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Hyundai Santa Fe Active 2012 review

Although not quite to European SUV standard, handling is still acceptable.

The Santa Fe is the larger of the two models in Hyundai’s SUV range. Until recently it suffered in comparison – both in terms of sales and looks – with its stunning looking smaller sibling, the ix35. With the release of the latest model, Santa Fe no longer needs to hide behind its cute little brother.


There are several specifications available: the Active 2.4-litre petrol seven-seat five-door wagon from $36,990 (manual), $38,990 (automatic), the Active 2.2-litre diesel seven-seat five-door wagon from $39,990 (manual), $41,990 (automatic), the Elite 2.2-litre diesel seven-seat five-door wagon from $45,990 (automatic) and the Highlander 2.2-litre diesel seven-seat five-door wagon from $49,990 (automatic).

Hyundai’s climb up the automotive ladder started with value-for-money then stepped up with a steady improvement in quality. 

As we expect from Hyundai there’s plenty of other standard equipment with one-touch centre row folding, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, auxiliary and USB sockets and mp3 audio and steering wheel mounted controls. Elite and Highlander get leather seats, satellite navigation with 7-inch screen, premium audio, push button ignition start and powered front seats (driver only in Elite).


Now style is paramount in the latest batch of models that have arrived in the past few years. The latest Santa Fe is just another example and shows with its fluid design that the days of the bland and boxy 4WDs and SUVs are well and truly over.

New Santa Fe has that solid, quality feel to its body that we expect from prestige European vehicles. The combination of attractive looks, functional design and flexible interior space seem sure to appeal to the typical suburban family buyer.

As well as the new styling the third generation Santa Fe is longer and wider than its predecessor and now comes with seven seats as standard across the range. Although larger in other dimensions, third generation Santa Fe, sits lower to the ground than before, not only making it more convenient for its occupants but also improving its aerodynamics and so fuel efficiency.

The Santa Fe’s designer’s handiwork didn’t stop on the outside of the new model. Inside the styling is just as exciting with a complex curved binnacle. Controls are conveniently large and well-placed with a large central screen on the higher grade models and inputs available through all the normal means and a good satellite navigation system with Suna traffic information.

Interior space has is sensibly arranged, there is plenty of head and legroom in the front and centre seats. The third row seats are best kept for youngsters. Importantly, the third row of seats fold flat to provide plenty of storage space when in five-seat mode. Previous Santa Fe models only offered the extra pair of seats as an option.

Indeed even with all seven seats in place there’s still at least 506 litres available. With both rows of rear seats folded (the centre row not quite flat) Santa Fe can be used as a quasi van with capacity up to 1615 litres.


Although both petrol and diesel engines continue to be offered, Hyundai is pushing strongly in the latter direction by replacing the previous 3.5-litre V6 petrol unit with a four-cylinder 2.4-litre.
As a consequence petrol power and torque drop significantly (204 to 141 kW and 335 to 242 Nm respectively).

Numbers for the 2.2-litre turbo-diesel are unchanged at 145 kW and 421 Nm (manual) or 436 Nm (automatic) between 1800 and 2500 rpm. New Santa Fe comes in three model variants, Active, Elite and Highlander. The petrol engine and six-speed manual transmission are only available with the entry-level Active.

The higher-specced Elite and Highlander are locked into the diesel/automatic combination. If you’re planning to use all seven seats with luggage make sure to find some hills when you take a petrol Santa Fe for your test drive and then balance off the $3000 surcharge for the diesel against your needs.

The diesel engine will of course consume less fuel than the petrol, officially 6.6 litres per 100 km with the manual gearbox compared with 9.0 L/100 km. Towing capacity ranges from a useful 2000 kg with the automatic transmission to 2500 kg with manual.


Standard safety features include seven airbags, ABS brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist, stability and traction control (packaged as Vehicle Stability Management), hillstart assist, downhill brake control, automatic headlights, reversing camera and rear park assist. Santa Fe Elite adds cornering lights and an automatic hold option with the parking brake. Highlander also gets HID headlamps and LED rear combination lamps.


Although not quite to European SUV standard, handling is still acceptable and unless you push the Santa Fe too hard it will remain neutral and balanced. Quite a bit of suspension and steering design work was done in Australia and it shows when we used the Santa Fe on some demanding stretches of road.

Despite the big drop in capacity the petrol engine is capable enough in normal suburban running although it does get found out on hilly terrain. The lesser ground clearance means the latest Santa Fe won’t be as good in off-road conditions, but very few buyers of SUVs are actually looking for an SUV these days.

Off-road Santa Fe's better than average for its class and can cope with harsher conditions than those likely to be demanded by the typical owner. It really is a 4WD, not simply an SUV. But don’t mistake if for a full house off-roader or you may get yourself into stuck in awkward areas.


The Santa Fe will prove a real plus for those intending to work their Santa Fe hard and keep it for a long time.

Pricing Guides

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Range and Specs

Active (4x4) 2.4L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $16,500 – 21,990 2012 Hyundai Santa Fe 2012 Active (4x4) Pricing and Specs
Active CRDi (4x4) 2.2L, Diesel, 6 SP AUTO $15,999 – 23,990 2012 Hyundai Santa Fe 2012 Active CRDi (4x4) Pricing and Specs
Elite (FWD) 3.5L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $13,420 – 17,710 2012 Hyundai Santa Fe 2012 Elite (FWD) Pricing and Specs
Elite CRDi (4x4) 2.2L, Diesel, 6 SP AUTO $17,990 – 24,990 2012 Hyundai Santa Fe 2012 Elite CRDi (4x4) Pricing and Specs