There always seems to be a deal in Hyundai showrooms, a tactic that helped the brand to clear the 100,000 sales mark for the first time last year.
This month it’s a free diesel upgrade on the Santa Fe, which gives me a good reason to jump into one.
But this time around I’m not opening the door on the top-line Highlander, which draws more than half of Santa Fe buyers despite its $54,000 price tag, and instead I go for the starting-price Active.
The current deal means a Santa Fe diesel manual starts at $38,490, the basic petrol price, with the auto jumping to $40,990. It’s pretty tasty stuff in a class where its only real seven-seater price rivals are the Ford Territory, Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota Kluger and — no surprise, in the South Korean clone car wars — Kia’s Sorento.
In a world that’s overstuffed with SUVs, the Santa Fe is a nice surprise. What it says on the box is what you get. It’s a big, family-friendly SUV with good cabin space and the stuff you really need.
It would be better if the tow rating was higher than two tones but it’s not the sort of serious four-wheel drive you would take on a big trip into the outback. For city and suburban use it’s fine. The view is good, it’s relatively easy to park considering its heft and there is good access to the three rows of seats. The luggage space is impressive as a five-seater but — and it’s not remotely alone — I wouldn't want to carry seven people and their gear for more than a few kilometres.
The CRDi Active, as it’s called, comes with a six-speed auto and a diesel that makes 145kW/436Nm. It can be a bit sluggish at times but there is solid pulling power and it is easy to resort to the manual side of the shift even without flappy paddles when you need to go.
The economy is good and the noise levels are fine, for the class and price. It’s definitely not the quietest diesel I’ve driven this year but it’s all right.
One thing I love is the suspension. It’s been properly and expertly tuned for Australian roads and drivers, unlike some opponents including the Pathfinder and Kluger which at times flop and flounce on poor surfaces.
It’s much cushier than I expect following a suspension upgrade in the final quarter of last year, coping easily with anything I can find to try and trick it through potholes or over bumps.
The Santa Fe even tops the Jeep Grand Cherokee that’s in the driveway at the same time, which comes as a surprise, and is also nicer than the new Honda CR-V. It’s all about compliance and control, which Hyundai has right now on all its vehicles.
I’m not happy about the size of the infotainment screen, which seems tiny compared to that CR-V and makes it a little tougher to use the rear-view camera. The tail-end view is also blunted by a camera that’s not good after dark.
It’s the same with the headlamps, which could be a lot brighter for high-beam use.
My other complaint is the Isofix child-seat mounts, which are hard to use. It’s about the shape of the seats, which provide good shape and support in the front buckets but are a bit more complicated in the second row and cover the hooks where the seat attaches.
The Santa Fe is a solid performer and is a smart choice for families. It’s cheaper than the Pathfinder, comes with the diesel you can’t get in the Kluger and is far newer and more refined than the Territory.
It’s a good jigger. So I give it The Tick.
Price: From $38,490
Warranty: 5yr/unlimited km
Resale: 54 per cent
Service Interval: 12 months/15,000km
Safety: 5-star ANCAP
Engine: 2.4-litre 4-cyl turbocharged petrol, 145kW/436Nm
Transmission: 6-spd automatic; AWD
Spare: full-size alloy
Thirst: 7.3L/100km, 209g/km CO2 Tank 64L