The South Korean brand’s big SUV had fallen slightly off the pace, but some vital updates now make it a vital contender.
The South Korean brand’s big SUV had fallen slightly off the pace, but some vital updates now make it a vital contender.

Big upgrades for Hyundai’s family SUV

Hyundai says the 2021 Santa Fe isn't a new car.

Wearing bold new looks anchored by a wide-mouth grille framed by piercing, fang-like LED headlights, it looks dramatically different to the outgoing model. Longer, wider and taller than before, the Santa Fe has a fresh interior packed with tech. The engines are new, as is a fresh dual-clutch transmission found in diesel versions.

Car companies often insist a car is "all-new" when it's about as fresh as last Tuesday's Bolognese. But Hyundai is adamant the Santa Fe is a facelifted version of a car first introduced in 2018.

Hyundai has given the Santa Fe some big upgrades.
Hyundai has given the Santa Fe some big upgrades.

That's because the old Santa Fe earned a five-star ANCAP safety rating, and shifting goalposts mean there's no guarantee the new car can meet the same standard. Kia's mechanically similar Sorento scored full marks with the help of a new airbag between the driver and passenger that isn't found in the Hyundai.

Priced from $44,700 to $65,200 plus on-road costs (about $49,000 to $71,000 drive-away), the Santa Fe is available in four trim lines with a choice of two engines for a total of eight models.

The entry-level model has a cabin largely borrowed from the outgoing car, though it benefits from a new 8-inch touchscreen (up from 7 inches) with a digital radio, wireless Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and smartphone charging.

It is longer, wider and taller than before.
It is longer, wider and taller than before.

Cloth trim and manual airconditioning help keep costs down. Safety gear includes six airbags with partial side coverage for the third row, plus an impressive suite of driver aids including auto emergency braking, active cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assistance and rear cross-traffic alerts.

Premium versions get a vastly different interior with a high centre console inspired by the likes of Porsche's Cayenne. There's also a touch of Porsche to the pinstripe of red light between the Hyundai's tail-lamps. Niceties such as a powered tailgate, heated and cooled seats, ambient lighting and quilted high-grade leather in the range-topping Highlander join a 12.3-inch digital dashboard and 10.25-inch infotainment screen with Harman Kardon speakers. Cover the badges and folks might think they're in a six-figure prestige SUV.

Prices start at about $50,000 drive-away.
Prices start at about $50,000 drive-away.

Dated in cheaper models and modern in high grades, the Santa Fe's cabin is a tale of two interiors. Both have plenty of room in the first two rows, with the last row best left to smaller passengers. There are cupholders, air vents and power outlets to all three rows

Power comes from a lusty but thirsty naturally aspirated 3.5-litre petrol V6, which uses 10.5L/100km to send 200kW and 331Nm to the front wheels through a conventional eight-speed automatic transmission. Hyundai expects many customers to pay a $3500 premium for all-wheel-drive and a smooth 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel that consumes 6.1L/100km to return 148kW/440Nm outputs.

Top-spec versions have a premium feel.
Top-spec versions have a premium feel.

That's an impressive near-20 per cent improvement in fuel economy thanks to the inclusion of a new eight-speed dual-clutch auto reserved for the diesel. All-wheel-drive with terrain-specific driving modes are also exclusive to diesel models, making the extra spend worthwhile.

The Santa Fe drives well for a car its size, disguising its weight on country roads. Carefully tuned suspension does a good job absorbing bumps, though the steering was a touch heavy for our tastes.

VERDICT 4/5

The updated Santa Fe is safer, more spacious and more distinctive than before. Premium models show there's much more to the brand than value-focused hatchbacks.

HYUNDAI SANTA FE V6 VITALS

Price: From about $49,000 drive-away

Engine: 3.5-litre V6, 200kW/331Nm

Warranty/servicing: 5-year/unlimited km, $1995 for 5 years

Safety: 5 stars, 6 airbags, auto emergency braking, active cruise control, blind-spot warning, lane keeping assistance, rear cross-traffic alert

Thirst: 10.5L/100km

Cargo: 571 litres

Spare: Full size

HYBRID ON ITS WAY

Hyundai will introduce a hybrid Santa Fe in the second half of 2021. Pitched as a green alternative to existing models, the car will combine an electric motor with a 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo engine driving all four wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. Power and fuel economy figures are not available but Hyundai promises it will be the most efficient model in the range, with comparable performance to the punchy V6. A fresh Hyundai Tucson also arrives in the second quarter of 2021, with hybrid power potentially on the cards for Australia in the Santa Fe's smaller cousin.

Originally published as Big upgrades for Hyundai's family SUV


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