Hyundai's popular Santa Fe people carrier has moved up a number of notches on the large SUV status ladder and where it previously competed with the likes of Dodge Journey, Pajero Sport, Kia Sorento, Chevrolet Captiva and the likes, the newly-launched model now confidently also squares up to the two upper crust Germans, Audi and BMW.
It's not designed to handle a Moonscape, but it's great on tar and gravel.
Continuing on its value-for-money journey, the latest Santa Fe is so highly specced that just to match it would add R88,230 to the cost of a new Audi 2.0-litre TDi 125kW and R106,550 to the already pricy BMW X3 2.0-d 135kW.
But the Santa Fe is a lot more than just a finely kitted out vehicle. It looks good and its European styling is spot on. It is quite striking and surprisingly eager to trot, unlike some of the earlier models which needed quite a bit of whipping to get out of the starting stalls.
What also adds to the latest model's appeal is that it is not only a pleasant, quiet and comfortable black top tourer - take it on to the gravel or along sandy tracks and it handles with amazing confidence and ability, even though, like most SUV's it is not a true blue-blooded bush warrior. Even with its low-profile tyres deflated its relatively low ground clearance and general dynamics are not designed to plough through thick sand or over extremely rocky terrain.
Plenty of power
But stick to the tar and fairly good sand and gravel roads and it will delight with its pleasant drive. Even at go-to-jail speed the Santa Fe sits beautifully on the road and overtaking is brisk and effortless. The 16-valve 2.2-litre engine with double overhead camshafts delivers 145kW at its peak power output at 3,800rpm and loads of torque that reach its maximum of 436Nm when the engine runs between 1,800-2,500rpm.
Hyundai says fuel consumption figures of 8 litres/100km for the Premium FWD and 8,3 litres/100km for the AWD Executive and Elite derivatives have been recorded in combined European testing cycles. (Note - these tests are conducted under perfect test conditions.)
The living quarters of the new Santa Fe echoes its handsome exterior and oozes comfort, convenience, style and practicality.
Power is delivered to the wheels through a smooth-shifting automatic 6-speed transmission which has the option of manual shift.
The all-wheel drive system in the Executive and Elite delivers power through the front wheels under normal road conditions for optimum economy and fuel efficiency, but engages automatically when conditions demand it.
Additionally, there is a 4WD lock mode selector which distributes power 50:50 to both front and rear wheels for increased off-road ability, while automatically switching to "Auto" mode for protection of the drive system when the vehicle speed increases to 40km/h.
Now, this is interesting, but...
An interesting system offers three steering modes that are selectable via a switch on the steering wheel, enabling the driver to choose between Comfort, Normal and Sport according to road conditions. I must confess, I tried them briefly but could not really feel a marked difference in steering "feel".
The all-new, third generation Hyundai Santa Fe comes to the market with three derivatives and a wide choice of different features giving buyers the option of a front-wheel drive model and two all-wheel drive derivatives, the Executive and the Elite, which offer two extra seats that fold away into the rear cargo floor when not in use.
The 2.2-litre turbodiesel engine gives the vehicle a peppy performance.
At the model's local Media introduction I drove both the Executive and Elite models (without configuring them to seven-seaters and with never more than two occupants) on an extensive on and off-road trip up the West Coast and was impressed by it many likeable features.
It is a big vehicle. It looks big and it feels big, particularly in traffic and in built-up areas, but its size shrinks on the open road where it turns out ride and drive qualities not far off from that of a mid-range sedan. The spacious cabin is comfortable and provides acres of space for legs, shoulders and bums, plus a good load of luggage at back.
Dynamite in a small package
What impressed most of this big Korean is the peppy performance from its relatively small (for the vehicle's size) 2.2-litre turbodiesel engine. It zips comfortably through the cogs, wastes little time getting up to cruising speed, and even a gusting South-Easter did little to slow it down.
The latest Santa Fe is at its best on the highway and it should make the family's long trek from Cape Town to the Kruger National Park feel a like a chip and a putt.
What's more, the big Korean won't embarrass the teenagers at school drop-offs because it looks quite cool with its prominent grille, sloping roof-line, narrow back windows, gloss black finish on the door frames and pillars and the sporty twin exhaust outlets poking out the back to match the sporty big set of alloys.
There's ample room for the family and what they want to pack along for a trip.
The living quarters of the new Santa Fe echoes its handsome exterior and oozes comfort, convenience, style and practicality. Information is displayed on an advanced TFT LCD instrument cluster as well as on an information screen. The elegant leather upholstery is enhanced by high gloss chrome trim and a pleasing dash lay-out.
Mum and Dad will be happy with the 12-way power adjustable driver's seat with memory settings (on the Elite derivative), which means they won't have to completely re-adjust the seats every time there is a driver change.
Also very convenient is the second row of seats which can be slid backwards or forwards or can also be reclined or split to provide space for longer items. Boot space is also plentiful and even the seven-seater models can accommodate 994 litres. Handy mousey-holes in the cabin include a centre console box, large door pockets and a generous glove box.
A popular feature on game-driving trips is likely to be the dual zone climate control which can also be activated for keep the second and third row passengers cool, plus there is also glove box cooler to chill the sunset beer.
Smile, you're on Candid Camera
Squeezing and reversing a large SUV into tight gaps can be trying at the best of times but the flagship Elite model comes to the driver's assistance with a small video camera that shows in the rear-view mirror what is going on behind the car.
Set to ruffle some German feathers, Ja!
Other driving pleasures include automatic electric folding mirrors, an automatic rain sensor with speed-sensitive windscreen wipers and the full-length panoramic sunroof in the Elite.
An excellent sound system features radio and CD plus ports for AUX cables, iPod and a USB.
Safety is a high priority in family transports such as the Santa Fe and the latest model's safety gear include Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Hillstart Assist Control (HAC), Downhill Brake Control (DBC), Traction Control System (TCS), Vehicle Stability Management (VSM) and six air bags.
The latest Santa Fe is going to be tough act to follow - little wonder then that sales are expected to double that of the outgoing model. Hyundai has earned a reputation in South Africa for setting a vehicle warranty benchmark so no surprise then that the new Santa Fe also carries a five-year/150,000km manufacturer's warranty, plus five-year /150,000km roadside assistance and a five-year/90,000km service contract.
The prices and models of the new Hyundai Santa Fe range are: Santa Fe R2.2 Premium FWD 5-seater R434,900 Santa Fe R2.2 Executive AWD 7-seater R459,900 Santa Fe R2.2 Elite AWD 7-seater R499,900
Bizcommunity.com motoring editor Henrie Geyser () has worked as a journalist in Cape Town, London and Windhoek for the Argus Company (now Independent Newspapers) and spent 12 years at The Cape Argus in Cape Town. He then owned and ran a public relations consultancy for 13 years. He joined the online publishing industry through iafrica.com, where he worked for five years as news editor and editor. He now freelances for a variety of print and online publications, on the subjects of cars, food and travel, among others; and is a member of the South African Guild of Motoring Journalists.
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