New Santa Fe goes big on boldness and safety

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Words: NZ Autocar
27 Nov 2020

Hyundai by chance held the press debut of its fourth-generation Santa Fe on a day when there was another one in one hundred year event.

The clouds were jet black, thunder and lightning approached, and the heavens gushed. Te Awamutu, our lunch stopover, was turned from a town to a torrent. The drive down had been wet and uneventful but things were about to take a turn for the wettest. Torrential rain, like in the tropics, inundated the place within minutes.

I’d wandered back to the car just as this struck. Others were less fortunate, stranded kerbside, unable to reach their vehicles mere metres away, torrents of water running up and over the kerbs. It’s at that time I was rather glad to be driving something elevated, riding on 20-inch rims. But even with wipers going full tilt it was hard to see a few meters ahead, traffic slowed to a crawl. Several of the roads had turned to rivers, backing up traffic and we learned later that the weather bomb had caused the roof of a cafe to collapse.

On the way south towards Taupo, through the Otorohanga District, rivers of water had similarly overwhelmed the drainage systems and were flowing across the roads. These the Santa Fe shrugged off with ease and it's at such times you appreciate the size, weight and momentum of a big 4.8 seven-seater rig like this. It feels planted, even on soaked roads. The ride is only ever quiet and controlling.

This is the fourth iteration of Hyundai’s biggest offering, and while it’s largely a makeover - it carries a similar TM designation - it is also a major update (engines, chassis). The significant facelift will likely help it maintain its status of best selling large SUV in New Zealand, a position it has held for the past two years.

The engines (one new) are said to be easier on fuel - the 2.2 turbodiesel was recording mid sixes en route to Te Awamutu, early sevens on the hillier part to Taupo and beyond. This will be the mainstay engine for the range, offering 2.5 tonnes of towing power, though two other petrol variants are also available, one a 2.5L four and the other a new 3.5L V6 front driver (the latter a Limited model costing the same as the AWD 2.5L petrol Limited at $82,990). The 3.5 petrol mill, the lone FWD model in the line-up, is good for 200kW/332Nm and offers the best performance, ostensibly hitting open road speed in eight seconds.

But the diesel with 148kW offers a meatier 440Nm and is every bit as capable. It’s said to get to 100km/h in 9.2sec, roughly 10 per cent quicker than before, but this is somewhat pessimistic. We easily got into the low eights, and that’s matched by an overtaking time of 6sec. It uses about 40 per cent less fuel too (7.6 vs 10.2L/100km). Only it costs the most in Limited format at $89,990, a $6k step up on before. But you’ll like the self parking by remote feature, a fun party trick, and there's plenty of other new tech.

Hyundai reckons it’s about 10 per cent quicker this time round, and part of that added haste must be attributed to the new eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, beautifully smooth in operation. The diesel’s power and torque are essentially unchanged but the engine is 35kg lighter, thanks to increased use of alloy components. Not that the bigg'un is any lightweight, the top Limited model closing in on 2.5 tonnes.

It looks big too, but then so does the new grille which rivals the single-frame offerings from Audi for being out-there enormous. It’s so broad that it merges with the vertical DRLs which are T-shaped and the driving lights/LEDs. You’ll not quickly mistake this for anything other than the new Santa Fe.

While the grille is much bigger, the other dimensions increase modestly, the biggest change a claimed 34mm of extra leg room in the rear. These seats are on sliders to facilitate entry to the third row seats.

The interior is transformed, looking very swish, especially on the Limited which gets a full digital dash. A smart feature is the blind spot monitor(s). Two cameras show what’s coming up behind or is already alongside when you indicate left or right. Cleverly, the images replace the tacho on the left, the speedo on the right. Limited is very well appointed, including a head-up display, but Elite does almost as well, and even gets a heated wheel. They’re just as pleasant on cold days as seat warmers (also present in Elite models).

The centre console is renewed too, a floating design so has plenty of storage underneath, not that clobber is easy to see or access. It’s well laid out above though, easy to fathom and there are four large buttons for gear selection instead of a lever. Atop all this is 10.25 inch infotainment touch screen with integrated sat nav. This is an eight-inch item on the Entry models.

A clever addition is the vertically oriented Qi charger. New quilted leather pews in the Limited look and feel good, and offer plenty of adjustability. Also new is a combined drive mode and terrain response dial, offering Eco, Sport, and Comfort modes (affects, steering, transmission and motor but not suspension which is fixed) and Snow, Mud and Sand settings.

We got to drive the Santa Fe on some pretty rudimentary formed tracks during an outing on the ruggedly attractive and remote Poronui Station, on the Central Plateau. It fared well, forging ahead in Mud mode up some steep ascents and along craggy tracks, its off-road ability limited primarily by ground clearance, the underslung spare occasionally tickled by undergrowth. Most owners won’t be subjecting Santa Fe to this sort of action. It also has a downhill brake control for easier descents.

What hit home after driving the Santa Fe for two days is just how well built it is. The plastics are top notch, the leatherwork the same, and it has a real feeling of craftsmanship about it.

Yes, the prices have risen, and yes the look is bold and different, but we’d say Hyundai has done enough to ensure the popularity of its family wagon goes undiminished. And if this isn’t quite sizeable enough for you, next year sees the introduction of the even bigger eight-seater Palisade. Hyundai views this as a Touareg rival. Expect also hybrid versions of Santa Fe later in 2021.

Finally, Hyundai NZ has just won the Canstar Blue award for customer satisfaction, a reflection of excellence in both the product and customer experience locally.

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