Road Tests

First Drive: Room to play with new (2019) Hyundai Santa Fe

Meet the really big Hyundai, which in spite of its silly Santa Fe name is actually quite appealing on a practical, family-first kind of level. The Santa Fe is what they call a ‘D-segment’ SUV, which means it competes with the Volvo XC60 and Land Rover Discovery Sport. Two cars we like very much indeed.

Mid-sized SUVs like the Santa Fe appeal because they’re usefully smaller, cheaper, more economical and less brash than conventional SUVs like the Land Rover Discovery, Volvo XC90 and Audi Q7. But you still get seven seats – granted in most the two rearmost seats are good only for kids, but who sits fully-grown adults back there anyway? – a lofty driving position, a degree of off-road ability and the ability to tow caravans, horseboxes and so on. And of course there’s the image, which nowadays is even more important than whether the car is, you know, any good.

Image is a thing Hyundai might have struggled with a decade ago, but times have changed. Before its release in 2001 it was known for building reliably cheap hatchbacks like the very good Getz, but the chunky Santa Fe and its steady march upmarket (which continues with the new fourth-gen car) has overseen a revitalisation of Hyundai’s entire range and, therefore, image.

Hyundai South Africal have rationalised the range to one engine and it’s a oil burner from the outgong car. ’s a powertrain that suits the Santa Fe’s semi-premium aspirations and general workmanlike remit. What we really like is how Hyundai has resisted any temptation to try to make it remotely sporty even though there’s a decent 142kW and 440Nm. All spec derivatives come with the new eight-speed automatic transmission and if you go for the Elite, becomes the only Hyundai on sale with all-wheel drive.Ground clearance is less than its classmates so this is no off-road champion.

New Hyundai Santa Fe can be divided into three specs with the middle Executive Model; including items like LED lights, blind spot detection, electric front seat adjustment, power tailgate and smart key access. The top Elite model adds to these with cornering headlights, heated and ventilated seats, panoramic sunroof and a virtual LCD cluster behind the wheel.

The old car’s interior was functional if plain. Entirely predictably the new one aims for even more space and a more “premium quality”. Taking care of the former is 40 extra litres of boot space (taking us to 625 litres in all), more legroom for second-row passengers and more headroom for those in the third, rearmost row. Access is brilliantly straightforward thanks to second-row seats that unlatch and spring forwards electronically.

There’s also some incredible safety tech on the new Santa Fe that goes further than blind spot monitoring and cross traffic alert. Boring, says Hyundai. So they’ve come up with Safe Exit Assist on Exec and Elite models. SEA (in the lingo) prevents someone (a child, possibly) from opening the doors if the car detects movement up its flanks, like another moving vehicle in its vicinity. Reminds us when Hyundai tried this with the Veloster, only their wacky solution at the time was to put two doors on the one side, and one door on the other. Thank technology for saving us from that one.

As for the premium-ness all carmakers seem to be obsessed with nowadays, the Santa Fe eschews a conventional centre-stack and instead goes for the very in-vogue tablet-like touchscreen setup. Screen size and functionality are proportional to money spent, naturally. The flagship 7-incher gets Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and much besides. Shame Hyundai didn’t give it the UI from the new Nexo, but the system is at least quick to respond and functional. Climate controls look a little low-rent but on the whole, the Santa Fe’s interior feels up to withstanding the rigours of family life, even if material quality is a little mixed.

The 2019 Santa Fe is no longer priced as a conspicuous bargain, but that’s because this is a properly refined device with a brilliantly realised seven-seat cabin, handy tech and a relaxed gait. It’s an unpretentious SUV with some handsome styling touches and the prospect of a painless ownership experience.

Thought the rampant Hyundai improvement exercise would slow, as complacency set in, did you? Try one of these – it’s a very finely realised all-rounder. Chiefly, it feels worth the money.

Santa Fe R2.2 Premium AT              R599 900
Santa Fe R2.2 Executive AT             R659 900
Santa Fe R2.2 Elite AT H Trac          R749 900

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