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Hyundai Santa Fe 2020 review: Active X Diesel

The Santa Fe is a mid-sized SUV but it has seven seats.

The Hyundai Santa Fe is a seven-seater, mid-sized SUV and the Active X is a new grade in the line-up which sits just above the entry-level Active, but below the mid-range Elite.

If the Santa Fe is on your shopping list also check out the new Kia Sorento and Mazda CX-8 which are excellent family choices, too.

For this review it’s the Santa Fe Active X with all-wheel drive and diesel that we’ve family tested. And the best way to do that, obviously, is with a family - which is what I did.

My little family lived with the Santa Fe for two weeks. We did the shopping, school drops offs, took off a few days for a getaway, and even went of off-road.

How did it cope with everything from city streets and shopping centre car parks to country roads, muddy tracks plus all the punishment two adults and a five-year-old can deliver along the way? Here’s how.

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✅ What does it look like?

The Santa Fe is a mid-sized SUV but a biggish one with seven seats and measures 4770mm long. That’s part of the appeal because most of the vehicles in this segment don’t have a third row, but more on that later.

This fourth-generation Santa Fe arrived in 2018 looking a lot different to the model before it. Tough and interesting to look at, the Santa Fe sports the new Hyundai ‘upside down’ face with the headlights low and high-placed daytime driving lights flanking an enormous grille. It’s a similar look worn by smaller new-gen Hyundai SUVs such as the Venue and Kona.

This fourth-generation Santa Fe arrived in 2018 looking a lot different to the model before it. This fourth-generation Santa Fe arrived in 2018 looking a lot different to the model before it.

Sleek tail-lights fit the prestige styling, and this high-end feel extends into the cabin even on this Active X grade with a stylish sculptured dash and leather upholstery.

The Active X has a more premium feel to the Active below it thanks to 18-inch alloy wheels, satin chrome exterior door handles with courtesy lights, puddle lamps, privacy glass, power folding mirrors fabric rooflining and quilted leather seats.

The Active X wears 18-inch alloy wheels. The Active X wears 18-inch alloy wheels.

✅ How does it drive?

My family and I spent hours and hours at a time in the Santa Fe. It became our mobile home on our trip away and as I’ve found many times before, if there’s anything they don’t like it’s made known quickly.

So, when nobody had said anything after three hours of driving, to a holiday house I asked them what they thought.

“It’s really comfortable” was my wife’s answer. And it is.

“It’s fast” was my son’s answer. It’s not.

The comfort point is an important one – the seats are excellent, although the driving position is a bit upright.

The Santa Fe’s suspension is the hero here though. I’ve driven cars with air suspension less comfortable than the Santa Fe with its regular shock absorbers and springs.

The Santa Fe is super comfortable to drive for hours. The Santa Fe is super comfortable to drive for hours.

Hyundai’s local engineers set themselves the grueling task of testing their cars in Australia to develop the most suitable suspension tune for our wide range of roads. The result is a Santa Fe which is super comfortable to drive for hours but is a well handling, secure and planted feeling SUV, as well.

There’s no bounce, no wobble, and no big leaning in the corners which come with many SUVs. So, the Santa Fe not only feels good to drive, it feels safe to drive, too.

The Active X comes with a choice of a diesel engine with all-wheel drive or a front-wheel drive petrol combination. Our test car was the diesel which was a good thing because we’d planned to do a bit of mild off-roading.

A lot of rain had fallen in the lead up to our little adventure and the dirt road we’d planned to take to the Lithgow glow worm tunnels had turned to brown slush.

I’d driven the all-wheel drive Santa Fe on sand at its launch the year before so I knew it had fairly good ground clearance (185mm) and I didn’t get it bogged, which says more about its ability than mine.

The Santa Fe has 185mm of ground clearance. The Santa Fe has 185mm of ground clearance.

Mud can be a different story especially with ruts and deep dips in places, but taking it easy and picking the right line meant we could follow a convoy of hardcore off-road utes through the same terrain safely and really easily.

Let’s be clear, the Santa Fe is not going to go anywhere too challenging - the lack of clearance could see you beach yourself on a rock and the front lip will be keen eat dirt in steep dips. Nope, it’s an SUV designed for the road but can handle a little bit of dirt and mud, too.

The 2.2-litre diesel engine in our car was perfect for slow-going muddy roads with 440Nm of torque which just effortlessly pulled us up steep hills. The all-wheel drive system, which is only available with the diesel in this grade, performed superbly in keeping great traction.

The 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine produces 147kW/440Nm. The 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine produces 147kW/440Nm.

The engine’s 147kW is a lot less than the petrol version’s 206kW and its noisier too, but if you’re planning on towing or regularly using it on dirt roads then the diesel all-wheel drive is the way to go.

Both diesel and petrol versions come with a smooth eight-speed auto, with paddle shifters.  

✅ How spacious is it?

The Santa Fe is a mid-sized SUV but one of the things which makes it a bit special is that it has seven seats, whereas most have five. That said, the rear two seats don’t offer much room, and somebody my height (191cm/6'3") won’t want to be squished back there for long.

The rear two seats don’t offer much room. The rear two seats don’t offer much room.

Kids will like those seats, but they also like sitting in carboard boxes. Still the third row is more for occasional seating, so if you have a large family then a Hyundai iLoad or Kia Carnival would be better.

The second row is far more accommodating and there's plenty of room for my legs and great headroom, too.

The second row has plenty of room for my legs and great headroom. The second row has plenty of room for my legs and great headroom.

I found the pilot’s seat up front, spacious with good shoulder- and elbow room.

Also making the Santa Fe special is its great cabin storage. We loved the little shelf above the glove box to throw phones and wallets while driving, the centre console bin is large and there are six cupholders (two in each row). We also found trays and hidey holes throughout which ended up full of shells, sand sticks, rocks and Pokémon cards.

I found the pilot’s seat up front, spacious with good shoulder room. I found the pilot’s seat up front, spacious with good shoulder room.

Only the door pockets seemed too small. Really, they’re just bottle holders.  

We had those third-row seats folded flat the entire time we had the Santa Fe Active X and that gave the boot 547 litres of cargo capacity. If you need to use those back seats, then there’s still a bit of room. Take a look at the images and you’ll see we easily managed to fit a small suitcase in the space.

  • With the third-row seats folded flat, boot space is rated at 547 litres. With the third-row seats folded flat, boot space is rated at 547 litres.
  • With the third-row seats folded flat, boot space is rated at 547 litres. With the third-row seats folded flat, boot space is rated at 547 litres.
  • With the third row seats in place, there's still enough room for a small suitcase. With the third row seats in place, there's still enough room for a small suitcase.
  • With the third row seats in place, there's still enough room for a small suitcase. With the third row seats in place, there's still enough room for a small suitcase.

All Santa Fe models come with roof rails, too, and the Hyundai website lists heaps of genuine accessories from roof pods and baskets to bike and surfboard carriers if you run out of room inside.

✅ How easy is it to use every day?

There are some excellent family-friendly features to the Santa Fe. There are plenty of power outlets – a 12V point and USB port up front and two USB ports in the second row and Active X, plus a 12V in the cargo area. There are directional air vents in all three rows with a fan speed dial for the very back seats.

Both of those back seats can be lowered automatically with buttons in the cargo area, too.

There are directional air vents in all three rows. There are directional air vents in all three rows.

The Active X adds more great features we found useful, such as push button start and a proximity key which means you’ll never need to take the key out of your pocket or handbag to lock, unlock or start the car.

The Active X also adds the leather upholstery which parents know wipes clean a lot easier than cloth. Then there’s the privacy glass, to keep the sun off kids’ faces.

Front parking sensors are also part of the Active X grade and those helped in the tight spaces around our place in the city.

The cabin ergonomics are great, with interior door handles in the right places for easy opening, comfortable and large seats with a great driving position, great visibility all around with a good reversing camera.

✅ How safe is it?

The Hyundai Santa Fe was given the maximum five-star ANCAP rating when it was tested in 2018.

Coming standard on the Active X is AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection along with blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert, lane keeping assistance, plus active cruise control.

The blind spot warning also includes collision avoidance, which will steer you back into your lane if the system senses you veering into the path of another vehicle coming up the side.

The Active X misses out on some of the family-focused safety tech that comes on the higher grades such as the rear occupant alert and safe exit warning system.

Also disappointing are the curtain airbags which cover the first two rows, but only cover the windows of the third row. This really confirms those third-row seats are for occasional use only.

For child seats you’ll find three top tether points and two ISOFIX mounts across the second row.

Some good news. There’s a full-sized spare wheel. This was reassuring when we were 40km into a muddy and rocky road out the back of Lithgow as the sun was going down. We never needed the spare, but knowing it was there meant we could confidently take this trip.

Well, almost confidently, we had 40km of slow-going remote road to cover before we made it back to civilisation, but only about 40 minutes of light left before we were plunged into winter darkness.

I knew the Active X didn’t have LED headlights, and the standard ones are woefully dim in the bush. So, there was a slow rising panic that we wouldn’t make it before last light, but we made good time and safely found the bitumen easily.

✅ What’s the tech like?

The Santa Fe Active X has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto but comes with the smaller 7.0-inch screen (higher grades have an 8.0-inch). The Active X doesn’t have sat nav, which would be a problem if you go out of range like we did and your phone’s maps stop working.

The standard six-speaker sound system is good, and we had no trouble streaming music from apps such as Spotify and Apple Music.

The Active X comes with a 7.0-inch screen multimedia screen, featuring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Active X comes with a 7.0-inch screen multimedia screen, featuring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Bluetooth phone connection is super quick, and I found it to be faultless in its operation.

Higher grades have digital radio, but not the Active X – that’s no huge loss.

✅ How much does it cost to own?

The diesel version of the Santa Fe Active X lists for $50,050 which is $3K more than the Active X with the petrol engine. The diesel is all-wheel drive and the petrol is front-wheel drive, and I think it’s worth the extra money if you’re planning to head onto muddy, dirt roads like we did.

The Santa Fe is covered by Hyundai’s five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.

The Active X diesel needs servicing annually or every 15,000km and Hyundai offers three plans: three years/45,000km for $1305, four years/60,000km for $1804, and five years/75,000km for $2239.

As for fuel, the 2.2-litre turbo-diesel in the Active X used 51.47 litres of fuel after 628.4km of every type of road you can think of – city and suburban streets, country roads and muddy tracks, motorways, peak hour traffic, you name it.

The mileage came out to be 8.2L/100km. Hyundai’s official fuel economy is 7.5L/100km, but I doubt they did that with a family on board, with daycare drop offs, a weekend away loaded up with pillows, food and 80km of off-road goodness thrown in. Still, very good fuel economy in the real world.


The Wrap

The Hyundai Santa Fe is an outstanding mid-sized SUV for the money and as a family car it’s up there with the RAV4 and Kia Sorrento as the best in the segment for the way it drives, it’s practicality, tech and design

The Active X does miss out on some safety features which are family focused such as the rear occupant alert and exit warning, but there’s plenty of other advanced equipment such as AEB and rear cross-traffic alert.

The Active X is a smart family pick because it adds convenience features such as proximity unlocking, luxury features like leather upholstery (which is easier to keep clean than cloth, too) and family features like privacy glass.

I’d happily buy it for my family and reckon it’s worth an 8/10, my five-year-old boy wants to give it an infinity out of ten because he liked that he could see out the big windows and felt ‘cozy’ inside. Let’s just call it a 10/10, from him, then.

Likes

Privacy glass
Leather seats
Proximity key

Dislikes

Misses out on rear occupant alert and exit assist
No sat nav
Airbags don’t completely cover third row seats

Scores

Richard:

4

The Kids:

5

$50,050

Based on new car retail price

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