The Hyundai Santa Fe has become a highly regarded family SUV, but is there really such a strong call out there for a sporty one? The very existence of the new Hyundai Santa Fe SR would attest to the answer being ‘yes’.
Consider the ever-increasing proliferation of high-end seven-seaters out there from the Europeans, for one thing. Couple this with Australia’s performance-heavy market, and you can see a readymade niche right before your eyes.
Factor in, also, that a significant number — almost half — of Hyundai’s Santa Fe deliveries comprise the high-end Highlander variant. This indicates a more flagship model is hardly beyond the pale in terms of public acceptance.
Priced from $59,990 plus on-road costs, the Santa Fe SR adds a range of performance-oriented features both outside and underneath — bound to make it among the racier-looking soft-roaders in the school car park (except for Diane in her BMW X5 M).
The Santa Fe iteration is the fourth member of Hyundai’s SR sports-tuned family, joining the Accent SR and i30 SR warm hatches, and the turbocharged Veloster SR coupe.
The price tag puts it $6750 above the Santa Fe Highlander AWD on which it is based, and makes it the priciest Hyundai outside the Genesis sedan. The price also puts the Santa Fe SR into contention with smaller Europeans such as the Audi Q5, but offers more space, performance and stuff.
The performance branding and accouterments also give the Santa Fe SR some differentiation from the highly impressive new Kia Sorento Platinum ($55,990), and the five-seater Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited ($64,000).
What does the extra dosh get you? You can read the full breakdown here.
In short, the Santa Fe SR gets a bodykit (new front spoiler, side skirts and a rear diffuser), 19-inch OZ Racing black alloy wheels shod with high-performance 235/55 Michelin Latitude Tourer tyres (a full-size spare features) and uprated Brembo brakes with red calipers.
Like all Santa Fe variants, the SR additionally benefits from work done by the company’s Sydney-based suspension and chassis tuning team. In this case, the team has refined the existing South Korean-market Santa Fe Sports Package.
The gist is a stiffer set of springs, calibrated here and then specced to run down the Korean production line. The H&R units are six per cent stiffer at the front and 11 per cent stiffer at the rear.
It looks menacing, overall, though the overriding intention is to improve handling by reducing bodyroll, and the difference is notable if not revelatory. The tall body doesn’t belie physics entirely (adjustable dampers might help), but it stays flatter and more composed that you might expect.
Of course, it’s still no Ford Territory — a clear benchmark even more than a decade on since its launch.
The up-specced Michelins (over the Highlander’s Kumhos) provide good levels of grip mid-corner, though the still slightly vague and feel-free electric-assisted steering (with the still-gimmicky Flex Steer system that programs in different levels of resistance) doesn’t always give you the absolute confidence to use it.
The uprated Brembos with four-piston front callipers and two-piston rears, and 340mm front and 302mm rear discs, reign in the circa two-tonne SUV impressively, with good stopping power and pedal feel upon initial application. Hyundai says the 60km/h to zero stopping distance is reduced by eight per cent, and we don’t doubt it.
Give the stiffer springs, and the 19-inch wheels shod with a fairly skinny slab of rubber, you’d be forgiven for assuming the SR might crash over sharp bumps and exhibit an unsatisfactory degree of road noise.
Thankfully, this isn’t really the case. At no point did we feel the response to road imperfections to be brusque, brittle or jarring. It neither crashes over potholes or speedbumps, or rattles your teeth over corrugation. NVH remains perfectly acceptable.
Not changed is the engine. The 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel from Hyundai’s R Series family. Outputs are 145kW at 3800rpm and 436Nm between 1800 and 2500rpm, and claimed combined-cycle fuel consumption is 7.3L/100km (we averaged high 8s). Towing capacity with a braked trailer is 2000kg.
It remains a punchy and tractable engine that pulls extremely well once you’re in that sweet spot — though there’s a hint of lag on the very short journey getting there.
The standard six-speed auto has a relatively easy time of it, given it seldom needs to hunt for a lower ratio due to the large reservoirs of torque the engine management can call on. It could use some re-calibration to be more aggressive — perhaps downshifting with more veracity under hard braking — and the manual mode is not really what the name suggests. In the interest of self-preservation, it’ll override you under high revs.
We’d also prefer to see paddleshifters fitted. They’re not really essential on an SUV, but a car with sporting pretensions deserves them. Furthermore, the price jump to the SR suggest some changes to the drivetrain would not have gone astray.
Naturally, that $6750 price jump over the Highlander (and $16,000 jump over the base AWD Active diesel/auto version) would have been made sweeter with some drivetrain tweaks.
The rest of the car’s mechanicals are also carryover: the MacPherson strut/Multi-link suspension and the on-demand AWD systems, for instance. The latter comprises a downhill braking system, though the circa-185mm ground clearance is softroader-esque.
Given the SR is based on the Highlander, you get a long list of standard features such as heated and ventilated front seats and heated second row seats, a panoramic glass roof, dusk-sensing HID Xenon (static-cornering) headlights and DRLs, a proximity smart key with push-button start and a power tailgate with hands-free opening.
There is a lane departure warning system, but no blind-spot warning, adaptive cruise or low-speed collision avoidance tech. The SR also misses out on the Highlander’s auto parking system.
The seven-inch touchscreen offers a satellite-navigation system with SUNA traffic updates and a 10-speaker premium audio system, though the graphics are a little dated, and there’s no DAB+ digital radio. We had few gripes with the general system intuitiveness, and the streaming connectivity re-paired swiftly every time.
The cabin is generally comfortable up front, with cushy leather seats and a commanding view of the road. The second row seats (one-touch fold, 60:40) are also spacious enough and offer outboard ISOFIX anchors. Access to the third row requires some moderate contortion, and the levels of space (and the negligible outward visibility due to the sharply raked window-line) make it the province of kids.
All three rows get vents, though the side curtain airbags only cover the front and second rows. ANCAP gave the Santa Fe a five-star rating against its 2012 metrics.
Folding down the rear seats makes for 516 litres of load space, while folding the second and third row down liberates 1615L. Throughout the rest of the car there is ample stowage, including big door pockets front and rear and cupholders aplenty.
In terms of ownership, the SR gets lifetime capped-price servicing with intervals of 12-months of 15,000km, whichever comes first. The costs at present levels per visit varies between $379 and $550 depending on which interval you’re up to.
You also get a five-year/160,000km warranty, up to 10-years of roadside assist, sat-nav updates on a plan, and the ability to negotiate a guaranteed future value figure with your dealer.
All told, the Santa Fe SR makes an interesting proposition. In short, it has been a 7.5 before (with remarkable consistency, actually) and remains the very definition of one.
Do seven-set SUV buyers want sportiness? Some do, but are they the kind of people after a Hyundai? Maybe. What we can say is the SR updates make for a sharp-looking and moderately more dynamic, but not uncomfortable, extension to the already good range.
Whether it’s a necessary extension is a harder question to answer.