Korean-sen­si­ble to own; sur­pris­ingly good to drive

Wheels (Australia) - - Contents -

IT’S TAKEN al­most 20 years but the Hyundai Santa Fe has fi­nally crossed the thresh­old to de­sir­abil­ity.

Act­ing as a metaphor­i­cal flag-wa­ver for the Korean brand’s cred­i­bil­ity, Hyundai’s fourth-gen large SUV de­buts a pur­pose­fully hand­some shape and backs that up with a much more so­phis­ti­cated in­te­rior. Over­styled plas­tics, un­der­sized rear-win­dow aper­tures, and over­bear­ing ride firm­ness are now dis­tant mem­o­ries for the newly ma­ture, more prac­ti­cal TM Santa Fe.

With a near-flat sec­ond-row floor, plus an ex­tra 30mm of sec­ond-row seat travel, greater third-row ac­cess space and head­room, and a mas­sive 41 per­cent in­crease in glass area for any­one im­pris­oned back there, the Santa Fe is no longer a five-plustwo seater. Adults can ac­tu­ally fit there, though the Hyundai still cedes pack­ag­ing prow­ess to the larger, class-lead­ing Mazda CX-9. And the same ap­plies to boot space – 810 litres (CX-9) ver­sus 547 (Santa Fe) in five-seat mode.

What Santa Fe’s com­par­a­tively com­pact di­men­sions do achieve is un­ex­pected agility. Im­prove­ments in body strength and tor­sional stiff­ness of around 15 per­cent com­bine with new rack-mounted elec­tric power steer­ing and stan­dard (on-de­mand) all-wheel drive to give this el­e­gant bus the legs of a power lifter. Ex­ten­sive Aus­tralian sus­pen­sion tun­ing re­sults in a much more well­rounded driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence – one that now man­ages to achieve both ride and han­dling adept­ness, with­out one dis­ci­pline be­ing detri­men­tal to the other.

Not sur­pris­ingly, it’s the petrolengined Santa Fe Ac­tive that feels light­est on its 17-inch-wheeled feet, blend­ing de­light­fully keen turn-in (and 2.6 turns lock-tolock) with crisp steer­ing re­sponse and lay­ers of in­her­ent grip and bal­ance. Pity its carry-over en­gine – the 138kw/241nm 2.4litre di­rect-in­jec­tion petrol four from the base Sonata, tied to an age­ing six-speed auto – is such an un­suit­able foil to its dy­namic tal­ents. The lack of torque means the trans­mis­sion hunts through its stunted ra­tio set like a stray pooch pin­ing for scraps.

The 147kw/440nm 2.2-litre turbo-diesel is far bet­ter served. Mated to an ex­cel­lent new eight-speed auto, its seam­lessly mus­cu­lar oper­a­tion is the per­fect an­ti­dote for atmo-petrol frus­tra­tion. The heav­ier CRDI may feel slightly less wieldy as a re­sult, but the per­for­mance ben­e­fits far out­weigh any re­duc­tion in fron­tend point. There’s re­ally very lit­tle to com­plain about dy­nam­i­cally, apart from merely com­pet­i­tive lev­els of tyre noise.

Three model grades are avail­able – Ac­tive ($43,000 petrol; $46,000 diesel), Elite diesel ($54K) and High­lander diesel ($60,500).

All are pricier than be­fore, but this is far out­weighed by Santa Fe’s like­able new in­te­rior and en­tic­ing lev­els of kit. Even the base Ac­tive gets com­pre­hen­sive safety gear, tyre-pres­sure mon­i­tor­ing, a rear-view cam­era with park­ing sen­sors, LED run­ning lights, rear tem­per­a­ture con­trol, and a ‘walk-in’ switch on the sec­ondrow back­rests that elec­tri­cally flips and slides the seat for­ward for rear deck ac­cess.

The Ac­tive’s slight tinge of en­try-level mo­tor­ing won’t spoil the new Santa Fe’s as­cen­sion among the large SUV ranks. In AWD diesel form, it’s a re­ally strong con­tender, right-sized for fam­i­lies and driv­ing en­thu­si­asts alike who don’t need the acreage of a full-size seven seater.

Model Hyundai Santa Fe High­lander CRDI En­gine 2199cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, TD Max power 147kw @ 3800rpm Max torque 440Nm @ 1750-2750rpm Trans­mis­sion 8-speed au­to­matic Weight 1995kg 0-100km/h 9.5sec (tested) Econ­omy 7.5L/100km Price $60,500 On sale Now

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