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CAST your mind back to August last year and you may well recall a seven-seat SUV test that included some illustrious nameplates. It was won by a Hyundai Santa Fe. Given that it got the nod over the Skoda Kodiaq – which was a podium finisher in last year’s COTY – hopes were high that the Hyundai would progress to the pointy end of this year’s proceedings. Sadly it wasn’t to be.
The car that aced that group test was the range-topping Highlander diesel version, and it offered a convincing blend of all the good stuff that family buyers look for, albeit at a price. Start lowering your gaze in the Santa Fe range to a price tag that, in all likelihood, will be more attuned to those coping with school fees, food bills, and family holidays for six and the sheen rubs off a little.
Hyundai had supplied the all-conquering Highlander diesel for review but alongside it came the base Active petrol. The $17K gulf between the two makes a real difference. It’s 440Nm of torque at your elbow in the diesel versus 241Nm in the petrol version. It’s an eight-speed auto versus a six-speed unit. It’s 25 percent poorer fuel economy from a weak-sauce 2.4-litre petrol engine, which rows along raucously where the diesel just purrs.
Of course the sweet spot in the range might well be the entry-level Active diesel, which tacks just $3000 onto the price of the petrol at $46K, but it wasn’t here for review. As such, the budget end of the Santa Fe range left most judges distinctly underwhelmed and some clearly felt that $60K+ for the Highlander was edging beyond the limits of Hyundai’s badge equity, in this class at least.
Here’s the thing, though. If you have a big brood of kids, being able to seat them easily, comfortably and safely represents a higher priority than impressing your mates with a premium badge. You’ve probably grown out of that. There’s nothing more cringeworthy than the guy trying to be the cool dad, and the Santa Fe plugs into that kicked-back vibe.
It doesn’t try too hard, instead preferring to major on what’s important. Things like being able to adjust the front passenger seat from the driver’s side, supplying a humungous centre storage bin, a low window line for excellent all-seat visibility, elegant body control, and a modest 185mm ride height so that small kids can get in without looking as if they’re scaling the Eiger. “Hyundai is nailing design and presentation” said an impressed John Carey, but Byron Mathioudakis was withering in his assessment of the 2.4 Active model. “Doesn’t feel as if it deserves to be at COTY. Merely plays catch up with the Mazda CX-9,” he sniffed.
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The Santa Fe gets so much right but the petrol version is a nail. We don’t say that about too many cars, especially ones that made the invite list to COTY. Without that anvil around its neck, the Santa Fe might well have progressed further. Nevertheless, this quality SUV fell by the wayside in the first round. Harsh? Maybe. Perhaps Hyundai can rest easy in the knowledge that no seven-seat SUV fared any better.