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Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander 2017 review

It sounds festive, doesn’t it? The Santa Fe. I have visions of driving along the Californian coastline with Mexican hats and pinatas in the back, downing a few Coronas when we get to our palm-tree lined, tropical destination. 

Unfortunately in reality, this week I was going on a family camping trip. There were Coronas involved, but no delicious Mexican feast. We had a red dirt road, a river, and a car load full of camping gear, though. 

And the Santa Fe? The camping didn’t phase her one bit. I was driving the Highlander, which is top of the range AWD, in the diesel version. Here’s how it coped with my children’s rather large road trip demands and my, ahem, natural camping aversion.

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✅ How does it drive?

Smoo-ooth. Hyundai has really nailed the way the car feels when it drives. It’s positively silky, and not heavy in the slightest, like a few of the other cars in this class can be. The Santa Fe cruises along exactly how I thought it would when I first heard the name. 

Granted, being in the top of the range Highlander, the lush, creamy leather seats may have had something to do with the serene feeling that comes over you, because this car does make you feel great. It’s high off the road so you immediately feel safer, and it’s big, but not enormous.

The steering is responsive, so the car handles really well. It has enough power to get up the hill near my house quite easily, and while not exactly zippy, it’s strong. If it were a celebrity (what? You don’t give your cars celebrity doppelgangers?), it would be Pink, because it’s gutsy but a really sweet drive.

The small turning circle really helps - the Toyota KlugerNissan Pathfinder and Mazda CX-9 all have a turning circle of 11.8 while the Santa Fe’s is 10.9 - positively tiny for a seven-seater. And you notice it when you’re trying to park or do u-turns. Ever tried to drop the kids at school and had to do a million turns while looking for a park? Yep. This helps. 

It’s also shorter than those other seven seaters, which means it’s easier to park. The front and rear parking sensors and reversing camera are invaluable, and if you really get stuck it has 'Auto Parking' which means it will park itself.

✅ How safe is it?

Let’s talk about the thing that bothers me most in this car: it has seven airbags, but the side curtain airbags don’t extend to the third row. So, whoever you put in the sixth and seventh seats are not covered by airbags. It kind of negates both seats being viable options for passengers, doesn’t it? So buy it for the bigger boot space it will give you when you those seats are laid flat.

There are two ISOFIX points in the spacious second-row. There are two ISOFIX points in the spacious second-row.

Besides that, it has everything covered, with Auto Emergency Braking (which means the car will stop if it senses you are going to hit the car in front), blind spot monitoring, collision alerts and active cruise control, amongst other things.

It’s got two ISOFIX points and three top tether points in the second row, but none are in the third row, and gets the full five star ANCAP rating.

✅ How spacious is it?

It’s big. Look, it’s not as big as the Nissan Pathfinder or the Toyota Kluger because they are both a bit longer than the Santa Fe, but there is definitely enough room. And then some. So you feel like you’ve got a fair bit of air around the cabin.

The second row is just as comfortable. I have two girls (aged four and six) who brought far too many things camping with them and they were still happy and comfy enough to sing. It was full, for sure, but that’s just because my children have a bad habit of wanting to bring their whole room with them, how about yours?

The third row is easily accessible. The third row is easily accessible.

Of course, they missed the rear entertainment system they had in the Kluger and the Pathfinder, as the Santa Fe doesn’t come with one.

The third row is easily accessible once you pop the second row seats down and move them forward, I was able to climb into the back quite easily. Note well: I am 163cm, not exactly a giant, so tall adults might find this a bit tricky, but children will be fine. The back feels airy and spacious, thanks to the huge sunroof which extends down to the second row.

The boot space is good, but the Kluger and Pathfinder are better. The boot space is good, but the Kluger and Pathfinder are better.

Boot space is good. I’m not going to say great because the Kluger and the Pathfinder are better, as they are longer cars. But it’s good. It held all of our camping gear - enormous tent, pillows, camping mattresses, stove, gas tank, food and enough wine for a woman who didn’t want to go camping in the first place (read: a lot of wine). Yes, it was full, but for everyday use, with things like groceries and small children’s bikes and prams, there is plenty of room.

✅ How does it look?

Inside, it feels lush and stylish. Inside, it feels lush and stylish.

Inside: It’s quite fabulous. And I’m fairly certain that has a lot to do with the cream leather seats. They are just the colour to compliment my balayage, thanks very much. I’m not sure how hard wearing they’ll be over time if you’re a fake tan lover, though. Maybe take a towel with you if you must sit in the car straight after a spray. But gosh, on first glance they are lush, and they really contribute to the stylish feel of the car. Plus, they’re heated in the first and second rows.

The steering wheel also looks great and feels lovely under the hands, which I always think is a big thing - you’re driving the car every day and it’s things like this that make all the difference. The speedo area also looks premium, and the interiors have been designed well, with a lot of thought put into each spot.

It's sleeker on the outside than its chunky competitors. It's sleeker on the outside than its chunky competitors.

Outside: It’s sleeker than its competitors. The Pathfinder and Kluger seem like boxy brutes in comparison, and even the Mazda CX-9 is boxier than this. It’s also smaller, which helps the look.

✅ How practical is it for day to day use?

Picture this: I’m standing at the car loaded up with dusty, dirty camping equipment having survived the weekend. I just wanted to get in the car and go home but lord knows my keys weren’t handy to actually open the boot so I could dump everything in there. And suddenly, the boot opens... on its own, like magic.

The boot is excellent for grocery runs and with kids. The boot is excellent for grocery runs and with kids.

It was one of those a-ha! moments. The value of this cannot be underestimated, especially if you’ve ever been one of those mums carrying a crying child + groceries + your handbag + other heavy crap and you just need to open the car. We’ve all been that mum, right? Also, the boot is low enough to swing groceries and prams into without having to hoist too high.

There are five cupholders in total, two in the front, two in the second row and puzzlingly, just one in the third row, plus a bottle holder in each door.

Storage wise, there’s a spot in the front to throw keys, phone and sunnies, which is probably the first thing I look for in any car. If you’ve failed on this, you’ve failed me - I’m the type to lose things quite easily, I don’t need to be losing things in my car as well. There’s also a decent sized storage bin in the centre console, and pockets on the back of the front seats for children to pop their extra special bits and bobs in. And a glovebox, naturally.

✅ What’s the technology like?

Most things are electric and it comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Most things are electric and it comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The Santa Fe has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard on the Highlander, along with a sizeable 8.0-inch screen. It’s easy to sync my phone, I can either listen to the digital radio or my Spotify, and if you don’t want to use CarPlay, the built-in sat nav is one of the easiest systems I’ve come across to use. So the tech gets a tick from moi.

Most things are electric - the park brake, the seat adjustment (which comes with a lumbar adjustment), the wipers and the sunroof.

✅ What’s the value for money?

The fuel efficiency on the Santa Fe Highlander diesel version is better than good for a car this size. Hyundai claims a 7.8L/100km on the combined cycle.

At $57,090 plus on road costs, the Santa Fe comes in around $10,000 cheaper than the top of the range Kluger, Pathfinder and CX-9, but you are missing things like the rear entertainment system. Personally, I know which I’d prefer (the 10 grand cash thanks).

There's a five year/unlimited warranty offered with 12 months between services. The services come in at $385 each apart from the 60K service which is $505, so you're paying $2045 in total over the five years, a pretty good deal.

The Wrap

The Santa Fe is really a fab family car. I gave it 7.5 stars out of 10, taking points off for less boot space and no airbags in the third row. But it won me over with its luxurious feel, the calm, comfortable drive and the value for money. I’d recommend it for families of five or less who want a bit more wiggle room than a five seater, and who sometimes need the option of seven seats. If that’s your family, this is an ace choice.


The interior space
The smooth drive
The fuel efficiency


Less boot space
No third row airbags




The Kids:


$29,700 - $38,830

Based on third party pricing data