So you’ve decided to buy a big ‘soft roader’. If you’ve accepted the unarguable downsides over conventional vehicles, you’ll struggle to find better value than this: the all-new equipment-packed Hyundai Santa Fe Elite.
The top-of-the-range Santa brings an incredible amount of acreage and features for a modest AUD$42,990. That’s almost 17 grand cheaper than the top-line Toyota Kluger Ultima and about 14 grand cheaper than the Nissan Murano Ti and Ford Territory 4x4 Ghia. A serious saving.
The cabin is loaded with everything you could want. From its flip-down panoramic mirror (providing front passengers with a view of the rear seat) to its air conditioned ‘cool box’ mounted in the centre console, this is a very well thought out vehicle.
There’s plenty of sprawling space in the front but headroom is a limitation for people over 185cm tall. This is perhaps due to the Elite’s standard electric sunroof.
Step into the rear and you’ll find decent space although headroom is similarly limited and foot space is minimal under the front seats. We imagine this would get uncomfortable on long trips. Fortunately, the rear benefits from an adjustable angle backrest and the ambience is light and pleasant. Rear passengers also have access to B-pillar ventilation outlets, a 12V 120W power source, slide-out tray, individual reading lights and a fold-down armrest with multi-size compatible cup holders.
As we said, it’s very well equipped...
The cargo area is gigantic and shows the same depth of design. In the majority of situations, you can keep the rear seats in their normal upright position but for unusually large loads you can fold the 60/40 split backrest forward in one easy step. Folding the rear backrest simultaneously moves the seat base to achieve a near-flat load floor.
Beneath the cargo floor are two storage compartments – one for the tool kit and another which would be handy for storing rugs, umbrellas and first aid equipment. The cargo hatch is easy to open using a large handle alongside the number plate and can be closed using either an inset handle or a pull-strap (which is well within reach for shorter people). Our test car was equipped with a standard carpet mat on the load floor as well as large tie-down facilities, a retractable cargo blind and yet another 12V 120W power source. Good thinking.
The cabin of the top-line Elite is crammed with six airbags, an electric glass sunroof, leather trim, dual zone climate control, a digital compass, a six-disc CD head unit and too many other features to mention here – it’s best to say it has everything except satellite navigation.
The biggest disappointment is the driveline. With the top-line Sante Fe tipping the scales at 1942kg it’s a big ask to expect meaningful performance from a 2.7-litre V6 tied to a four-speed auto. The all-alloy V6 (the same as fitted in the lighter Tuscon AWD) delivers good throttle response but inevitably lacks punch. Peak power is a class trailing 138kW and max torque is 248Nm at 4000 rpm.
In urban conditions, there is adequate performance but the V6 needs a swag of revs to really start performing; fortunately, it’s quite a sweet engine so taking it to high rpm causes no discomfort. But we’ve got to emphasise this is not the sort of vehicle that would cope with climbing a steep hill on a hot day while lugging a family and camping gear. There simply isn’t enough power.
The auto transmission has a sequential mode to help extract maximum performance but leave the trans in Drive and it adopts a relatively short-shifting, low rpm strategy. This contributes to the ADR 81/01 quoted fuel consumption figure of 10.6 litres per 100km; not that we came close to that... Average consumption during our test was a considerable 12.8 litres per 100km (as displayed on the trip computer).
In urban conditions, the Sante Fe is very easy to drive – all controls fall easily to hand, the foot-operated park brake is easy to use and the steering and brakes require only a light touch. The ride is very soft and there is a hint of traditional 4WD judder (caused by the high unsprung mass of the wheels, brakes and suspension) but it remains comfortable at all times.
Handling is unspectacular although predictable and the standard electronic stability control provides a valuable safety net. The Sante Fe is also one of the new breed of soft roaders that uses front-wheel-drive in the majority of situations but automatically engages four-wheel-drive when wheelspin is detected. Unfortunately, there is no on-dash indication of when this occurs. A 4WD Lock button can also be used to select a fixed 50:50 front-to-rear torque split. This is intended for challenging off-road conditions.
The all-new Santa Fe body achieves a 0.37 aero Cd and has a relatively sleek appearance. The Elite flaunts its upmarket status with six-spoke 18 inch alloys wearing 235/60 tyres, a rear spoiler and extra flashes of chrome. There are also roof rails rated to carry up to 100kg.
About now you might be wondering whether the Sante Fe’s discount price is apparent in its presentation and feel. We can tell you that’s definitely not the case. The body and interior are very well finished, the doors are light and easy to close and the switchgear feels good aside from a clunky indicator in our test car. The Elite’s leather trim is also relatively hard and the fake wood grain highlights are pretty ghastly. But these small gripes are excusable when you compare the price tag to other brands.
This is a vehicle that’s all about killer price.
With massive savings compared to its rivals, an extensive equipment list and no major shortcomings, we reckon the Sante Fe Elite deserves long, hard consideration from buyers in this segment. Oh, if only it had more grunt...