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Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander 2018 review


There are large seven seaters. Cars like the Mazda CX-9, Toyota Kluger and Kia Sorento. Then there are five seaters with two extra seats in the back like the Honda CR-V and Mitsubishi Outlander. Then there is the Hyundai Santa Fe.

It’s not quite as big as a CX-9 or a Kluger, but it’s not as small as a CR-V or an Outlander either. It sits in a sweet, sweet spot, for people who want a bit more space than those smaller SUVs, but don’t want a huge car, and still want everything that goes with it. 

I drove the Highlander which is the top of the range diesel, with my family of four for a whole week. Here’s how it did. 

How spacious is it?

We’ll start in the third row, because that’s essentially the reason you’re looking at a Santa Fe. And the space is good. My two little ones insisted on sitting in the third row the whole week, purely for novelty factor! They had enough space of course, being aged four and six. 

I had enough room in there too, at 161cm, but take note, there is a limited amount of leg space (the kids loved it because they could actually reach the toys they dropped without yelling out to me all the way down the front). You can move the middle row forward to give back passengers more leg space if necessary, however.

The second row has loads of room for the children, and you can fit a third child seat in the middle, too. My two had space galore to themselves and were climbing all over this car in absolute merriment (and monkey-ness. Yours too?). Even with this row pushed forward to allow more space for the back, I was able to fit comfortably with enough space in between my knees and the front seat. 

The second row has loads of room for the children, and you can fit a third child seat in the middle, too. (image credit: Dean McCartney) The second row has loads of room for the children, and you can fit a third child seat in the middle, too. (image credit: Dean McCartney)

Both my 185cm husband and I fit very comfortably in the front, him in his long-legged driving position and me in my short one! There’s also a good amount of space between the passenger seat and driver’s seat so you never feel cramped, and even with the sunroof there is a lot of headspace. 

The boot is a good size, too. With five seats in use (so, the last row down flat), you’ll get 547 litres which will just about fit most things a family needs. It’s so big you’ll need to climb in there if you want to do a tether point up on the kids’ car seats. 

  • With five seats in use you get 547 litres of boot space. (image credit: Dean McCartney) With five seats in use you get 547 litres of boot space. (image credit: Dean McCartney)
  • The boot is so big! (image credit: Dean McCartney) The boot is so big! (image credit: Dean McCartney)

With all seven seats in use, the bootspace shrinks, but I was still able to fit two scooters and two helmets in there, and you can get school bags in or some grocery bags. Nothing big though, so you’ll definitely get very good at fastening luggage to the roof if you like going on long trips and you have a bigger family. This is nothing new in seven seaters - most don’t have ample boot space when all seven seats are in use. It’s just the nature of the seven-seat SUV.

What does it look like?

It’s not too big, which is good, and not boxy either. There’s enough sportiness there to satisfy sporty car lovers and it looks quite solid, as though you wouldn’t want to mess with it. There’s a hefty grille on the front and curved lines which go up at the rear, giving that sleek finish.

There’s enough sportiness there to satisfy sporty car lovers and it looks quite solid. (image credit: Dean McCartney) There’s enough sportiness there to satisfy sporty car lovers and it looks quite solid. (image credit: Dean McCartney)

Inside is good, too, with a swanky new digital display in front of the steering wheel that is lit up all green and futuristically tells you how fast you’re going. There’s also a cool head-up display, with the speed limit conveniently right next to the speed you’re going, to keep you on track. 

The leather seats are perforated and quilted in different patterns which is a stylish touch and the leather steering wheel feels good under the hands. The centre console area has been cleaned up and simplified for this new 2018 model, with fewer buttons and it’s just a lot clearer to use and nicer to look at.

The leather seats are perforated and quilted in different patterns which is a stylish touch. (image credit: Dean McCartney) The leather seats are perforated and quilted in different patterns which is a stylish touch. (image credit: Dean McCartney)

The Highlander also comes with an enormous sunroof that goes all the way through to the back of the second row and really opens up the whole car to let a lot of natural light in.

How does it drive?

The Santa Fe Highlander drives really well. There’s a 2.2-litre engine so it has enough power to get me up hills and I wouldn’t have any qualms about taking this car on a long trip. I feel completely confident driving it. It’s a diesel engine, so it does have that chug-a-chug sound when you’re idling at the lights, but as time goes on you begin to block it out. 

The drive is smooth and there is good handling. It’s not zippy and you can feel the weight of the car, but it doesn’t feel too heavy at all. There’s a good balance.

There’s a 2.2-litre engine with enough power to get me up hills. (image credit: Dean McCartney) There’s a 2.2-litre engine with enough power to get me up hills. (image credit: Dean McCartney)

Parking was fine in this car as it’s not too huge, like a CX-9 or a Kluger, so you won’t have too much trouble and I fit in a few parking spots this week that I was surprised to get into. It’s shorter than you think it is.

There’s also a reverse parking camera, front parking camera and a 360 degree camera which I find particularly helpful. It lets you know where you are in space, so how far away from a wall or the kerb you are. 

How easy is it to use every day?

Getting into the third row has been made super easy in this new model. There’s a button on the top of the second row that pushes the seat down and forward, so rear passengers can more easily climb in. And putting third row seats down and up is light and easy. So that whole third row situation is a breeze to handle. 

There are two cupholders in every row, so six in total. You’ll get a few extra storage spots in the front like a large glove box, centre storage bin and spot to throw keys, plus a non-slippery surface on top of the glove box if you want to rest anything there. There's also a bottle holder in every door and a small storage spot in the back row.

There are two cupholders in every row of the Santa Fe. (image credit: Dean McCartney) There are two cupholders in every row of the Santa Fe. (image credit: Dean McCartney)

The middle row will get its own air vents and climate control, while the back row gets air vents and a fan to control - super important as it can heat up in that row and my kids even used the fan in this freezing winter we’re having.

What’s the tech like?

You’ll get Apple Carplay and Android Auto as standard in the Santa Fe, which means you can plug in your phone and be instantly connected to apps like maps and Spotify, and it also allows you to dictate text messages or read you text messages while you’re driving, and use voice control to make calls. You’ll never have to touch your phone while driving again.

The touchscreen comes with Apple Carplay and Android Auto. (image credit: Dean McCartney) The touchscreen comes with Apple Carplay and Android Auto. (image credit: Dean McCartney)

The sound system is good enough to turn it up and have a singalong (important when you’re on your own to take full advantage of the car’s speakers!). There’s a charging spot for your phone if you’ve got a compatible (read: new) model. 

And lots of things are automated - the driver and passenger seat are power operated, as is the sunroof and the boot opening.

What’s the safety like?

The new Santa Fe has been rated by ANCAP yet, but there are airbags that cover the driver and front passenger, and side curtain airbags that cover the middle row, but the airbags that cover the last row only cover the windows and unfortunately they’re not placed where passengers’ heads will actually be. It was after learning this that I took my kids out of that back row and made them sit in the middle row. 

You’ll get lots of the latest new safety technology though, like auto emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and a few others chucked in - it tells you when you’ve left children in the rear and you’re not in the car. 

It also tells you when you’re opening the driver’s door into busy oncoming traffic. So there are a few alerts I’ve never seen before. Is it too much and too beepy? Possibly. But you’ll either like it or you'll ignore it. 

There are two ISOFIX points on the outer seats of the middle row and three top tether points. 

How much does it cost to own?


The Wrap

The Hyundai Santa Fe was a great family car for us this week. It drives really well with enough power for short or long trips, and I was confident driving it. There’s enough space for the whole family and those two extra seats will definitely come in handy when you have visitors. I gave it a family rating of eight out of 10, because I found it a really easy car to drive and fit into my lifestyle. My children gave it an 8.5 - they love that back row. 

Likes

Exterior design
Interior space
Drives well

Dislikes

Third row airbags don't go the whole way

Scores

Nedahl:

4

The Kids:

4.3

$42,690 - $53,990

Based on 4 car listings in the last 6 months

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