Cape Town – The Hyundai Santa Fe is a product that blends into the backdrop of the large SUV segment due to it not having as much off-road focused tech compared to the likes of the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, Toyota Fortuner or Ford Everest. That’s not to say that there isn’t a place for it in our market. Where the Santa Fe excels is in providing a more comfortable and leisurely large SUV experience.
Available with two powertrains, we sampled the 2,2D Executive 8DCT AWD which uses the brand’s four-cylinder turbodiesel mill to deliver an uprated 148 kW and 441 N.m of torque to all four wheels via an eight-speed dual clutch transmission. The new D4HIII VGT is 48 cc smaller than the oil burner it replaces. The cylinder block is now aluminium and the camchain has been swapped out for a belt. Ceramic glow plugs replace metal ones for a faster heat-up time on cold starts.
Improvements in performance are immediately noticeable as the Santa Fe delivers powers to all four corners promptly. Notable improvements in NVH are also experienced with engine clatter and vibrations seeing significant improvements over the last model. The new wet dual-clutch, controllable via paddle shifters mounted to the steering wheel, accentuates the Santa Fe’s responsive performance at cruising speeds however, at parking speeds it’s a bit slow on the command as delays can be experienced when gauging the throttle. The shift by wire system, consisting of four buttons on the centre console, make for a more sophisticated experience in the cabin but changing between the necessary gears when in a hurry can be a frustration as its inputs are not all too responsive either.
The drivetrain in the Hyundai Santa Fe is supported by a drive mode select which adjusts the power output and distribution of drive between the front and rear axles. Three terrain modes manage the car’s performance via the TCS based on which surface has been selected. Over gravel roads, I found it wasn’t necessary to use any of these as the Smart drive mode proved sufficient enough.
Where flaws are concerned, the iffy dual-clutch is pretty much where it starts and ends. The updated Hyundai Santa Fe has been handed a long list of small changes that equate to a largely impressive package when summed up. Visually, changes are subtle with the updated front and rear bumper, head- and taillamp cluster, grille and 19-inch alloy wheel design. While the visual alterations aren’t drastic from the pre-facelift model, they work together to create a more modern and advanced appearance.
Within the cabin of the Executive model, there are convenience features aplenty which include an updated infotainment system, three-level auto climate control, wireless charging for smartphones, rear window curtains, heated and ventilated seats and an automated tailgate.
Packaging of the Hyundai Santa Fe’s cabin is impressive, too with headroom in all three rows being sufficient and storage facilities placed throughout the cabin for added convenience. The third row of seats fold flat on the floor, providing improved boot space and the parcel shelf is adjustable to suit different seating configurations.
There’s no denying that the Hyundai Santa Fe will continue to compete in a highly competitive segment. Its main rival, the Toyota Fortuner, is one of South Africa’s highest selling passenger vehicles and can be fitted with proper 4×4 tech that’ll see it traversing surfaces that the Santa Fe will not be able to. That’s not to say that there’s no market for the Santa Fe. Based on first impressions, the updated large SUV would suit urban-bound families who see a gravel road four times a year very well. On-road dynamics are superb given its dimensions and from behind the wheel it’s a joy to pilot if you can anticipate body roll through the corners. 235/55 R19 Continental Premium Contact 6 tyres as standard fit help ensure a smooth and composed ride on tarmac. It’s not the champion of gravel roads in its segment but dynamics on loose surfaces is not its weak point.
South Korea’s large SUV has its work cut out for it in the local market. It’s a good thing that it has managed to assemble a product that feels capable, upmarket and enjoyable to drive through a list of minor updates.