Modernity: is it a journey or a destination? As a student of sociology, the concept of modernity proved challenging to define in the digital age.
Without getting too philosophical, we have a tendency to lean towards modernity being a journey. You may wonder what this term has to do with the once humble motor car, and rightly so.
The name Hyundai comes from the Korean word for modernity, and with that in mind, it’s hard to think of a brand that better embodies its name.
A rapid evolution of its models has seen Hyundai rise to comfortably be one of Australia’s top-selling marques. In all honesty, the lack of a dual-cab ute is the only thing stopping the Korean brands completely taking over, but that’s an opinion for another day.
The culmination of all this progression brings us to the 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe, the fourth-generation of the brand’s flagship SUV.
On test here is the entry-level Active variant. Interestingly, it’s the only Santa Fe trim level to get the option of either petrol or diesel power. Our tester is packing the 2.2-litre oiler under the bonnet. Opting for the diesel adds a $3000 premium taking the price to $46,000 plus on-roads.
Active variants are generously appointed, along with a raft of safety equipment, automatic headlights, rear parking sensors, 17-inch alloys, a ‘Walk-in’ switch for easy access to the third-row pews and a 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are all standard.
As a side note, the diesel-powered Active presents a compelling value argument, the only thing missing that we would like added is push-button start. Jumping to the mid-spec Elite requires an additional $8000 spend, not exactly chump change.
From the outside, the Santa Fe Active takes the safe approach. The design doesn’t push any boundaries which is something of a missed opportunity. In a crowded SUV market, the importance of strong visual differentiation cannot be understated.
Things are dramatically different when attention turns to the interior. The new Santa Fe is vastly better than the outgoing model when it comes to material choice and layout.
The granite-like, scratchy plastics that adorned most of the interior surfaces of the predecessor have been replaced with lovely, soft-touch plastics. Everything feels decidedly more upmarket.
Hyundai has adopted the now popular minimalist approach to the cabin’s layout. There are very few buttons which gives the dash a sharp and purposeful look. Most of the functions are housed in the new floating infotainment screen, obviously, Hyundai has taken inspiration from some of the premium European makers.
While the outside lacks flamboyance, the interior has a sense of style which would have Ralph Lauren looking over his shoulder. The use of colour and texture lifts the ambience well above what is generally acceptable in a family SUV.
Instead of the usual (and dreary) all black cabin, our tester featured grey fabric cloth on the seats and a mixture of light and dark brown plastics which made the interior more luminous and inviting. It's puzzling why more manufacturers don't do this, just spitting out bland interiors without any contrast or personality is quite simply lazy.
The only criticism to be found up front is the passenger seat, it resides very low for an SUV, buyers will expect the upright seating position. After all, isn’t that what this whole trend is about?
Pressing one button, that’s all it takes to move the middle-row forward so the third-row can be accessed. It’s a very clever system that takes the hassle out of getting all passengers loaded, no doubt, large families will appreciate the consideration.
While on the third-row, the rear pews are no place for tall adults and should be the domain of children or the vertically challenged.
Spending the extra coin on the diesel engine is easily justified, it produces an extra 9kW of power (147kW) and 198Nm of torque (440Nm). Paired to the diesel engine is a new eight-speed automatic transmission, petrol variants are sticking with the older six-speed.
It's a strong engine, there's plenty of addictive low-down torque to get the car moving. With peak torque available between 1750-2750rpm, it never seems to be under any duress, even with loaded seats. The torquey character of the engine makes it instantly likeable and easy to live with.
There is a Goldilocks aspect to the new Santa Fe, the size is just right for negotiating city street. The perfectly judged proportions make the car so much more versatile than those just opting for size.
Get the Santa Fe out of the congestion and it proves itself to be an accomplished family transporter offering levels of refinement that would have premium brands ducking for cover. With the help of electric lumbar support, long stints behind the wheel are no trouble.
The Santa Fe’s well-insulated cabin cannot be truly appreciated until it’s driven back-to-back with a new Mazda. After handing the car back, the drive home was somewhat infuriating (yeah we know, first world, blah blah), Mazda doesn’t seem capable of delivering a comparable cabin atmosphere.
Hyundai takes the time to tune its cars to Australia’s roads which is a very worthwhile undertaking. If you regularly need to utilise the neglected roads of the standard we have in regional Victoria, local suspension tuning makes a difference. In the Santa Fe, the calibration is supple and compliant which keeps the majority of undulations from infiltrating the cabin.
On twisty sections of road with a bit of momentum, the Santa Fe showcases a taut chassis and a level of agility well above what should be expected from a seven-seat family car. While the car is firmly angled towards comfort, there is enough handling prowess to appeal to enthusiastic drivers.
The only aspect of the driving experience that took away some of the shine was the occasional jitter between first and second gear. Depending on the level of throttle input, the shift wasn’t as smooth as it could be.
Hyundai has developed a new on-demand all-wheel drive system which can neatly split the torque 50/50 between the front and rear axle. We subjected the Santa Fe to a variety of loose surfaces, but at no stage could we detect any slippage.
Buyers shouldn’t get overexcited, while the car will confidently cover the odd bush track required to reach a favourite fishing spot or secluded strip of sand, the 185mm ground clearance is a significant barrier to any proper off-roading.
Another virtue of the diesel engine is efficiency, after covering 858 kilometres over our test week, the trip computer displayed a consumption figure of 7.8L/100km, only a whisker above the claimed figure.
In terms of ownership costs, Hyundai offers an extensive capped-price service program. Maintenance intervals are set at 12 months/15,000km with prices averaging $419 for each visit to the service bay during the first five years.
Hyundai was the pioneer of longer new car warranties in Australia, as a result, the dominos have now fallen and five year, unlimited kilometre coverage is now the norm. To remain at the forefront, Hyundai may need to join sister brand Kia and beef its package up to seven years.
The new Santa Fe has stuck with the formula that made the outgoing car successful. For this new model, Hyundai has focussed its efforts on increasing the car’s desirability without compromising affordability. Speaking of affordability, the Active trim level is all the family car you will ever need and represents a brilliant metal for money equation.
The fourth-generation Santa Fe is a better car across the majority of SUV buying criteria - ride comfort, handling and presentation are all measurably improved. The greatest stride comes in the form of a premium looking and feeling interior. For a seven-seat family car, there’s also enough dynamic ability for those who appreciate some hard and fast mixed with comfort.
2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Active Specifications
Price from $46,000 (diesel) plus on-road costs Engine 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel Power 147kW @ 3800rpm Torque 440Nm @ 1750-2750rpm Transmission eight-speed automatic Combined Fuel Consumption 7.5L/100km Tank Capacity 71L Length 4770mm Width 1890mm Height 1680mm Wheelbase 2765mm Ground Clearance 185mm Kerb Weight 1995kg Turning Circle 11.4m Service Intervals 12-months/15,000km Warranty five year/unlimited kilometre
More: All Reviews