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Hyundai Santa Fe 2020 review: V6 Highlander

Goodbye weedy four-cylinder, hello big-banger V6 petrol.
EXPERT RATING
7.5
Hyundai has spread the V6 petrol love all across the Santa Fe range, including the previously diesel-only Highlander. You gain smooth power but lose all-wheel drive. Does it matter?

Despite its plus-size dimensions, Hyundai's very cool Santa Fe gets by on just four-cylinder power, mostly diesel. Well, that certainly was the case before Hyundai re-introduced its petrol V6 to the range.

It's the same engine that made things interesting in the final days of the old Santa Fe, and its return heralds the demise of the Active four-cylinder petrol variant and the reappearance of petrol in the Elite and Highlander.

Perhaps to chase a few Kluger buyers, Hyundai has again slotted in the big-banger under the Santa Fe's nose. A recent run in the turbo-diesel Highlander didn't leave me begging for more grunt, but times are changing as we look to smaller-capacity engines to cut fuel use.

I'm not against the idea, but given the excellence of the diesel Santa Fe, does the V6 truly need to exist?

Hyundai Santa Fe 2020: HIGHLANDER MPi BLK-BGE (2WD)
Safety rating
Engine Type3.5L
Fuel TypeRegular Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency10.6L/100km
Seating7 seats
Price from$58,050

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   7/10

The Highlander V6 slots into the range at $57,500, a slightly puzzling $3000 discount on the turbo-diesel I drove a wee while back.

Once again, the Highlander ships with 19-inch alloys, a 10-speaker stereo, dual-zone climate control, around-view cameras, reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, active cruise control, electric front seats, sat nav, auto LED headlights, auto high beam, head-up display, partial leather trim, keyless entry and start, auto parking, power tailgate, power everything else, auto wipers, a hefty safety package and a full-size alloy spare.

The Highlander comes equipped with 19-inch alloy wheels. The Highlander comes equipped with 19-inch alloy wheels.

The 8.0-inch touchscreen runs Hyundai's own (reasonable) software with DAB+ radio connectivity, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto along with a Qi wireless charging pad. That screen seemed pretty good, then I drove the updated Ioniq with its awesome new screen and didn't feel quite so impressed.

Hyundai also includes app-based remote control for the Highlander, calling it Auto Link Premium. You can junp the locks, toot the horn, start or stop the engine and set the climate-control temperature, all remotely. The app also details things like fuel use and tells you where to get 4c off petrol at your local Caltex (soon to be Ampol).

Is there anything interesting about its design?   8/10

The Santa Fe is a car that's proud of its bulk but isn't any worse for it. Some big SUVs, like the first Audi Q7, were just bling and blubber. There's a lot to look at on the Santa Fe, with its upside down light arrangement (dare I call it the Big Kona?), funky grille and sparing use of brightwork. The 19-inch wheels look terrific and, as I've said before, not going for 20s or 21s is the right choice for both looks and ride.

It's also not overly masculine, like other cars of its size, with some funky details like the 3D effect rear taillights. Very nicely done, but very confident and bold at the same time, which is a tricky balance to get right.

The Santa Fe is a car that's proud of its bulk but isn't any worse for it. The Santa Fe is a car that's proud of its bulk but isn't any worse for it.

The cabin is very nice and has a really expensive feel to it. From the clever texturing and shaping of the speaker covers in the front doors to the materials and plastics. It feels more expensive than it is and betters its rivals, even the brilliant interior of the Mazda CX-9. The Toyotas in this segment - Fortuner, Prado and Kluger - all feel a bit cheap next to the Hyundai. The Highlander is obviously full of better materials than the Active, but I was pretty happy with the entry-level version I drove a few months ago.

How practical is the space inside?   8/10

Well, it's massive. Seven people fit in the Hyundai in reasonable comfort, with the middle row tumbling out of the way in a single movement. You get two in the back, three comfortably across the middle and, of course, tonnes of room up front.

  • Seven people fit in the Hyundai in reasonable comfort. Seven people fit in the Hyundai in reasonable comfort.
  • Between the rear seats you will find a decent storage bin. Between the rear seats you will find a decent storage bin.
  • The third row scores moulded cupholders and a little tray for the inevitable munchies. The third row scores moulded cupholders and a little tray for the inevitable munchies.

The boot is predictably big. With the third row out of the way, you have 547 litres of space, expanding to 1625 litres with all seats folded. With the seats up, you might squeeze in a MacBook Air (okay, probably a few of them).

  • As you would expect, with the third row in play, there isn't much storage on offer. As you would expect, with the third row in play, there isn't much storage on offer.
  • Cargo space is rated at 547 litres. Cargo space is rated at 547 litres.
  • With all the seats folded flat boot space grows to 1625 litres. With all the seats folded flat boot space grows to 1625 litres.

Each row boast a pair of cupholders, with even the third row scoring moulded cupholders and a little tray for the inevitable munchies. There are bottle holders in each door and an excellent phone tray under the dash. Between the rear seats you will find a decent storage bin with the armrest over the top and the glovebox is cooled.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   7/10

The V6 Santa Fe packs a 3.5-litre unit with a healthy - if not amazing- 206kW and 336Nm. That torque figure pales next to the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel's 440Nm, but you don't get a V6 growl or smooth throttle response from that engine, either.

An eight-speed automatic sends the power through the front wheels, so don't expect to head off-road. It's a genuine pity it isn't all-wheel drive.

The 3.5-litre V6 produces 206kW/336Nm. The 3.5-litre V6 produces 206kW/336Nm.

Towing ratings are identical, with 2000kg braked and 750kg unbraked and a 100kg maximum towball weight (or 150kg with the optional assist kit)

How much fuel does it consume?   7/10

Despite its heft, I still managed a creditable 12.5L/100km in the V6 machine. That's pretty good, considering the 2.0-litre ASX I had before it delivered the same result. Hyundai's official claim of 10.6L/100km on the combined cycle is, as ever, probably not completely potty. I've always found Hyundai's official figures to be from a universe reasonably close to our own.

The Santa Fe also packs a very decent 71-litre fuel tank, which should make visits to the servo fairly well-spaced.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   8/10

Like its diesel twin, the Highlander V6 has six airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, forward collision warning, forward AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection, active cruise, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and exit warning, to stop you or the kids opening a door into an approaching vehicle.

One neat trick is the rear-occupant alert, with the car telling you if you've left someone in the back seats. Hyundai reckons it's an industry-first.

There are two ISOFIX points and three top-tether points, but the third row offers nothing in the way of seat anchoring, which does limit the number of under-sevens you can carry.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

5 years / unlimited km warranty

ANCAP Safety Rating

ANCAP logo

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   8/10

Hyundai offers a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, with a year of roadside assist. If you stick with servicing your Santa Fe with Hyundai, you get another year of roadside, up to 10 years, which is pretty good. At the time of writing, Hyundai was offering a seven-year warranty, which I fully expect to become standard soon. Just a hunch.

You'll need to service a Santa Fe every 12 months or 15,000km and Hyundai offers a lifetime-servicing plan, which means you can see the service costs you're faced with up until the car is about 15 years old. You can also choose to pre-pay your servicing for the first few years, so you can add it to the up-front cost of the car and not worry about it again.

What's it like to drive?   7/10

There aren't many V6 petrol SUVs left and the only other real choice is the Toyota Kluger. There are a lot of commendable things in that car, but the driving experience isn't one of them. The Santa Fe is a much more interesting vehicle to drive and it stands out for that reason.

The V6 is a strong, quiet unit with a distant and pleasant growl when you give it some welly. It doesn't suddenly turn the Santa Fe into a BMW M-baiting sports SUV, but it does add another dimension that the diesel can't manage. What the diesel doesn't do is spin up the front wheels on full throttle as the traction control tries to rein it all in. Because the V6 is front-wheel drive (which helps explain why it's cheaper), there are two fewer wheels to handle everything. It doesn't feel any less secure, but hey, it's a big beast and all or rear-wheel drive would have been cool.

The V6 offers a smooth throttle response. The V6 offers a smooth throttle response.

The suspension feels a bit stiffer, to handle the extra weight of the bigger engine, and the rear seems a fair bit stiffer, which does occasionally make itself known over potholes and sharper bumps. This is fine up front, but probably a whole lot less fun in the third row. And if you like driving, that tautness is a good trade-off when you turn the wheel.

Just like other Santa Fes, it's not bad at all for a family SUV - it stays quite flat in cornering and manages to be engaging, which points to a well-sorted chassis. If the road is smooth  it's a very pleasant place to be, and in the cruise that occasional city jitter is replaced with a plate-glass smooth ride, and just a hint of wind noise swirling around the big wing mirrors.

Sadly, this iteration of the V6 is blighted by an irritating lack of response from the eight-speed auto. If you're trundling along at, say, 60km/h and need to punch into traffic that's running at 80, the transmission has a good long think about it before kicking down and getting on with the job. The paddles are there, sure, but it would be nice if the throttle and transmission response matched the chassis.

Verdict

The V6 Santa Fe feels like a bit of a "because we can" moment, but it might just plug the gap that Toyota-tempted buyers could otherwise fall through. Even with the slightly dithery transmission, the Santa Fe is in every way superior to a front-wheel-drive Kluger and probably - for most customers - an all-wheel-drive one. And it's better equipped, better-looking and just better all round.

It's probably a closer-run thing when compared to Mazda's CX-9, but I think the V6's real competition is the turbo-diesel versions from its own showroom. It's very difficult to fault the Highlander diesel, apart from its higher price, so if you're not quite at the $60k-plus mark, the V6 slips in just underneath.

Pricing guides

$52,173
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)
Lowest Price
$43,000
Highest Price
$61,345

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
ACTIVE (AWD) 2.4L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $43,000 2020 Hyundai Santa Fe 2020 ACTIVE (AWD) Pricing and Specs
ACTIVE CRDi (AWD) 2.2L, Diesel, 8 SP AUTO $46,550 2020 Hyundai Santa Fe 2020 ACTIVE CRDi (AWD) Pricing and Specs
ACTIVE MPi (2WD) 3.5L, ULP, 8 SP AUTO $43,550 2020 Hyundai Santa Fe 2020 ACTIVE MPi (2WD) Pricing and Specs
ELITE CRDi (AWD) 2.2L, Diesel, 8 SP AUTO $54,550 2020 Hyundai Santa Fe 2020 ELITE CRDi (AWD) Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7.5
Price and features7
Design8
Practicality8
Engine & trans7
Fuel consumption7
Safety8
Ownership8
Driving7
Peter Anderson
Contributing journalist

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