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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.

JORDAN – The new, fourth-generation Hyundai Santa Fe wears a face that is quite unlike that of its predecessor, as well as one fairly far removed from anything else in the Korean brand's current range. And this is the sort of approach we can expect from Hyundai from now on, with its new models set to receive individualistic styling rather than simply an adaptation of the latest "family" look.

In the case of this new Santa Fe, the fresh styling includes a bold new lighting arrangement that sees the daytime LED lights positioned above the dual projector headlamps, with the latter gaining their own pods recessed into the front bumper.

There's a subtle but strong crease that runs without wavering from the narrow lamps up front to the rear lights, while overall the rear treatment is neat, with narrow lenses that curve round the flanks.

Bigger is better?

When it comes to next-generation model redesigns, the trend is almost always to go bigger. When the size reaches its inevitable limit, a new, smaller model range is often released. And so it is with the new Santa Fe. It's longer by 70 mm, wider by 10 mm but no taller than before.

More significantly, the wheelbase has been increased by 65 mm, although the overhangs are shorter. This results in improved off-road clearance as well as more interior space. Road noise, meanwhile, has been reduced thanks to floorpan modifications and the use of additional sound-absorbing materials.

The interior mirrors the rather elegant external appearance and boasts all the features one might need without being overly fussy or complicated in its operation. Rear seat movement for access to the third row (the final two perches fold neatly into the floor) requires a mere push of a button and a forward shove. Controls are logically laid out, with the exception of the all-wheel-drive button in this model, which is sited on the facia to the right of the steering wheel (for right-hand drive) and therefore not easily visible.

Space aplenty

With the Jordanian autumn smothering us with temperatures of over 36 degrees (with a high relative humidity), we appreciated both the dual climate control and the very efficient seat ventilation. Seating comfort is fine and both driver and passenger enjoy electrically adjusted perches in this model.

The final two seats have improved headroom and are thus more comfortable than before. While not suitable for passengers over 1,7 metres tall, these rear pews also gain dedicated air-conditioning vents.

Appreciated features for the driver include a comprehensive head-up display, blind spot warning, lane change warning and rear danger warning (with a 360-degree camera), wireless smartphone charger and six airbags.

Tried and tested

As far as engines go, Hyundai is sticking with what works. This is conservative but important for proven, long-term reliability. While the Hyundai Motors product manager admitted the firm did look at upgrading from the 2,2-litre turbodiesel engine, it decided the best option was to retain the existing layout. That said, revisions to piston design have resulted in less noise when cold while power has increased slightly to 147 kW. So too has peak torque, to 440 N.m between 1 750 and 2 750 r/min.

What makes or breaks (figuratively, that is) a transmission is how smoothly it shifts gears. This is especially important with modern multi-ratio designs. Get it wrong and you end up playing a game of "guess which gear we're in now". Get it right and you can skip the arithmetic and let the computer sort it out.

The new eight-speed (replacing the previous six-speed) had me rather sceptical due to the possibility of continuous hunting up and down the range. Fortunately, the shift algorithms have been well sorted because shifting is almost imperceptible ... which is exactly what you want in a vehicle such as this. Paddle shifters have been provided for those who enjoy flicking through the cogs manually, and there is a gear ratio readout to let you know where you are in the octave. The ratio spread is increased from before for better acceleration and cruising (first gear is a low 4,81:1 and the top gear ratio is 0,65:1).

Off the tarmac

The HTRAC all-wheel-drive system features three drive modes to adjust the traction to the wheels. In eco, the split is 100:0 with a maximum transfer of 80:20. In comfort, you have a 80:20 split with maximum transfer of 65:35, while in sport mode it's 65:35 with transfer of 50:50. Prodding the lock button provides a permanent 50:50 split. Suspension has been stiffened but the travel has also increased, while the steering design now has the electric motor mounted directly onto the rack.

Most of the time we used either sport or comfort modes. In the eco setting, eighth gear could be selected at under 80 km/h where the engine speed was a mere 1 400 r/min (below the maximum torque's arrival at 1 750 r/min). This resulted in some labouring of the engine, with the expected roughness. Not what a diesel engine likes, so we generally stayed away from eco mode. The fuel consumption during our trip was around 8,0 L/100 km.

And in South Africa?

Three specification levels will be offered in South Africa when the Santa Fe debuts here before the end of 2018. The base model will be the front-wheel-drive Premium. This features halogen headlamps, a normal keyed ignition, a remote folding second row, a 3,5-inch display in the instrument cluster, a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment pod (with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto) and 18-inch alloy wheels.

The Executive model adds LED projector headlamps, keyless start, an electric opening tailgate and 19-inch wheels (with drive again sent exclusively to the front axle).

The flagship Elite furthermore gains heated and ventilated front seats, 19-inch alloys (in a different design), a seven-inch TFT screen between the dials and, of course, the HTRAC all-wheel-drive system.

On the road

We travelled a mix of coastal roads and very windy mountain passes on our way to the historical site of Petra. Fortunately, Hyundai has finally sorted out its electrically assisted steering system, which didn't disappoint. The ride quality is also close to cosseting and bump absorption is adequate (although the larger wheels were not always adept at soaking up small bumps evident on the sometimes poorly surfaced roads between the Dead Sea and the Red Sea).

The sunroof is huge, with the front section opening and the rear glass fixed (an electrically driven screen allows you to block out the heat). The quality of materials is generally good, although the leather used for seat covering cannot match that found in some German rivals.

Overall, the new Santa Fe represents an impressive follow-up to what was already a compelling seven-seater SUV. Pricing, of course, will be key, although Hyundai has stressed that this will be largely dependent on South Africa's wavering exchange rate...

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