your indicator on the Santa Fe will brake to avoid a collision with an oncoming car, cyclist or crossing pedestrian. Also new from the entry-grade up is lane following assist.
The Highlander is also given new safety equipment in the form of a blind spot view monitor, and parking collision avoidance
All Santa Fes have adaptive cruise control, and rear cross traffic alert with braking and lane keeping assist.
For child seats there are two ISOFIX points and three top tether mounts across the second row.
A weakness in an otherwise outstanding array of safety equipment is the curtain airbags which don’t completely cover those third-row windows. The Kia Sorento also has this gap in its defences.
Here’s some good news. In a world of space saver spare tyres becoming the disappointing norm, it makes this reviewer’s day knowing Hyundai has made a full-sized spare wheel standard across the Santa Fe range. The spare is located under the car.
The Santa Fe has a maximum five-star ANCAP rating, but this was awarded back in 2018 and these days the standard to get full marks is higher.
BMW offers a segment standard, but increasingly mean-looking, three years/unlimited kilometre warranty. It's not just BMW, though, it's all of the premium Germans. You do get three years roadside assist into the bargain and you can pay to extend the warranty, too.
You can pre-pay your servicing, with a five-year/80,000km Basic package for $3685. If you think you're going to give your X3 M a proper walloping you can opt for the the 'Plus Package'. For a not-inconsiderable $8173.
BMW will cover your brake pads and rotors for the same period as the Basic package.
Service intervals are variable because, as ever, BMWs tell you when they need a trip to the dealer.
Hyundai Santa Fe8/10
The Hyundai Santa Fe is covered a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.
Servicing is recommended every 12 months/15,000km and the pricing for the V6 petrol is capped at $399 for each service for five years while the diesel is $459 for the same time.