2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Review

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2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Review

Overall Rating


4 out of 5 stars

Rating breakdown
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Safety, value & features

4 out of 5 stars

Comfort & space

3 out of 5 stars

Engine & gearbox

4 out of 5 stars

Ride & handling

4 out of 5 stars


4 out of 5 stars

Pros & Cons

  1. ProExcellent diesel engine; stylish and thoughtful interior.

  2. ConAirbags don’t cover third-row passengers.

  3. The Pick: 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander CRDi (4x4) 4D Wagon

What stands out?

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The Hyundai Santa Fe is a seven-seat, road-focused SUV with sharp handling and a great-performing, and fuel-efficient, diesel engine. It is well suited to long journeys, and comfortable for families who like to get out of town. Most Santa Fes drive all four wheels, and the most expensive have automatic emergency braking.

Hyundai has announced that auto braking will be extended to all Santa Fes on new cars arriving from the first week of August 2017. All will also support Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. This review will be updated shortly to reflect the changes.

What might bug me?

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That the Santa Fe’s head-protecting, side-curtain airbags do not extend to passengers in the third row of seats. Vision out and headroom are in short supply back there too.

Listening to the diesel engine. While its performance is great, its dull drone is not.

What body styles are there?

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The Santa Fe drives either its front wheels (the Santa Fe Active X) or all four wheels. (A limited-run Santa Fe 30 Special Edition offered in September 2016 also drove the front wheels only.)

All-wheel drive Santa Fes use an on-demand AWD system, which optimises fuel consumption. They drive the front wheels all the time, and distribute power to the rear wheels when that’s helpful. To improve performance at slow speeds in slippery going, you can lock-in 50-50 power distribution to the front and rear wheels by pressing a button on the dash.

The Santa Fe is classed as a large SUV, lower priced.

What features does every Santa Fe have?

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Cruise control, Bluetooth phone connectivity with voice activation, a reversing camera, and rear parking sensors.

A central touchscreen: 7.0 inches on the least costly versions, the Active and Active X, and 8.0 inches on the Elite, Highlander, and SR. On the Active and Active X (only), the touchscreen supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which lets you display mapping and other apps from a compatible smartphone on the screen.

Headlamps which come on automatically at night or in a tunnel. A digital auxiliary speedo. Power-adjusted lower-back support for the driver.

Aluminium alloy wheels, which are lighter than steel wheels, and a matching full-sized spare wheel.

Seven airbags: two at the front for frontal impacts; an airbag in front of the driver’s knee; one outside each front-seat occupant to protect the body in side crashes; and a curtain airbag down each side to protect heads in a side impact. (The curtain airbags do not extend to the third row of seats.)

Electronic stability control, which can help control a slide or skid. This feature must be fitted to all new cars.

The Santa Fe is covered by a five-year warranty that is not limited by kilometres travelled.

Which engine uses least fuel, and why wouldn't I choose it?

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The 2.2-litre turbo diesel is the most fuel efficient of the three engines available in a Santa Fe, using 7.8 litres/100km with an automatic gearbox in the official test (city and country combined). Nearly every diesel buyer chooses the auto.

In real world driving, you might not match this figure but you could get close if you drove gently and did plenty of country trips. A Santa Fe Highlander with this engine averaged 9.4 litres/100km in comparison testing of large SUVs for the September 2015 issue of Wheels magazine, ranking second for fuel efficiency of five cars reviewed – and only marginally behind the Kia Sorento.

As the diesel also feels much more powerful in most driving conditions than the petrol alternative supplied with all-wheel drive Santa Fes, the main reason you would not order it is that it commands a price premium.

The other AWD engine is a 2.4-litre, four-cylinder petrol that uses about 20 per cent more fuel than the diesel. This engine is only available in the least expensive Santa Fe, the Active.

However, there is a second important reason why you might not order the diesel: you don’t need AWD, and would be happy with front-wheel drive. In which case you could have a much more powerful petrol engine – a 3.3-litre V6.

This engine is available only in the Santa Fe Active X, which arrived about April 2017. (Unless you can find a Santa Fe 30 Special Edition, which uses the same engine. Kia imported just 300 of these from September 2016.)

Santa Fes with the petrol V6 are significantly quicker than other Santa Fes, but they are also a lot thirstier. A Santa Fe 30 with this engine averaged 13.8 litres/100km in Wheels testing.

The Santa Fe Active is available with a six-speed manual gearbox or a six-speed automatic, for either AWD engine. All other Santa Fes offer only the six-speed automatic.

What key features do I get if I spend more?

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The least costly all-wheel drive Santa Fe is the Active, which comes with the equipment in all Santa Fes, cloth seat trim, 17-inch wheels, your choice from petrol or (more expensive) diesel power, and manual or (at extra cost) auto transmission. The Active has a 7.0-inch central touchscreen that supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Sticking with AWD and shelling out for a Santa Fe Elite gets you a diesel engine, auto transmission, and a lot more equipment. Wheel diameter increases to 18 inches, which brings tyres with a slightly lower profile (for marginally sharper steering response and a more sporty look). Dual-zone air-conditioning lets you set different temperatures for each side of the cabin. There is the bigger, 8.0-inch touchscreen (which does not support Apple CarPlay), and satellite navigation. Smart key entry allows you to unlock the front doors, and start the engine, while the key remains safe in your pocket or bag. The tailgate unlocks and rises automatically if the key is nearby for three seconds. Windscreen wipers turn themselves on if it rains.

Seats in the Elite are trimmed in a mix of real and fake leather, and are power-adjustable up front. The driver’s seat remembers your adjustments (so that you can restore them easily after a companion has driven the car). The sound system has 10 speakers, an external amplifier and a bass-boosting sub-woofer. And there are blinds for those in the middle row seats.

Spending more again on an AWD Santa Fe gets brings you a Highlander, which has 19-inch wheels, and tyres with a still lower profile and more grip. The Highlander has a sunroof that covers the front and rear seats. Front and middle-row seats can be heated, and the front seats also have perforations and a fan, for ventilation. Headlamps are extremely bright HID units.

The Highlander also brings you a suite of active safety features, headlined by automatic emergency braking that works at city and highway speeds. There is also smart cruise control (which slows you to the speed of a vehicle in front). The Highlander warns you of vehicles that are alongside in a blind spot, or overtaking you, or that are crossing behind you when you are reversing. And it has a self-parking system, which can automatically steer the car into or out of a space while the driver controls the throttle and brake.

Hyundai also offers an AWD SR version of the Santa Fe, which keeps most of the equipment of the Highlander (it does not have self-parking) but has a sportier look courtesy of plastic skirting on the lower body. There are black wheels, bigger, more powerful brakes accented with red calipers, and a firmer suspension tune so that the car rolls less in corners and steers more directly.

Instead of demanding an AWD Santa Fe, you could instead satisfy yourself with front-wheel drive and choose the Santa Fe Active X. The Active X brings you the speedy V6 petrol engine, and automatic transmission, for less than you would pay for an AWD Active auto. But instead of the complex AWD system, it supplies some comfort and convenience features. These include dual-zone climate control, leather on the seats, heating and ventilation for the front seats, and auto windscreen wipers. The Active X also has 19-inch wheels with low-profile tyres – like the AWD Highlander and SR. But like the Active it has the smaller, 7.0-inch touchscreen – which means you can integrate your smartphone via Apple CarPlay.

Does any upgrade have a down side?

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The steps up in wheel size reduce ride quality slightly, because the lower-profile tyres leave less air between the wheel and the road.

Santa Fes with an automatic transmission have a lower towing capacity: 2000kg versus 2500kg.

Stepping from the least costly Santa Fe, the Active, to a better-equipped all-wheel-drive model means you lose the capacity to use Apple CarPlay, which allows the car’s touchscreen to display and control some apps from a compatible iPhone. (However the others compensate to some extent by offering phone-independent satellite navigation.)

White is the only standard colour, with the other eight costing extra.

How comfortable is the Santa Fe?

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There’s an elegant appearance to the Santa Fe’s interior, thanks to carefully placed silver finishes and a user-friendly layout.

The front seats provide good comfort, with long bases under your thighs. The driver’s seat adjusts for height, and has power-adjustable lumbar (lower back) support in all versions. The steering wheel adjusts for height and reach, but you might wish the reach adjustment were greater.

A deep storage compartment in the centre console has a removable shelf, and there is a big binnacle ahead of the gear lever with dual power outlets and a USB plug.

Visibility is good out the front and the side, with the reversing camera completing the picture out back.

The Santa Fe’s Australian-tuned suspension is compliant, and the car does a good job of supressing unwanted noises, with the exception of the drone from the diesel engine when it is under load.

Nevertheless the ride is less settled than in many cars of this sort, and that gets more difficult to ignore as the wheel size rises. “Its suspension is constantly busy, jostling away underneath like a massage function,” senior reviewer Nathan Ponchard wrote of a Santa Fe 30 Special Edition, which like the Highlander and SR has big 19-inch wheels, in a Wheels magazine review of October 2016.

The 2.4-litre petrol engine often leaves you wanting more power. The diesel engine is more enjoyable, and climbs hills more easily with the family on board.

What about safety in a Santa Fe?

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The Santa Fe has very good standard safety, enhanced with its standard reversing camera and automatic headlamps (the headlamps reacting more reliably than the driver to poor visibility).

The side-curtain airbags – which protect at head-level from side impacts – cover only passengers in the front and second-row seats, however. No one riding in the third row has airbag protection.

The Santa Fe Highlander and SR add a sophisticated automatic emergency braking system that operates at speeds between 8km/h and 180km/h, along with warning systems designed to avert freeway lane-change incidents and car-park reversing bingles. The Highlander gained these features with the Series II update of November 2015.

The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) awarded the Santa Fe its maximum of five stars for safety, in December 2012.

I like driving - will I enjoy this car?

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There is a good chance you will. Among seven-seat SUVs of this size, Santa Fe is at the sharp end for driver-appeal – sacrificing some cossetting for a responsive chassis.

The Santa Fe is very good through bends, with accurate steering and a planted feel. Cornering grip from the standard tyres isn’t particularly high – even from the 19s on the Active X, Highlander and SR – but for a big car of this kind it is easy to place on the road, and fun to drive. The locally tuned suspension recovers beautifully from the big hits you’ll find from time to time on many rural roads.

The diesel engine has great punch, which makes overtaking easy. The Active X with its petrol V6 also overtakes breezily, ultimately supplying considerably more go than even the diesel.

The Santa Fe also has adjustable steering weight, which can alter the effort required to turn the wheel, and (inversely) the feedback coming through the wheel from the tyres. The Comfort setting is very light and with little feedback. The Sport setting is arguably too heavy around town, but on the open road it’s still short on feedback. The Normal setting is a good compromise.

All Santa Fes but one drive all four wheels but it’s more about better traction on slippery surfaces (such as snow or gravel) than tackling rugged trails. If you do get off the beaten track, you have the security of a full-sized spare tyre.

How is life in the rear seats?

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In the middle row it’s really good. A wide seat easily allows for three across it (that middle person will be perched higher, due to the shape of the outer seat cushions). There’s great head room, and plenty of room for big feet under the front seats. Little touches, such as the mild scalloping in the backs of the front seats, ensure good leg room too, and if you want even more you can slide the middle seats rearwards.

The Santa Fe Highlander and SR also have heating for the middle-row seats, and mesh window blinds that will keep sunlight off a sleeping child.

Ventilation around the cabin is good, too. There are air-conditioning vents in the pillars between the front and rear doors, and outlets for rear passengers in both the second and third seat rows.

That third-row seat is much tighter for room than the second, however, with headroom best suited to children and almost no space for feet under the seats in front. And those riding in them don’t get much of a view.

As with most seven-seat SUVs, the child-seat anchor points are on the middle row of seats. So when child seats are in use, it is harder for people to get into the third row of seats.

How is it for carrying stuff?

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With all seven seats in use there is not much boot space. However, the retractable luggage cover slots neatly into a compartment under the floor when not in use, maximising what little space you have – about enough for a couple of soft bags. There’s also space under the floor for small items.

Boot space is far more useful if only five seats are in play. The 50/50 split-fold third row retracts into the floor, to create a broad, flat luggage space.

The middle row seats split-fold in a 40/20/40 configuration, which is great for flexibility. You can flip just the centre section, for example, to accommodate a long item, and still have two comfy outer seats.

The tailgate rises very high, so there’s no stooping to load stuff in the back. The Elite, Highlander and SR have hands-free tailgates that add convenience when you have your arms full of cargo.

The Santa Fe can tow up to 2500kg, but that is only for models fitted with a manual gearbox. The more popular auto is rated at 2000kg.

Where does Hyundai make the Santa Fe?

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All Santa Fes are produced in South Korea.

What might I miss that similar cars have?

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Curtain airbags that protect passengers in the third row of seats against side impacts - such as fitted to the Toyota Kluger and Mazda CX-9.

Perhaps less costly access to auto emergency braking and other driver-assist systems, which on a Santa Fe are available only on the most expensive versions – the Highlander and SR. City-speed auto-braking is standard on every CX-9, for example.

Among other seven-seat SUVs you might consider are the Kia Sorento, which uses the same diesel engine as the Santa Fe, and the Nissan Pathfinder.

If carrying seven people in comfort is a high priority, it could be worth taking a look at the Kia Carnival.

If you would contemplate trading some on-road comfort and precision for the ability to tackle rough tracks off-road, you might want to look at the Ford Everest and the Toyota Prado or Fortuner, all of which offer seven seats.

Are there plans to update the Santa Fe soon?

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Yes. The current shape Santa Fe went on sale in 2012 and received a minor update late in 2014, which brought more equipment. An SR model with a sportier look and firmer suspension was added in 2015. A Series II update In November 2015 brought bigger touchscreens and, on the Highlander, an active safety suite with auto braking. A Series II SR arrived about July 2016. The front-drive, V6 petrol Active X went on sale about April 2017.

Hyundai has announced that auto braking will be extended to all Santa Fes on new cars arriving from the first week of August 2017, for the 2018 model year. All will also support Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and manual transmission will be dropped.

An all-new Santa Fe is under development, and pre-production cars have been photographed. Expect it in 2018.

I like this car, but I can't choose which version. Can you help?

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We’d be happy with any of the diesel models, but the Santa Fe Highlander is a nice machine with luxury-like levels of equipment that make it a good buy.