CAPE TOWN, Western Cape – It's been seventeen years since the local launch of the first-generation Hyundai Santa Fe. Since then, of course, the needs and desires of the typical SUV buyer have evolved considerably and today the competition is particularly fierce. Now, Hyundai Automotive South Africa is looking to claim a heftier slice of the sales pie, having sold some 5 331 units (with the second-gen model interestingly proving the most popular) since the Santa Fe's local introduction in 2001.
Hyundai SA tells us it did some serious homework on local competitors before introducing this fourth-generation Santa Fe, and after our first drive on local soil, it certainly looks as though this seven-seater Korean SUV has much to offer. Indeed, this base-spec Premium derivative kicks off the range at R599 900 and offers a long list of standard features (but more on that later).
Let's first look at some of the key alterations made over the previous model. The exterior adopts a far bolder design, sharing some key styling elements with its smaller SUV sibling, the recently launched Kona. Indeed, much like the latter, the LED daytime running lights are positioned above the headlamps. At a glance, these narrow light clusters could easily be mistaken for the headlamps, which in this model, are halogen units incorporated into the front bumper, flanking a large new black honeycomb grille. Towards the rear you’ll find a subtle tailgate spoiler, a reversing camera, park distance control and (legitimate) twin-exhaust exits.
Now with the body measuring some 70 mm longer and 10 mm wider, along with a wheelbase increase of 65 mm, it's clear Hyundai made improving interior space a priority. Step inside and front passengers are greeted by large, manually adjustable seats offering both sturdy support and high levels of comfort. The quilted-and-stitched leather upholstery is a neat addition, providing this base model's interior with a welcome premium ambience (alongside the well-padded, ash-coloured rooflining similar to that found on the interior of the trendy Peugeot 3008).
The multi-function leather-wrapped tiller is a pleasure to grip and the uncluttered analogue instrument cluster is easily legible. Having driven both the entry-level Premium and the range-topping Elite variants on the launch, I preferred the analogue arrangement in the Premium as opposed to the half-digital, half-analogue set-up in the flagship.
While hardly any brittle plastics are found on often-handled areas of the cabin, if you look hard enough you'll find a few scratchy bits. That said, the facia is topped by a soft-touch slush-moulded surface (with matching stitched pinstripes), while a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system identical to that found in the Tucson is mounted centrally. While the system does not offer built-in navigation, it does provide both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality as alternatives. Dual-zone climate control and an air-conditioned glove box are standard in the cabin, too.
An impressive claimed legroom measurement of 1 001 mm is quoted for second-row passengers. For reference, the burly Nissan Patrol was measured to offer 808 mm of second-row legroom in our road-test earlier in 2018. There are two rear-sited USB charging ports back there too, aiding in the avoidance of increasingly common arguments between passengers jostling to charge their devices.
Move past the second row, and you’ll find a set of extra perches folded flat into the boot floor (all Santa Fe models now come with seven seats). These chairs are suitable enough for adults over short distances, and at 179 cm I managed to squeeze myself in with relative ease, discovering sufficient head- and knee-room. Some 130 litres of packing space is offered with the third row up and a handy 516 litres with the seats neatly stowed.
Underneath the revised body shell rests the same 2,2-litre turbodiesel mill that did service in the previous generation. Generating 142 kW at 3 800 r/min and 440 N.m between 1 750 and 2 750 r/min, the familiar engine is now mated to a new eight-speed automatic torque-converter (developed and manufactured in-house by Hyundai), adding two extra cogs over the outgoing model. With the standard cruise control set to the national speed limit and the tachometer registering just under 2 000 r/min, the engine handily settles into its peak torque band in top gear. The gearbox is smooth in its operation and is calibrated to use the available torque rather than kicking down to a lower gear when opening the throttle to overtake. Send your right foot into the carpet, however, and the gearbox reacts quickly enough, even if it lacks the response of the transmission used in, say, the BMW X3.
The Santa Fe is an effortless cruiser and now with added underfloor insulation, it’s suitably refined even over rutted gravel surfaces. Indeed, the underpinnings and suspension set-up deliver a well-cushioned and controlled ride, despite the dual-tone 18-inch alloys being shod in low-profile Continental ContiSport Contact5 rubber (the latter coped admirably on sinkplaat and rock-ridden sections of our route).
But it's on the blacktop where the Santa Fe excels, with NVH levels well suppressed out on the open road. The electric power steering should get a special mention here, since the systems used in many Korean cars are over-assisted and inert. But the new model's steering is well weighted and provides an appreciated degree of feedback even in comfort mode, giving the driver a fair idea as to what the front wheels are doing.
With a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating to its name, Hyundai claims the new Santa Fe boasts a 15,4 percent increase in torsional rigidity compared with the old vehicle. ABS with EBD, ESC and other safety initialisms come standard, along with six airbags. For further peace of mind, a class-leading seven-year/ 200 000 km warranty and a five-year/ 90 000 km service plan ship standard.
At R599 900, this model offers decent value for money, but faces strong competition from both unibody rivals such as the Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace, Kia Sorento and Land Rover Discovery Sport; and bakkie-based models like the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, Toyota Fortuner and Ford Everest (not to mention flagship versions of smaller five-seater rivals such as the Ford Kuga and Mazda CX-5).
On first impressions, though, this Santa Fe certainly lives up to its Premium nomenclature, offering a great deal of standard specification despite its positioning as the entry-level derivative. It deserves to sell well on local shores and should help Hyundai SA grab an even broader slice of the seemingly ever-growing crossover sales pie.