Richard Berry road tests and reviews the new Hyundai Santa Fe SR, with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.
Christmas time isn’t a holiday, it’s hard work. The shopping, the food making, the car packing, the toddler, the traffic, the relatives, the heat. And apart from your soul, the other thing that's punished is your car as you attempt to be everywhere at once and take everything you’ll need.
Yup, Christmas puts your car through pretty much everything it will face over a lifetime, concentrated into a fortnight. It’s possibly the best test for a family car, and this year our family tortured the Hyundai Santa Fe SR SUV.
Explore the Hyundai Santa Fe range:
2015 Hyundai Santa Fe Series II review | first drive video
2016 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander review | Top 5 reasons to buy video
Hyundai Santa Fe 30 Special Edition V6 2016 review | first drive
Hyundai Santa Fe 30 Special Edition V6 2017 review | road test
Hyundai Santa Fe Active X 2017 review: weekend test
The Santa Fe is a large, seven seat SUV, and the SR is the sporty king of the line-up. It’s not a hardcore four-wheel drive so you wouldn’t put it on the same shopping list as a Holden Trailblazer, Ford Everest or a Toyota Fortuner. Nope, the Santa Fe SR’s true rivals are top-spec versions of the Toyota Kluger, Mazda CX-9 and Kia Sorento.
In January 2016 the Santa Fe SR was updated with new styling and outfitted with advanced safety equipment. So how did the Santa Fe cope with its duties as the Santa Sleigh? Does the SR-spec really improve performance? Is the third row at all usable? And it costs how much?
The Santa Fe SR is seriously good looking. That’s not just my opinion, it’s going by the more-than-usual number of double takes and stares the SUV drew from people at crossings and car parks. Powerfully built with muscular wheel arches and one of the sleekest side profiles you’ll find on any mid-sized SUV currently out there, the Santa Fe SR is, to use the parlance of our times, hot.
The update to the styling in early 2016 saw the Santa Fe given a new bumper, grille, and headlights similar to the Tucson.
On paper, adding a tough body kit, black 19-inch OZ (pronounced Oh-Zee) alloy wheels and bright red Brembo brake calipers may sound like a huge mistake, but in the metal it suits the Santa Fe SR perfectly.
Hyundai has tuned the Santa Fe SR’s suspension to suit Australian roads and that makes such a massive difference.
That’s also how to pick the SR from its Santa Fe siblings – those wheels, the Brembos, plus the full length side skirts and spoiler.
Is the Santa Fe SR cruise-ship big? No. A quick dimensions check shows it to be 4700mm long, 1880mm wide and 1690mm tall at the roof racks. That’s 375mm shorter than the CX-9 and 165mm less than the Kluger end-to-end.
When the Santa Fe SR steps onto the scales it looks down and sees 1984kg, that's 60kg more than the CX-9, but about 40kg less than the Kluger.
The Santa Fe SR’s cabin is stylish and has a premium feel. A symmetrical dashboard layout is dominated by a display flanked by large air vents, with lashings of chrome-look trim and faux carbon fibre throughout. There’s nothing in the interior, however, that will tell you this is an SR – the cockpit is identical to that of the Highlander grade below it.
Wheelbase dictates how much legroom your entourage will have in the second and third rows and the Santa Fe SR’s is 230mm shorter than the CX-9’s at 2700mm.
I’m 191cm tall and can fit behind my driving position with about 4cm to spare between my knees and the seatback. I have about double that gap in the CX-9. I can also sit fairly comfortably in the third row of a CX-9 without having to slide the second row forward. I can’t do that in the Santa Fe… but at 170cm my wife can, and did for an hour on the way to a Christmas picnic with five other people in the car. She opted for the third row so my 70-year old parents didn’t have to climb over the second row to get in.
That third row really is for rare situations like the one above or for kids, so for the most part they’d be folded down and that frees up 516 litres of luggage space - 294 litres less than the CX-9. Still it proved just the right amount of space for all the gear, toys, grog and prezzies needed to survive a week at the in-laws. There are even a few litres of space under the boot floor.
Storage throughout is good with a decent sized bin under the centre console armrest in the front, a hidey-hole for phones and keys in front of the shifter, and a small tub in the third row.
There are also two cup holders up front, two more in the fold down centre armrest in the second row and one cup holder in the third row, while all doors have bottle holders.
The SR gets pull-up sun screens on the rear windows which are vital if you have kids in the back, although it should be pointed out that the base of the window sill in the back is high making it hard for our two-year old to see out.
Price and features
The SR lists at $64,250, which is expensive for a Santa Fe given the range kicks off at $39,350. In comparison the CX-9 Azami all-wheel drive is $63,390. Metallic paint is an option on the Santa Fe SR and adds $695 to the price.
Standard features on the SR include the 8.0-inch display with sat nav, reversing camera, six-speaker sound system, adaptive cruise control, leather seats, front and rear parking sensors, auto wipers and headlights, heated and ventilated power adjustable front seats, four 12V power outlets and dual-zone climate control (CX-9 Azami features a three-zone system), as well as auto-tailgate and proximity unlocking.
Then there are the SR-specific standard features such as the 19-inch OZ wheels (plus a full-size OZ spare), the Brembo brakes and the sporty body kit. The early 2016 update brought a restyled body kit and new interior trims, plus a larger display screen.
Engine and transmission
Single Santa Fe SR engine option is a 147kW/440Nm 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel, matched with a six-speed automatic transmission, sending drive to all wheels. There’s no manual gearbox available in the SR grade.
Hyundai says your Santa Fe SR should consume diesel at an average rate of 7.8L/100km. Well, after two weeks of every road imaginable our Santa Fe said it needed 9.0L/100km.
I have a confession to make. We had two Hyundai SUVs to choose from at Christmas: the Santa Fe SR and its smaller cousin the Tucson.
I formed an irrational bond with the Tucson because we ‘built it’. But with both SUVs sitting out the front of our house my wife took less than 0.3s to make her/our decision – the Santa Fe SR. Why? Not looks, not size, no, it was the tinted windows and pull up sun shades that would shield our toddler from the blasting Boxing Day sun as we headed 2.5 hours north to the in-laws.
It was the right decision. And as we turned onto a freeway clogged with the rest of the world it turned out to be an even righter decision – the update in January added adaptive cruise control to the Santa Fe SR. It’s not faultless but it’s one of the best I’ve used – able to bring the car to a complete halt in a traffic jam and take off again when the car in front moves away. I think I touched the accelerator and brake about four times in 200km of freeway. Not having to constantly stress about running up the back of somebody means you’re less tired when you get to where you’re going.
That 2.2-litre diesel is an excellent unit with great grunt for overtaking or doing the 0-110km/h sprint while being chased by four lanes of cars after you’ve pulled over to the side of the freeway to search for the dummy. The six-speed auto performs seamlessly.
The diesel engine is fairly noisy on the outside, but Hyundai has done a top job of insulating the cabin – you can barely hear it, even under load.
Hyundai has tuned the Santa Fe SR’s suspension to suit Australian roads and that makes such a massive difference to your ride comfort. Even on those bad-ass 19-inch wheels with 235/55/R19 Michelin rubber the ride was composed and comfortable.
Handling. Is there a better test of it than the front passenger gingerly holding two trays of lemon tarts while the driver tries not to send them flying everywhere, yet maintain the speed limit and not be late for Christmas lunch?
All tarts survived, but yes there is a better test. With the family and Christmas loot out of the Santa Fe SR it was given a 150km country road test.
First impressions – those Brembo brakes are excellent: 340mm x 28mm at the front and 302mm x 22mm at the rear, both running four piston calipers. Just a light dab lassos the Santa Fe SR and pulls it up quickly.
The SR spec upgrades the Santa Fe’s suspension by adding Tuix performance springs to the MacPherson struts up front and the multi-link system at the rear. Tuix is a Hyundai-specific tuning brand run by the company's parts affiliate, Hyundai Mobis.
When pushed you’ll still find quite a bit of body roll in the corners, but this is a two tonne SUV with a high centre of mass that’s set up to be comfortable more than anything else.
Another giveaway that this isn’t a track day warrior by any means is the engine. The 2.2-litre diesel is exactly the same engine found in the Active, Elite and Highlander grades. It would have been good to see the engine in the SR given an increase in power or torque.
It’s also definitely not a hardcore bush-basher – a ground clearance of 185mm is more than say a Toyota Camry’s 145mm, but don’t go too far off road in it.
A braked towing capacity of 2000kg is on par with the city SUV segment.
The Santa Fe SR has the maximum five-star ANCAP rating. When the updated version arrived in early 2016 it came with a stack more advanced safety kit such as AEB, plus rear cross traffic and blind spot warning.
There are seven airbags, although the curtain airbags only extend to the second row.
Only the second row has child seat anchor points, with two ISOFIX mounts and three top tether hooks.
The Santa Fe SR is covered by Hyundai’s five year, unlimited kilometre warranty. Servicing is recommended at 15,000km or one year intervals. Hyundai's 'Lifetime Service Care' program caps the first three services at $379, then the fourth is $499, the next is $379 and then the sixth is $460.