Santa Fe is in a class of its own

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 June, 2010, 12:00am

A glance at the specification sheet for the revamped Hyundai Santa Fe shows it is well-equipped, with seven seats, four-wheel drive, 18-inch alloys, five-star NCAP safety rating, six-speed automatic transmission, eight air bags, dual-zone climate control, a sunroof and a five-year warranty. That's a lot of SUV for HK$268,000, but is it as good as it looks on paper?

The 2010 Santa Fe hasn't been radically restyled. It's more of a facelift with exterior alterations, such as a new radiator grille, redesigned fog lamps and front bumper, brushed silver roof rack and twin exhausts. But the major change is the engine.

The 2.7-litre V6 has been replaced by a 2.4-litre, four-cylinder version, resulting in a slight decrease in output to 174 bhp and 225 Nm of torque. Thanks to the new six-speed transmission, performance remains about the same, with a top speed of 190km/h, while fuel consumption improves to 8.1 litres per 100 kilometres.

It's a cracking engine, free-revving and eager all the way up to the 6,500 rpm red line, but it does have a lot of weight to shift, so it never feels particularly fast. Much as the tachometer needle likes to flick towards the red, a lighter foot on the throttle puts the engine into economy mode, and the smooth and silky gearbox changes at lower revs. Whether in sport or economy mode, the refinement of the engine/gearbox combination is superb, as good as on much more expensive cars. This is particularly noticeable on the expressway, where the Santa Fe glides.

The interior is spacious and attractive, with a new centre console, instrument cluster and seats, all seven of which are covered in durable leather. Overall, the cabin is comfortable and well-appointed, and the fit and finish of the trim are solid. The powered driver's seat is 10-way adjustable, while the new leather-clad steering has remote controls for the radio/CD.

There's plenty of head and leg room in the second row of seats. They even recline, but the back row is a little cramped for adults. Both rows of seats fold flat with the flick of a few levers; the back row splits 50-50, while the second row splits 60-40 for maximum practicality. With the rear seats down, luggage capacity is almost 1,000 litres, rising to more than 2,300 litres with both rows flat.

Handling is good for such a big car. The steering is light, but there's a nice weight to it. Although the ride is on the firm side, bumps and ruts are soaked up well by the suspension and isolated from the cabin. An active four-wheel-drive system shifts power front and rear to maximise traction, and can be locked at the touch of a button.

Standard safety equipment includes a rollover sensor that automatically deploys side air bags and seat belt pre-tensioners in the event of a rollover. Twin front, side and full-length curtain air bags, active head restraints, electronic stability control, traction control, anti-lock braking system and Isofix child seat mountings are also available.

The Santa Fe is good-looking, well-designed, well-equipped and well-engineered. It's also surprisingly refined. Hyundai has made impressive progress over the past decade and the Santa Fe shows that the company is now a serious contender in the SUV market. At this price, the Santa Fe is in a class of its own.