REVIEW | You'd be a fool to overlook the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe

14 October 2021 - 16:19
A grater-like grille fills rear-view mirrors with a menacing expression.
A grater-like grille fills rear-view mirrors with a menacing expression.
Image: Supplied

Hyundai is responsible for many impressive products of late. Its latest Creta and Kona, for example, are praiseworthy contributions to the burgeoning compact sport-utility vehicle and crossover categories.

Controversial looks (which help them stand out), combined with versatile packaging, good build quality and decent ground clearance make them easy to recommend. The Creta is also among a few that can still be had with a frugal diesel option.

Recently the South Korean carmaker launched the Palisade. It is their first attempt at a full-sized, luxury sport-utility vehicle, in the vein of an aspirational BMW X7 or Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class. And what might Hyundai know about the finer things, you ask? Well, a reminder that they are the custodians of a brand named Genesis, their high-end division, which is to them what Lexus is to Toyota. Genesis is not available in SA, unfortunately.

The high-grade Elite rolls on 20-inch alloy wheels with a more intricate pattern than the 19-inch option of the lesser Executive trim.
The high-grade Elite rolls on 20-inch alloy wheels with a more intricate pattern than the 19-inch option of the lesser Executive trim.
Image: Supplied

A tier below the Palisade is the Santa Fe. Our market is quite familiar with the nameplate: the model has been on sale here since the very first generation was launched in 2000. Now we’re on generation number four, first introduced in 2018 and facelifted earlier this year. We recently spent a week in company with the model.

First thing you’ll notice is that grille. Grater-like in execution, it fills a rear-view mirror with a menacing expression. The illuminated slits above the headlamps gives the model a face not unlike that of a serpent’s. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s a sure-fire conversation-starter. The side and rear profiles of the Hyundai are far more conventional, with ample proportions and strong character lines. The high-grade Elite rolls on 20-inchers with a more intricate pattern than the 19-inch option of the lesser Executive trim.

Pulling the chunky door handle and entering the Santa Fe reveals a cabin that is undoubtedly premium. Sumptuous upholstery, soft touchpoints and a generous smattering of features, there’s not much more you could ask for. Sure, there’s quite a lot going on in terms of switchgear. Unlike German alternatives, opting for layouts modelled on smartphones, the Hyundai is seemingly old school with its array of buttons.

Behind that grille resides a 2.2-litre turbocharged-diesel mill making 148kW and 441Nm.
Behind that grille resides a 2.2-litre turbocharged-diesel mill making 148kW and 441Nm.
Image: Supplied

Even transmission selection has been adapted to a push-button format, rather than a traditional lever. That can be a nuisance at times, when you think you’ve engaged a gear, but find that you didn’t press down with sufficient force. Steering-mounted paddles are there, should the driver opt to swap cogs manually.

If the interior has an antiquated charm about it, then so does the engine. It’s that tried-and-tested 2.2-litre, turbocharged-diesel mill. The four-cylinder unit wears the internal designation of Smartstream D4HE and it outputs 148kW and 441Nm, which is marginally more than the previous version delivered. Because the motor employs an aluminium block, it is purportedly 19.5kg lighter than the source featured in the predecessor. We achieved a best consumption figure of 8.1l/100km.

There’s plenty of go and the Santa Fe is particularly at home on the freeway, where healthy ladles of torque prove useful for leisurely cruising and confident overtaking. On such occasions the blind-spot monitor was revealed to be highly-strung, beeping even when the car behind in the parallel lane was still kilometres away.

From an amenities perspective, the Elite is jam-packed with everything the average buyer would want.
From an amenities perspective, the Elite is jam-packed with everything the average buyer would want.
Image: Supplied

An eight-speed, dual-clutch automatic is on duty, going about its role with quick and decisive shifts. Since it’s an all-wheel drive power train, you’re unlikely to be nervous venturing out onto muddy surfaces or gritty dirt trails on the next family outing. Ground clearance is 206mm in the Elite, but 176mm in the Executive, which omits the four-wheel drive system.

It is a bona fide family vehicle, with a third row of seats – although those are obviously better suited to junior members of the clan. Folding the additional set of pews into the cargo compartment’s floor makes way for a handy 1,032l of space. But even with them up, 332l is fair, about the same as a B-segment hatchback.

From an amenities perspective, the Elite is jam-packed with everything the average buyer would want. From heated and ventilated seats for the front occupants, leather upholstery, a sunroof, wireless smartphone charging and an infotainment system compatible with Android Auto and Apple Car Play, it’s all there. Oh, there’s a heated steering wheel too.

Transmission selection has been adapted to a push-button format, rather than a traditional lever.
Transmission selection has been adapted to a push-button format, rather than a traditional lever.
Image: Supplied

Consider the price and you realise that the Santa Fe ought not to be overlooked. At R784,900, the Executive is cracking value. The generously-garnished Elite tested here doesn’t break the bank however, at R886,900. That includes a seven-year/200,000km warranty.   

At that price point you’ll also be looking at entry-level derivatives of medium-sized, premium sport-utilities like the Audi Q5, BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class and similar. Hyundai mentioned these as indirect rivals when they launched the Santa Fe. But they’ve also positioned the model as an alternative to the ladder-frame set, such as the Ford Everest and Toyota Hilux.   

In summary, the Santa Fe offers outstanding value for money, true family-hauling space, respectable road manners and expressive styling. It’s a product that’s easy to vouch for.


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