Kona, Tucson, Santa Fe. What is it with Hyundai naming its SUVs after sunny places in the United States? Also, the Santa Fe name may have suited what was once a cheerful and rugged looking little SUV when it first appeared in the year 2000, but over the years it has grown up into the big serious flagship of the brand.
So perhaps it needs a new name? And seeing as the car was tested so extensively in Australia for hot weather suitability and suspension tuning then maybe it should get an Aussie name? The Hyundai Gosford? No. The Hyundai Frankston. Nup. The Hyundai Mooloolaba? Nah. The Hyundai Freemantle? I’ve got it: the Hyundai Albury-Wodonga? Too long. Hyundai Byron Bay? Nah, that’s pretty much the same feel as Santa Fe. This naming thing is harder than it looks.
Okay, it doesn’t matter what it’s called, what is important is what’s changed – and a lot has, but then some things haven’t. Read on to find out more.
Is there anything interesting about its design? 9/10
This new-generation Santa Fe looks totally different to the previous model, inside and out. The front now has the same ‘upside down face’ as Hyundai’s smallest SUV the Kona with the LED DRLs placed high and the headlights low, either side of a super-sized version of Hyundai’s so-called 'cascading' grille. Running along the edge of the grille is chrome strip which looks so menacing that if you walked into a pub holding one the cops would be called immediately.
The new Santa Fe sports the 'upside down face' much like the Kona. (Highlander spec shown)
Like the Kona the Santa Fe’s design has more angles than a protractor. Apologies for the Dad joke, but just look at it – there are combinations of shapes and lines even Salvador Dali would find weird, but somehow it works, and the result is an SUV that’s stunning and different.
You might not be able to see it clearly in the images, but the bonnet is pressed with a ‘power bulge’ shape you really only find on muscle cars like the Ford Mustang. Also, hard to see is how the wheelaches are actually indented rather than bulging out. I like that high shoulder line which runs from the tip of the LED DRL to the tail-light accentuating the length of the SUV, then at the rear things get more high society and refined with sleek and clean lines.
The shoulder arches are actually indented rather than bulging. (Elite spec shown)
It’s near-on impossible to tell the difference between the three grades from the outside. Which is good if you buy the base-spec car where the only giveaways are the 17-inch alloy wheels and the lack of bling on the grille which comes on the Elite and Highlander along with 18-inch and 19-inch wheels respectively. The body kit you see is standard on all Santa Fes including that subtle roof-top spoiler.
If you thought the outside had changed a lot from the previous Santa Fe, take a look at the interior images – not only is the cabin vastly different it’s next level stuff for Hyundai in terms of refinement. Again, there are some weird shapes such as the low dash with that rockpool-like area above the glove box, and the air vents which protrude like wasps nests, but the overall effect is sophisticated.
The Active’s grey/back cloth seats let the tone down a tad, but the leather ones in the Elite and Highlander grades are luxurious looking in Black, Dark Beige and Burgundy colours. There are stone, wood effect and carbon-fibre door and dash inserts on the top two grades, as well.
The cloth trim inside the Active let the tone down a tad.
Body colours include the standard White Cream Mica and Stormy Sea Mica (blue). Then there are Typhoon Silver, Wild Explorer (grey), Magnetic force (another shade of grey), Earthly Bronze, Rainforest metallic, Horizon Red and Phantom Black.
The new Santa Fe looks a lot longer than before, but the dimensions show an increase in length of 70mm for a total of 4770mm end-to-end. Width has increased by 10mm for 1890mm across while at 1680mm tall (1705 with standard roof racks)the Santa Fee is 10mm shorter in height compared to the previous model.
It's hard to tell the difference between the grades. Good for those who will own the base Active spec. (Active spec pictured)
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with? 8/10
There are three grades in the Santa Fe range: the base-grade Active which starts at $43,000 (before on-road costs) for the petrol and $46,000 for the diesel; the middle of the range and diesel-only Elite for $54,000 and the top-spec $60,500 Highlander which is also offered just in diesel form.
The Santa Fe is Hyundai’s flagship and the enormous standard features list reflects this king-of-the-brand status.
The Santa Fe is well equipped no matter which spec you choose.
The entry-grade Active comes standard with a 7.0-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, reversing camera, rear parking sensors, air-conditioning with rear temperature controls, cloth seats, 'Autolink', LED daytime running lights (DRLs), auto headlights, roof rails and 17-inch alloy wheels.
There’s also an impressive amount of advanced safety equipment which you can read about below.
Stepping up into the Elite adds leather seats (power driver’s and passenger), an 8.0-inch screen with sat nav, front parking sensors, proximity key, paddle shifters, Infinity stereo system, dual-zone climate control, tinted rear windows with sunshades, power tailgate and electric folding mirrors.
The top-of-the-range Highlander has all of the Elite’s equipment plus a panoramic glass roof, auto parking, surround view camera, LED headlights and tail-lights, 7.0-inch virtual instrument cluster, heated front and rear (outboard) seats, Qi phone charger and a head-up display.
The Highlander spec gains luxurious leather seats and a panoramic sunroof.
The Santa Fe’s new direct rival is the Mazda CX-8, both are a close match for size and price. Also consider the Kia Sorento – it’s the Santa Fe’s brother from a different mother and shares the same platform as the Hyundai. Nissan’s seven-seat X-Trail, or its French twin the Renault Koleos, are also absolutely worth a model comparison to the Santa Fe, too.
How practical is the space inside? 8/10
All Australian Santa Fes are seven seaters. While this new-gen one has grown in length by 70mm and the wheelbase is 65mm longer, the interior dimensions have stayed much the same. In fact, legroom in the third row is 20mm less, while the second row gains just 1mm. Still, because the second row is on rails, when it’s pushed back to its furthest point I can sit behind my driving position with about a 50mm gap between my knees and the seat back, and I’m 191cm tall.
It's longer than its predecessor, but the Santa Fe doesn't gain much room for second-row passengers.
If I slide the second row forward to give myself about a hair’s breadth of room, I can then sit in the third row with the same amount of space. Not ideal, but not a deal breaker either when you consider the third row really is for kids or a good save if you need to ferry adults unexpectedly. You need to remember the Santa Fe isn’t as big as say a Toyota Kluger or Mazda CX-9, instead look at it as a large mid-sizer with a bonus third row.
Entry into that third row has been improved, too, with the second row sliding further forward to offer easier access with a push of a button. The entry is still not super easy for somebody of my height (and lack of coordination) but it’s better than the previous model.
The third row actually has less room, but access is better.
A huge strength of the new Santa Fe is storage. Up front there’s a big centre console storage bin under the centre armrest, more storage under the dash and in front of the two cupholders, a big glove box and a shelf with a grippy surface above it, plus big bottle holders in the doors.
Second-row inhabitants have a two cupholders in the fold-down centre armrest, bottle holders in the doors and a storage tray in the rear of the centre console.
People in the backrow have two cupholders on the right-hand side and a storage bin on the other.
All Santa Fes have two fast changing USB ports in the second row, and one up front along with a regular USB port for media input, as well as a Qi charging pad. There's also an AUX port and a 12-volt outlet in the hidey hole under the dash and another in the boot.
The Santa Fe offers 547 litres of space with the third row down.
Talking of the boot, the increase in length has given the Santa Fe more luggage space with cargo capacity increasing by 31 litres to 547 litres. There’s also storage under the boot floor for your muddy shoes and wet togs.
The blind spot warning also includes collision avoidance, which will steer you back into your lane if the system senses that you veer into the path of another vehicle coming up the side.
The Elite and Highlander grades are also equipped with a system called 'Rear Occupant Alert' which uses motion sensors to detect babies or dogs accidentally left in the vehicle before sounding the horn. Both grades also have a child-lock system called 'Safe Exit Assist' which prevents the rear doors unlocking if an approaching car is detected. Amazing and life-saving stuff. There’s also a self-parking feature and surround view camera.
Under the rear of the car is a full-size spare wheel.
What's it like to drive? 8/10
CarsGuide’s test pilot Matt Campbell drove the new-generation Hyundai Santa Fe in Korea early in 2018, but the SUV he steered reflected an engine and suspension that won't be seen in Australia. So, this was our first opportunity to drive an Australian Santa Fe and see how it feels on local roads.
You may already know this, but Hyundai has an engineering team in Australia that ‘tunes’ each new model to cope with the type of roads we drive on and to suit local preferences. For example, Australians like their suspension on the firm side for a sportier feel, not soft and wafty like they do in the US of A.
Not all car companies carry out this type of local tuning. Many are taken ‘straight out of the box’ and put into the showroom, but we’re not going to name names here. You should know, though, that Hyundai put this new-gen Santa Fe through intensive testing on Aussie roads, changing the shock absorbers in the front 27 times and the rear 22 times along the way. Steering, too, was calibrated specifically for Australia.
The local launch saw us drive about 300km through the wilds that lay inland from Coffs Harbour on the NSW north coast, over a combination of dirt roads, motorways, winding coarse-chip bitumen and the not-so-great surfaces of country town streets. What was missing were the types of city and urban roads where many Santa Fes will probably spend their entire lives.
Still, it was more than enough to learn the new suspension set-up has resulted in a Santa Fe which feels comfortable but sharp at the same time. Big dips are absorbed well with next to no bounce coming out of them, while the body stays composed on patchy surfaces.
I drove the mid-grade Elite first and found the Kumho Crugen tyres (235/60/R18) a bit noisy on coarse-chip roads despite the sound deadening which Hyundai says has been added to the Santa Fe’s underbody.
Steering was light enough for me to carry out a three-point turn using just my pinky finger – which is what you want for parking and piloting through supermarket car parks.
That steering is quite direct, meaning you don’t have to turn the wheel far to change direction.
There’s a good feeling of connection between the wheels on the road and your hands on the steering wheel. This, combined with the composed, comfortable, but firm suspension, adds a lot of confidence and surety. It’s the difference between running in gum boats and sneakers.
The Elite has a 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine (there’s no petrol alternative in this grade). It’s smooth, with plenty of grunt, and while it's not as quiet as Mazda’s equivalent, it’s more refined and quiet than most – so fear not, this diesel engine is not ‘truck like’ at all.
The new eight-speed automatic is excellent. A weakness in the previous Santa Fe was the six-speed auto and having another two gear ratios is welcome – especially for highway driving.
The base-grade Active rolls on Hankook Ventus Prime tyres (235/65 R17). I spent just 25km driving this grade but the difference in ride and comfort between it and the others is almost indiscernible. If anything, those tyres, with their taller sidewall, are likely to give a slightly softer ride.
The Active grade gives you a choice of petrol and diesel engines. I drove the petrol and immediately missed the mumbo of the diesel, which boasts almost double the torque and more power. That four-cylinder petrol with the six-speed just isn’t as suited to this even bigger Santa Fe. If Hyundai was to bring out a V6 petrol, as it did with the previous generation, it would be a tempting, albeit, thirstier Santa Fe.
The top-spec Highlander has the largest wheels with the lowest profile tyres – Continental ContiSportContact 5 which are an excellent (and about twice the price of the Hankooks). The Highlander is diesel-only like the Elite. Again – great grunt and a comfortable ride, but there’s still some road, engine and wind noise filtering into the cabin.
All Santa Fes are equipped with Hyundai’s new 'HTRAC' (Hyundai Traction) all-wheel drive (AWD) system and the many kilometres of winding dirt and gravel roads gave it a workout. HTRAC is an on-demand system which distributes torque to the four wheels where it’s needed. I was impressed – even at 80km/h on loose gravel the Santa Fe cornered like it was on tarmac – pushed a bit harder there was some slippage, but the system quickly brought things under control.
The Santa Fe might not be hard-core like a LandCruiser, but you'll get further than you might expect.
The Santa Fe is not an off-road vehicle in the same way a Toyota LandCruiser is. It doesn’t have a four-wheel drive system with a low range, but its 185mm ground clearance and AWD will take you further than you might have thought.
In the video at the top of this page we had to drive through soft sand to get to the water’s edge on the beach and we actually passed a ‘hardcore’ four-wheel drive which had become bogged.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission? 7/10
There are two engines in the Santa Fe range – a 2.4-litre 138kW/241Nm four-cylinder petrol with a six-speed automatic transmission and a 2.2-litre 147kW/440Nm four-cylinder turbo-diesel with a new eight-speed auto. Both have been carried over from the previous generation Santa Fe and have the same outputs.
Only the Active grade gives you a choice of both engines, while the Elite and Highlander are diesel-only.
The Elite and Highlander are only available with a 2.2-litre 147kW/440Nm turbo-diesel.
Drive is distributed to all four wheels via the HTRAC AWD system which offers four modes: Comfort, ECO, Sport and Smart (complete with dash graphic showing drive distribution). The first three are obvious but Smart analyses your driving style and puts together an engine, transmission and steering configuration to suit you.
While all Santa Fes are currently AWD, Hyundai told CarsGuide it was reviewing the case for a two-wheel drive version.
Towing capacity remains the same at 2000kg.
Both engines have a timing chain rather than a timing belt – the chain has a lifetime service life which saves on maintenance costs of changing a belt.
Warranty & Safety Rating
5 years / unlimited km
ANCAP Safety Rating
How much fuel does it consume? 7/10
Fuel economy has been improved in both engines – but only slightly. According to Hyundai the 2.4-litre petrol uses 9.3L/100km (down from 9.4L/100km) and the 2.2-litre diesel uses 7.5L/100km (down from 7.8L/100km) over a combination of open and urban roads.
The trip computer in the Active petrol reported an average of 12.3L/100km for the launch drive, while the Elite diesel's read 9.9L/100km. That’s not great mileage, especially when compared to comparable offerings from Mazda, a company which is taking big steps to improve the efficiency of its combustion engines.
The petrol engine isn’t fussy about fuel and will happily drink 91 RON regular unleaded.
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered? 8/10
Free Roadside assistance is also offered for the first year and a roadside assistance plan is offered for up to 10 years.
The previous generation Hyundai Santa Fe was excellent, and this giant leap forward in design and technology has turned it into something better. Not overly large, but seven seats and great storage make it super practical, the new suspension makes it pleasure to drive, and a new look inside and out takes the Santa Fe’s refinement to the next level. It doesn’t matter what this SUV is called because it’s exceptional.
The sweet spot in the Santa Fe range is the Elite, not only does it come with luxuries such as leather seats, and a bigger touchscreen with sat nav, there's the added advanced safety equipment, too.
Is the new Santa Fe the new benchmark for big, mid-sized SUVs? Tell us what you think in the comments below.