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Hyundai Santa Fe Elite 2019 review: long term

How small can you go with a large SUV?
Malcolm Flynn

4 Dec 2018 • 30 min read

Malcolm Flynn is spending six months with the new Hyundai Santa Fe Elite, to see how well it fits his family’s needs.

Part 1: August 10, 2018

Our acceptance of the dual flush toilet is one of the simplest yet smartest adjustments Australia has made in my lifetime. You only use what you need, and everyone benefits.

I’ve also seen the emergence of the SUV, which now sees the versatile, jacked-up wagon bodystyle outnumbering the combined sales of hatchbacks, sedans, wagons coupes and convertibles in Australia. They’re not just a big deal, they are the new face of motoring.

But unlike the handy but simple two toilet buttons, the SUV market has exploded to include at least nine different size classes and sub-categories.

So there’s no point in going for the full flush SUV unless you really need to, and there’s plenty of other options if you don’t.

Since my first child arrived a little over a year and a half ago, I’ve proven you can achieve a whole lot with a mid-size SUV. We started at the smaller end of the mid-size scale with the Tiguan, before the more mainstream Escape, the slightly smaller CX-5, the roomiest-in-class CR-V and then having our cake and eating it with the Golf R wagon.

The arrival of my second baby was made easier with the extra space in the CR-V, but we proved it wasn’t ultimately necessary with the much lower and much faster Golf R wagon.

Plenty of people go straight for a large SUV as soon as #2 is on the horizon though, and I don’t blame them. When you’re ferrying infants, you’ll always find something to fill any gaps you might create by choosing a larger car.

Aside from the often borderline front seat space ahead of a rear-facing baby seat, the most iffy element we’ve identified with carrying two babies is whether Grandma (or a polite parent) is able to sit between two child seats in the back, AND put their seat belt on.

The CR-V had lots of room up the front for my 172cm height ahead of the rear-facing seat and just enough room for a nimble Grandma to access and belt herself in the middle, but the Golf wagon just passed the first test and failed the second.

The CR-V is just right for my family, if equipped with the full suite of safety gear that will still set you back $44,290, but in the interests of making Grandma even happier, the time has come to try something the next size up. 

Enter the newest large SUV on the market for the job, with the fourth-generation Santa Fe hitting showrooms just last month. 

It’s 174mm longer than the CR-V, 35mm wider, just 1.0mm taller, and rides on a 105mm longer wheelbase, so only really marginally larger despite the Santa Fe being firmly classified as a large SUV unlike the mid-size CR-V

The Hyundai is, however, 10mm shorter, the same width and 5.0mm lower over a 15mm shorter wheelbase than the Kia Sorento it shares much of its structure and underpinnings with.

Large SUVs certainly get much bigger again, with the Mazda CX-9 for example being 305mm longer, 79mm wider and 67mm taller on a 165mm longer wheelbase than the Santa Fe. So the Hyundai is a good way to go large SUV if you’re feeling a bit nervous about overall size.

Given Richard picked the Elite as the sweet spot of the Santa Fe line-up at its Australian launch, we’ve elected to go with the mid-spec variant for our test. Australia seems to agree too, with Santa Fe sales skewing in favour of the upper end of the range.  

The $54,000 (before on-road costs) Elite sits $11,000 and $8000 above the petrol and diesel versions of the base Elite respectively, and $6500 beneath the top-spec Highlander. 

The Elite comes standard with leather trim with power front seats, 8.0-inch multimedia screen with built-in sat nav with live traffic updates and lifetime updates, Infinity premium audio, dual-zone climate control, chilled glove box, tinted rear windows, rear window sunshades, proximity keys, front parking sensors, auto wipers, powered tailgate, power folding mirrors with puddle lamps and 18-inch alloys

The Elite gets 18-inch alloy wheels. The Elite gets 18-inch alloy wheels.

This is on top of the base Active’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, active cruise control, reversing camera with rear parking sensors, auto headlights, and front and rear fog lights.

The Elite also comes with the brilliant 'Rear Occupant Alert' (ROA) function, which intends to prevent you from locking the car with a child or animal sitting in the back. A motion sensor in the roof detects movement and a chime will warn the driver when switching off the engine, or honk the horn if the car is locked. 

Another safety USP for its class is the Elite’s 'Safe Exit Assist' (SEA) system, which is designed to warn the driver if a vehicle is approaching from the rear to prevent you from opening your door into traffic. It will also prevent the driver from deactivating the rear door child safety lock if an approaching hazard is detected, and there protect rear seat passengers also. 

All Santa Fe variants now come with AEB capable of detecting pedestrians and cyclists, along with blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert, lane keeping assistance, plus active cruise control.

The third row still lacks proper curtain airbag coverage though, designed to cover the window area rather than the rear seat occupants. The new model is also yet to be rated by ANCAP, but is expected to carry over the maximum five star ratings applied to the previous two generations. 

The Elite is only available with the 147kW/440Nm 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine, paired with an eight-speed torque converter auto and Hyundai’s new 'HTRAC' all-wheel drive system. The Elite’s official combined fuel consumption figure is 7.5L/100km.

The Elite is only available with the 147kW/440Nm 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine. The Elite is only available with the 147kW/440Nm 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine.

This is the first time my family has lived with a diesel for longer than a week, so we at least look forward to less frequent trips to the servo.

Our Santa Fe Elite story actually started before its launch, with Hyundai offering taste tests of the small Kona and mid-size Tucson before gorging ourselves on the big Santa Fe.    

We expected the Tucson to be just right for us with two baby seats, and it was. Enough room up the front ahead of the rearward-facing seat and a generous boot with a full-size spare under the boot floor.

The Kona was more of a walk on the wild side, but we found the front seat space ahead of the babies to be much the same as the Tucson, despite the smaller SUV having a 70mm shorter wheelbase. 

The boot was understandably more of a squeeze, but if you loaded it carefully, our twin stroller would fit without interfering with the hatch closing. It did interfere with rearward vision though, so not the ideal solution. For the record, it also easily fit the nappy and snack bag which are essential for day-to-day parenting, and could probably handle a weekend away if we packed our luggage in several smaller soft bags.  

  • Myth busted: You can get away with two babies in a Kona. Myth busted: You can get away with two babies in a Kona.
  • Although, it limits rear visibility. Although, it limits rear visibility.

So the Santa Fe Elite’s arrival was welcome, and with 1018km on the odo it soon had the two seats ISOFIXed in the back.

Which brings me to our first large SUV busted myth. We’re not likely to get much use from the third row of seats given you can only access them from the boot with two outboard child seats fitted. 

Outboard child seats make access to the third row impractical. Outboard child seats make access to the third row impractical.

We’ll go into the drive experience in more detail later, but after 1710km of largely urban driving in our first month, the Elite has managed a decent 7.68L/100km of diesel use

That’s around one litre better than what we’ve seen across the mid-size SUVs we’ve had, but not as significant as you might expect from the completely different fuel type. 

Acquired: July 2018
Distance travelled this month: 1710km
Odometer: 2728km
Average fuel consumption for Jul/Aug: 7.68L/100km (measured at the pump)

Part 2: September 10, 2018

Our second month with the Santa Fe kicked off with a weekend jaunt from our home on the eastern edge of the Blue Mountains to visit my parents in Canberra. So three hours on the motorway in each direction, with the kids in tow and the boot set for a free-for-all. 

Fold the third row down and the Santa Fe feels like a CR-V. Fold the third row down and the Santa Fe feels like a CR-V.

The trip down was a snack, with the boot feeling eerily CR-V-like with the third row of seats folded. 

The big win was completing the whole journey non-stop, which had been a question mark given it was the first time we’d attempted it with two kids aboard and ultimately a trial for our five-month old. It could just be that I spawn travel-happy kids, but the Santa Fe at least deserves some credit. 

Aside from its Australian-tuned suspension being tweaked to handle our roads as well as possible, the Elite’s particularly dark rear privacy glass and retractable window shades are no doubt big contributors to infant comfort. These are a great idea, and the latter saves you from fitting ugly mesh socks to your back windows.

Kids don't always want the windows blocked though, and this new model's much flatter window line results in a big improvement for back seat visibility over the previous Santa Fe.

Theoretically this also helps prevent car sickness, which is always a good thing. 

The Elite’s retractable window shades help infant comfort. The Elite’s retractable window shades help infant comfort.

Grandma seized the opportunity to cram more into the boot for the return leg, with a couple of bulk boxes of nappies from Costco filling the rear vision from the driver’s seat. 

Confidence was soon restored with the discovery of the Santa Fe’s ability to leave the reversing camera continuously on while cruising. This would also be very handy for keeping a close eye on a towed load. 

Leaving the reversing camera on can help with big cargo loads. Leaving the reversing camera on can help with big cargo loads.

Aside from the Canberra run, it was urban business as usual with a few motorway runs to Campbelltown thrown in. Our average over this month’s 2291km surprisingly jumped to 8.16L/100km given the proportion of motorway driving, but we did see the dash figure reach a new low of 7.0 after sustained 110km/h cruising.

  • The Santa Fe is 10mm shorter, 5.0mm lower and has a 15mm shorter wheelbase compared to a Kia Sorento. The Santa Fe is 10mm shorter, 5.0mm lower and has a 15mm shorter wheelbase compared to a Kia Sorento.
  • Santa Fe sales skew in favour of the upper end of the range. Santa Fe sales skew in favour of the upper end of the range.

Acquired: July 2018
Distance travelled this month: 2291km
Odometer: 5019km
Average fuel consumption for Aug/Sept: 8.16L/100km (measured at the pump)

Part 3: October 10, 2018

It’s funny to think that my kids have arrived in a world where even touchscreens are a bit old school, let alone buttons or even the analog dials that could make finding a radio station akin to neurosurgery. 

The ability to sit in the car and ask for pretty much any multimedia function by prefacing it with “OK Google” is pretty handy stuff, but my 2016 and 2018 model year babies will never know any different. My 22-month old has even started to echo our commands like a parrot. I’m sure it won’t be long before he asks the car for music rather than his parents. 

I’m talking about Android Auto if you haven’t had the chance to try it, which in my case with the Santa Fe simply means plugging my phone into the correct USB in the dash and asking away. 

It’s all well and good to have a dealer show off such features in the controlled environment of the showroom, but the most impressive part for me is that it actually works, at least 80 per cent of the time.

It seems to get to know the phone user’s speech patterns too, allowing more and more casual pronunciation the more you use it. This also makes it less responsive to other passengers’ commands, which is a pretty good thing if you think about it.

If only it could remind me to pack the reusable shopping bags before heading to the supermarket. I’ll get there one day, but for now the Santa Fe is continually copping loads of loose groceries in the boot. I’ve managed to get as far as keeping a fruit box at home to make unloading easier, but I’m fearful of losing a handful of grapes down folding seat crevice in the meantime. You don’t want to discover that situation with your nose. Any tips? Please share in the comments. 

Don't you hate forgetting reusable bags? Don't you hate forgetting reusable bags?

One seemingly unavoidable reality of shopping centre carparks is the wayward trolley. And I’m afraid it was the Santa Fe’s turn this month, copping a handful of surprise scratches behind the right-rear door, despite my staunch discipline of parking it uphill and away from other shoppers.

At just four months old, this Santa Fe is already off to the panel beaters. At just four months old, this Santa Fe is already off to the panel beaters.

It’s never a pleasing sight to discover damaged paintwork, but it’s particularly galling when it’s someone else’s car and a model so new you’re still pointing other examples in traffic. So it’s off to the panel beaters for NBT60D, at just four months old.

Call me old fashioned, but I still can’t send a dirty car off to be worked on, so gave it a good bath before it’s date with the spray booth. 

This was a good chance to give Mr 22 months his first car washing lesson, which embarrassingly was the first time it had seen soap in four months! I blame the Magnetic Force colour, which still looked reasonably clean from 20m away.

Never too young to learn the fundamentals. Never too young to learn the fundamentals.

Aside from the rough and tumble of supermarkets, it’s been otherwise a quiet month for our Santa Fe, racking up just 766km of around town driving. Our 8.4L/100km fuel consumption average for the month was’t bad considering last month’s motorway-heavy driving was just 0.24L better.

Acquired: July 2018
Distance travelled this month: 766km
Odometer: 5785km
Average fuel consumption for Sept/Oct: 8.4L/100km (measured at the pump)

Part 4: November 10, 2018

Our Santa Fe returned from the doctor looking good as new thankfully, but also gained new special powers.  

Our friends at Hyundai HQ had taken the chance to set up Auto Link, which has given me a remote view of the Santa Fe’s status and some hand-of-God controls via my smartphone. 

All new Santa Fes (in addition to i30, Kona and Tucson) come fitted with Auto Link as standard, but ours had snuck under the radar by being one of the early launch vehicles. 

There’s two levels on offer, with the base Auto Link Bluetooth giving a remote view of trip computer functions, tyre pressures, driving history, crowd comparison of data, vehicle location and will alert you of mechanical issues and enable contact with roadside assistance or available service locations. 

The Santa Fe Highlander comes standard Auto Link Premium, but is a $495 option on lesser grades. This cost is partially explained by requiring its own SIM. 

  • Our Santa Fe came with the ability to start and stop the engine through the Auto Link app. (image credit: Tom White) Our Santa Fe came with the ability to start and stop the engine through the Auto Link app. (image credit: Tom White)
  • With the app, you're able to keep tabs on the vehicle’s location. (image credit: Tom White) With the app, you're able to keep tabs on the vehicle’s location. (image credit: Tom White)
  • While the Highlander scores Auto Link Premium, on the lower trim levels it's a $495 option. (image credit: Tom White) While the Highlander scores Auto Link Premium, on the lower trim levels it's a $495 option. (image credit: Tom White)

Our Santa Fe thankfully scored the more advanced version, which adds the ability to remote start and stop the engine, lock and unlock, adjust the climate control and demister, hazard light and horn control, set up geo-fencing alerts and also automatically send messages if the vehicle is involved in a collision. 

What does this all mean? At the very least, you can dazzle fellow dinner party guests by starting the car from the table, but also handy for keeping tabs on the vehicle’s location if you’re generous enough to give someone else a drive. You can even set up access for two devices at once, so Dad can spy on Mum as much as she does he. 

It’s actually a godsend on hot (no doubt cold too) days, by allowing you to start the air conditioning before you get to the car. No, not the greenest of notions, but very much in the kids’ best interests. 

You’ve just got to remember to do it, which is a bigger challenge than you might think. 

One element worth remembering is that Auto Link users are also eligible for a 4c/litre discount from participating Caltex fuel stations, every time you fill. You just scan the QR code in the app when paying. 

All this Auto Link reflection has been facilitated by a surprise lengthy hospital stay for one of my nearest and dearest. What better way to explore the ins and outs of an app than by spending days bedside in a ward? 

As a result, there’s little more to say about the Santa Fe this month, as it really just played the role of family truckster from home to the hospital, to daycare, the supermarket, then home to the tune of 795 supportive kilometres and racking up another 8.4L/100km average consumption, again.

Acquired: July 2018
Distance travelled this month: 795km
Odometer: 6580km
Average fuel consumption for Oct/Nov: 8.4L/100km (measured at the pump)

The Wrap

Is there anything you'd like Mal to check out with the Santa Fe Elite? Tell us in the comments below.


Large but not big
Innovative safety tech
All the important features for my fam


Curtain airbags don't cover third-row occupants
Looks can be polarising
Diesel advantage not as significant as you might expect



The Kids:


Based on new car retail price