Lexus NX VS Hyundai Santa Fe
Hyundai Santa Fe
- Ride comfort and driveability
- Luxurious interior on Elite and Highlander
- Cloth seats on base grade Active
- Petrol four cylinder lacks grunt
- No front wheel drive variant
It’s only taken nearly 15 years, but Lexus has become a fully accepted prestige brand in Australia – it outsells Jaguar, Alfa Romeo, Mini, Porsche and Peugeot. And the NX mid-sized SUV is far and away the most popular Lexus model.
Read on to find out what I found out.
Read More: Lexus NX 2018 review
Read More: Lexus NX Sports Luxury 2018 review: snapshot
Read More: Lexus NX F Sport 2018 review: snapshot
Read More: Lexus NX Luxury 2018 review: snapshot
Read More: Lexus NX 300 F Sport AWD 2018 review
|Fuel Type||Hybrid with Regular Unleaded|
Hyundai Santa Fe
Kona, Tucson, Santa Fe. What is it with Hyundai naming its SUVs after sunny places in the United States? Also, the Santa Fe name may have suited what was once a cheerful and rugged looking little SUV when it first appeared in the year 2000, but over the years it has grown up into the big serious flagship of the brand.
So perhaps it needs a new name? And seeing as the car was tested so extensively in Australia for hot weather suitability and suspension tuning then maybe it should get an Aussie name? The Hyundai Gosford? No. The Hyundai Frankston. Nup. The Hyundai Mooloolaba? Nah. The Hyundai Freemantle? I’ve got it: the Hyundai Albury-Wodonga? Too long. Hyundai Byron Bay? Nah, that’s pretty much the same feel as Santa Fe. This naming thing is harder than it looks.
Okay, it doesn’t matter what it’s called, what is important is what’s changed – and a lot has, but then some things haven’t. Read on to find out more.
|Engine Type||2.2L turbo|
The standard of the SUVs in the mid-sized premium segment is so high – high in terms of features and tech, high for practicality and comfort, but also high for the way they drive, and this is an area in which the Lexus NX300h F Sport falls short. At the same time, apart from the much pricier Volvo XC60 T8, it’s the only hybrid among its rivals and the fuel saving is not to be dismissed. Still this is a premium good-looking package at a great price.
Would you choose a Lexus NX300 over, say, a BMW X3, Mercedes Benz GLC or Volvo XC60? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
Hyundai Santa Fe7.9/10
The previous generation Hyundai Santa Fe was excellent, and this giant leap forward in design and technology has turned it into something better. Not overly large, but seven seats and great storage make it super practical, the new suspension makes it pleasure to drive, and a new look inside and out takes the Santa Fe’s refinement to the next level. It doesn’t matter what this SUV is called because it’s exceptional.
The sweet spot in the Santa Fe range is the Elite, not only does it come with luxuries such as leather seats, and a bigger touchscreen with sat nav, there's the added advanced safety equipment, too.
Is the new Santa Fe the new benchmark for big, mid-sized SUVs? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
You’d be fibbing if you thought there wasn’t anything interesting about the design of the NX300h F Sport. Whether you think it’s good looking is another thing altogether, but I happen to reckon it is. I do like that Darth Vader grille, those LED headlights, the side profile and even the back with its egg-splat style tail-lights (very Toyota though).
The F Sport grade brings that expensive cheese-grater-made-of-Onyx-look to the grille, angry looking bumpers, LED indicators that light up in the direction you’re turning, and 18-inch alloys with a smokey-looking finish.
The only outward indication this is a hybrid is the badging.
The NX300h F Sport’s insides go beyond interesting into the realm of intriguing, with that enormous centre console that will make any front seat hankypanky impossible, to the dash puckered with switches and buttons, then there’s that layered trim: a combo of leather and a fish-scale looking material, there’s the F Sport steering wheel, F Sport pedals and scuff plates and F Sport seats.
There are things that confuse me like the tiny padded pull out mirror near the centre console, things that seem out of place like an analogue clock in a high-tech cabin, and things that annoy me like the seat position memory buttons that hide under the armrest in the door and can’t been seen or reached properly unless the door is open.
The NX300h F-Sport’s dimensions show it to be 4640mm long, 1645mm tall and 1845mm wide (not including the mirrors).
Hyundai Santa Fe9/10
This new-generation Santa Fe looks totally different to the previous model, inside and out. The front now has the same ‘upside down face’ as Hyundai’s smallest SUV the Kona with the LED DRLs placed high and the headlights low, either side of a super-sized version of Hyundai’s so-called 'cascading' grille. Running along the edge of the grille is chrome strip which looks so menacing that if you walked into a pub holding one the cops would be called immediately.
Like the Kona the Santa Fe’s design has more angles than a protractor. Apologies for the Dad joke, but just look at it – there are combinations of shapes and lines even Salvador Dali would find weird, but somehow it works, and the result is an SUV that’s stunning and different.
You might not be able to see it clearly in the images, but the bonnet is pressed with a ‘power bulge’ shape you really only find on muscle cars like the Ford Mustang. Also, hard to see is how the wheelaches are actually indented rather than bulging out. I like that high shoulder line which runs from the tip of the LED DRL to the tail-light accentuating the length of the SUV, then at the rear things get more high society and refined with sleek and clean lines.
It’s near-on impossible to tell the difference between the three grades from the outside. Which is good if you buy the base-spec car where the only giveaways are the 17-inch alloy wheels and the lack of bling on the grille which comes on the Elite and Highlander along with 18-inch and 19-inch wheels respectively. The body kit you see is standard on all Santa Fes including that subtle roof-top spoiler.
If you thought the outside had changed a lot from the previous Santa Fe, take a look at the interior images – not only is the cabin vastly different it’s next level stuff for Hyundai in terms of refinement. Again, there are some weird shapes such as the low dash with that rockpool-like area above the glove box, and the air vents which protrude like wasps nests, but the overall effect is sophisticated.
The Active’s grey/back cloth seats let the tone down a tad, but the leather ones in the Elite and Highlander grades are luxurious looking in Black, Dark Beige and Burgundy colours. There are stone, wood effect and carbon-fibre door and dash inserts on the top two grades, as well.
Body colours include the standard White Cream Mica and Stormy Sea Mica (blue). Then there are Typhoon Silver, Wild Explorer (grey), Magnetic force (another shade of grey), Earthly Bronze, Rainforest metallic, Horizon Red and Phantom Black.
The new Santa Fe looks a lot longer than before, but the dimensions show an increase in length of 70mm for a total of 4770mm end-to-end. Width has increased by 10mm for 1890mm across while at 1680mm tall (1705 with standard roof racks)the Santa Fee is 10mm shorter in height compared to the previous model.
Well, it’s snug inside the NX300h F-Sport. That beefy centre console means room is tight in the footwell for the driver, especially with the foot-operated park brake. Meanwhile in the back seat my legs touch the seat-back when I sit behind my driving position (I am tall at 191cm, though), but headroom even with the optional sunroof (or moonroof, as Lexus calls it) is good.
Two cupholders up front, two in the back and bottle holders in all the doors, storage space inside is excellent – particularly the centre console storage bin which is deep and wide, has two USB ports and the Qi charging pad. There is no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and that media controller is challenging to use.
Hyundai Santa Fe8/10
All Australian Santa Fes are seven seaters. While this new-gen one has grown in length by 70mm and the wheelbase is 65mm longer, the interior dimensions have stayed much the same. In fact, legroom in the third row is 20mm less, while the second row gains just 1mm. Still, because the second row is on rails, when it’s pushed back to its furthest point I can sit behind my driving position with about a 50mm gap between my knees and the seat back, and I’m 191cm tall.
If I slide the second row forward to give myself about a hair’s breadth of room, I can then sit in the third row with the same amount of space. Not ideal, but not a deal breaker either when you consider the third row really is for kids or a good save if you need to ferry adults unexpectedly. You need to remember the Santa Fe isn’t as big as say a Toyota Kluger or Mazda CX-9, instead look at it as a large mid-sizer with a bonus third row.
Entry into that third row has been improved, too, with the second row sliding further forward to offer easier access with a push of a button. The entry is still not super easy for somebody of my height (and lack of coordination) but it’s better than the previous model.
A huge strength of the new Santa Fe is storage. Up front there’s a big centre console storage bin under the centre armrest, more storage under the dash and in front of the two cupholders, a big glove box and a shelf with a grippy surface above it, plus big bottle holders in the doors.
Second-row inhabitants have a two cupholders in the fold-down centre armrest, bottle holders in the doors and a storage tray in the rear of the centre console.
People in the backrow have two cupholders on the right-hand side and a storage bin on the other.
All Santa Fes have two fast changing USB ports in the second row, and one up front along with a regular USB port for media input, as well as a Qi charging pad. There's also an AUX port and a 12-volt outlet in the hidey hole under the dash and another in the boot.
Talking of the boot, the increase in length has given the Santa Fe more luggage space with cargo capacity increasing by 31 litres to 547 litres. There’s also storage under the boot floor for your muddy shoes and wet togs.
Price and features
Guess what? You’ve saved a few thousand already by not buying this car this time last year. That’s because NX300h F Sport was previously only offered in all-wheel drive, but the added two-wheel drive version gives you a lower entry point into the F Sport grade, at $63,300.
So, while the all-wheel drive version still exists - and costs $67,800 - this front-wheeler gets all the same features for less moolah.
Coming standard is a 10.3-inch display with sat nav and 360-degree camera, 10-speaker stereo with digital radio and CD player. There’s also a wireless phone charger, 10-way power adjustable seats (heated and cooled), paddle shifters, power tailgate and proximity unlocking.
The mouse pad-style controller for the screen is so hard to use I avoided it whenever possible, it’s something Lexus must change… please.
But please don't change the little valet kit which is stored in the boot - see the images.
Our test car was fitted with the Enhancement Pack 2 which costs $6000 and adds a moonroof, 14-speaker Mark Levinson audio, and head-up display. The premium paint (Sonic Quartz) costs $1500.
As for how the features and price compares with its rivals, well there aren’t any other hybrid mid-sized luxury SUV competitors to list, only combustion-engine ones such as the $70,900 Mercedes-Benz GLC 220d, the BMW X3 xDrive 20d for $68,900, an Audi Q5 2.0TDI for $65,900 or the Volvo XC60 D4 Momentum for $59,990. Notice how I chose diesels - there are petrol equivalents of those, too. But if you've got 50 per cent more budget, you could look at the pricey Volvo XC60 T8 plug-in hybrid.
At the time of writing Lexus was offering a driveaway price of $64,673 on the NX300h 2WD.
Hyundai Santa Fe8/10
There are three grades in the Santa Fe range: the base-grade Active which starts at $43,000 (before on-road costs) for the petrol and $46,000 for the diesel; the middle of the range and diesel-only Elite for $54,000 and the top-spec $60,500 Highlander which is also offered just in diesel form.
The Santa Fe is Hyundai’s flagship and the enormous standard features list reflects this king-of-the-brand status.
The entry-grade Active comes standard with a 7.0-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, reversing camera, rear parking sensors, air-conditioning with rear temperature controls, cloth seats, 'Autolink', LED daytime running lights (DRLs), auto headlights, roof rails and 17-inch alloy wheels.
There’s also an impressive amount of advanced safety equipment which you can read about below.
Stepping up into the Elite adds leather seats (power driver’s and passenger), an 8.0-inch screen with sat nav, front parking sensors, proximity key, paddle shifters, Infinity stereo system, dual-zone climate control, tinted rear windows with sunshades, power tailgate and electric folding mirrors.
The top-of-the-range Highlander has all of the Elite’s equipment plus a panoramic glass roof, auto parking, surround view camera, LED headlights and tail-lights, 7.0-inch virtual instrument cluster, heated front and rear (outboard) seats, Qi phone charger and a head-up display.
The Santa Fe’s new direct rival is the Mazda CX-8, both are a close match for size and price. Also consider the Kia Sorento – it’s the Santa Fe’s brother from a different mother and shares the same platform as the Hyundai. Nissan’s seven-seat X-Trail, or its French twin the Renault Koleos, are also absolutely worth a model comparison to the Santa Fe, too.
Engine & trans
The NX300h F-Sport is a petrol-electric hybrid, but not the plug-in kind – there’s no charging port, just batteries which are recharging through regenerative braking.
The engine is a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol which makes 114kW and 147Nm. The electric motor is a 105kW/270Nm unit.
Let’s not forget we are reviewing the front-wheel drive version of the NX300h F-Sport. There’s an AWD version, too.
The transmission is an automatic - a continuously variable transmission (CVT), and I’m not a fan of them - but the Toyota/Lexus versions seem to be the better ones.
Hyundai Santa Fe7/10
There are two engines in the Santa Fe range – a 2.4-litre 138kW/241Nm four-cylinder petrol with a six-speed automatic transmission and a 2.2-litre 147kW/440Nm four-cylinder turbo-diesel with a new eight-speed auto. Both have been carried over from the previous generation Santa Fe and have the same outputs.
Only the Active grade gives you a choice of both engines, while the Elite and Highlander are diesel-only.
Drive is distributed to all four wheels via the HTRAC AWD system which offers four modes: Comfort, ECO, Sport and Smart (complete with dash graphic showing drive distribution). The first three are obvious but Smart analyses your driving style and puts together an engine, transmission and steering configuration to suit you.
Towing capacity remains the same at 2000kg.
Both engines have a timing chain rather than a timing belt – the chain has a lifetime service life which saves on maintenance costs of changing a belt.
Lexus will tell you the NX300h F Sport will only use 5.6L/100km after a combination of urban and open roads, but my mileage according to the trip computer was 8.7L/100km which considering most of that was city driving is very impressive. Also pleasing is that despite this being a prestige car it’ll run on 91 RON, an X3, Q5 or GLC will turn it’s nose up at that stuff. Snobs.
This is the biggest drawcard for buying the hybrid. The fuel saving isn’t huge in the way a plug-in hybrid can be, but you’ll save money if you drive conservatively.
Hyundai Santa Fe7/10
Fuel economy has been improved in both engines – but only slightly. According to Hyundai the 2.4-litre petrol uses 9.3L/100km (down from 9.4L/100km) and the 2.2-litre diesel uses 7.5L/100km (down from 7.8L/100km) over a combination of open and urban roads.
The trip computer in the Active petrol reported an average of 12.3L/100km for the launch drive, while the Elite diesel's read 9.9L/100km. That’s not great mileage, especially when compared to comparable offerings from Mazda, a company which is taking big steps to improve the efficiency of its combustion engines.
The petrol engine isn’t fussy about fuel and will happily drink 91 RON regular unleaded.
Lexus has made improvements to the suspension set up of the NX300h, but it seems the changes haven’t gone far enough, and the ride comfort and handling is lacking compared to other mid-sized premium SUVs.
A CVT transmission is awesomely fuel-efficient but even with six steps ‘built’ into it, it doesn’t forcefully engage drive to the wheels the way a torque converter transmission, manual gearbox or dual-clutch auto does. The result is disappointing acceleration and an engine which sounds like its revving too hard.
Heavier-than-it-should-be steering, a steering wheel which I find flat and uncomfortable to hold, poor visibility through the rear window and a not the best pedal feel under my feet topped off a unimpressive driving experience.
There are some saving graces though – the well-insulated cabin is tranquil, the brake response is excellent, and there’s something special about travelling in bumper to bumper traffic just on silent electricity alone.
Hyundai Santa Fe8/10
CarsGuide’s test pilot Matt Campbell drove the new-generation Hyundai Santa Fe in Korea early in 2018, but the SUV he steered reflected an engine and suspension that won't be seen in Australia. So, this was our first opportunity to drive an Australian Santa Fe and see how it feels on local roads.
You may already know this, but Hyundai has an engineering team in Australia that ‘tunes’ each new model to cope with the type of roads we drive on and to suit local preferences. For example, Australians like their suspension on the firm side for a sportier feel, not soft and wafty like they do in the US of A.
Not all car companies carry out this type of local tuning. Many are taken ‘straight out of the box’ and put into the showroom, but we’re not going to name names here. You should know, though, that Hyundai put this new-gen Santa Fe through intensive testing on Aussie roads, changing the shock absorbers in the front 27 times and the rear 22 times along the way. Steering, too, was calibrated specifically for Australia.
The local launch saw us drive about 300km through the wilds that lay inland from Coffs Harbour on the NSW north coast, over a combination of dirt roads, motorways, winding coarse-chip bitumen and the not-so-great surfaces of country town streets. What was missing were the types of city and urban roads where many Santa Fes will probably spend their entire lives.
Still, it was more than enough to learn the new suspension set-up has resulted in a Santa Fe which feels comfortable but sharp at the same time. Big dips are absorbed well with next to no bounce coming out of them, while the body stays composed on patchy surfaces.
I drove the mid-grade Elite first and found the Kumho Crugen tyres (235/60/R18) a bit noisy on coarse-chip roads despite the sound deadening which Hyundai says has been added to the Santa Fe’s underbody.
Steering was light enough for me to carry out a three-point turn using just my pinky finger – which is what you want for parking and piloting through supermarket car parks.
That steering is quite direct, meaning you don’t have to turn the wheel far to change direction.
There’s a good feeling of connection between the wheels on the road and your hands on the steering wheel. This, combined with the composed, comfortable, but firm suspension, adds a lot of confidence and surety. It’s the difference between running in gum boats and sneakers.
The Elite has a 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine (there’s no petrol alternative in this grade). It’s smooth, with plenty of grunt, and while it's not as quiet as Mazda’s equivalent, it’s more refined and quiet than most – so fear not, this diesel engine is not ‘truck like’ at all.
The new eight-speed automatic is excellent. A weakness in the previous Santa Fe was the six-speed auto and having another two gear ratios is welcome – especially for highway driving.
The base-grade Active rolls on Hankook Ventus Prime tyres (235/65 R17). I spent just 25km driving this grade but the difference in ride and comfort between it and the others is almost indiscernible. If anything, those tyres, with their taller sidewall, are likely to give a slightly softer ride.
The Active grade gives you a choice of petrol and diesel engines. I drove the petrol and immediately missed the mumbo of the diesel, which boasts almost double the torque and more power. That four-cylinder petrol with the six-speed just isn’t as suited to this even bigger Santa Fe. If Hyundai was to bring out a V6 petrol, as it did with the previous generation, it would be a tempting, albeit, thirstier Santa Fe.
The top-spec Highlander has the largest wheels with the lowest profile tyres – Continental ContiSportContact 5 which are an excellent (and about twice the price of the Hankooks). The Highlander is diesel-only like the Elite. Again – great grunt and a comfortable ride, but there’s still some road, engine and wind noise filtering into the cabin.
All Santa Fes are equipped with Hyundai’s new 'HTRAC' (Hyundai Traction) all-wheel drive (AWD) system and the many kilometres of winding dirt and gravel roads gave it a workout. HTRAC is an on-demand system which distributes torque to the four wheels where it’s needed. I was impressed – even at 80km/h on loose gravel the Santa Fe cornered like it was on tarmac – pushed a bit harder there was some slippage, but the system quickly brought things under control.
The Santa Fe is not an off-road vehicle in the same way a Toyota LandCruiser is. It doesn’t have a four-wheel drive system with a low range, but its 185mm ground clearance and AWD will take you further than you might have thought.
In the video at the top of this page we had to drive through soft sand to get to the water’s edge on the beach and we actually passed a ‘hardcore’ four-wheel drive which had become bogged.
The October 2017 update of the NX300h also saw an upgrade in its safety equipment and that meant it achieved the maximum five-star ANCAP rating. The F Sport grade never used to have AEB, but the update added it across the range, plus it was improved to include pedestrian detection.
All grades now come with blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert and the F Sport has been given adaptive high beams with 11 independent LEDs.
For child seats you’ll find three top tethers across the rear row (two in the outboard seat-backs and one mounted on the roof), along with two ISOFIX points.
You’ll find a space saver spare under the boot floor.
Hyundai Santa Fe8/10
The new-generation Santa Fe has not been awarded an ANCAP star rating yet, but given the amount of advanced safety equipment, we are expecting a high score.
We'd like to point out, however, that while all Santa Fe's have curtain airbags covering the first two rows, they only cover the windows of the third row.
All Santa Fes come with 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 that you veer into the path of another vehicle coming up the side.
The Elite and Highlander grades are also equipped with a system called 'Rear Occupant Alert' which uses motion sensors to detect babies or dogs accidentally left in the vehicle before sounding the horn. Both grades also have a child-lock system called 'Safe Exit Assist' which prevents the rear doors unlocking if an approaching car is detected. Amazing and life-saving stuff. There’s also a self-parking feature and surround view camera.
Under the rear of the car is a full-size spare wheel.
The NX300h F Sport is covered by Lexus’ four-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty. Servicing is recommended every 12 months or 15,000km. There’s no capped-price servicing program but Lexus says you can expect to pay nothing for the first service, $720.85 for the second, $592.37 for the third and $718 for the fourth.
Hyundai Santa Fe8/10
The Santa Fe is covered by Hyundai’s five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. Servicing is recommended every 12 months or 15,000km. A lifetime service plan is offered and works out to be about $400 a year, with a complimentary (1500km) first service.
Free Roadside assistance is also offered for the first year and a roadside assistance plan is offered for up to 10 years.