HYUNDAI is not a manufacturer to sit around and twiddle its thumbs while market leaders continue to take advantage of a widening gap. Its clever design practices, top-notch in-house technology, a ruthless ability to acquire the best practitioners in their field and a glut of worldwide awards is testimony to that fact.
Interestingly, the Korean giant has not found as much success with its large SUV as it has with its smaller cars despite the product being a quality offering. Sick of playing the poor cousin, Hyundai have come up with a new-look Santa Fe that is impressive inside and out, one that drives well, is excellent value and a serious contender for a family wagon.
It has been equipped with everything necessary to close the gap on rivals and if all things are equal, it should. Down at Hyundai fingers will be crossed.
Hyundai has listened to buyers both here and abroad, and in looking to European tastes have equipped the Santa Fe with a decidedly more luxurious feel.
The exterior lines are mirrored in the contours of the door trims and dash and the materials used are a nice blend of soft-touch and functionality with keen interest paid to texture.
The console is inviting with a 17.7cm touch screen infotainment system taking pride of place.
Both the steering and the driver's seat are easily adjustable, allowing you to find a comfortable driving position while the cabin layout and funky easy-to-read instruments add to the driving pleasure.
The leather seats are typically comfortable, although more under thigh support wouldn't go astray while head and legroom is notable.
Of course, those in the third row are always going to be disadvantaged and even though leg room back there can be adjusted by a sliding second row, it is only really suitable for an adult on short forays.
Cargo room is fantastic, just not with all seven seats in use, and there are a number of cup and bottle holders as well as handy storage options to suit most families.
On the road
Our test car, powered by a 2.2-litre turbo diesel engine, had little trouble in negotiating steep rises or in finding that extra burst of speed even under load.
The six-speed automatic transmission is a nice match, engaging the right gear seamlessly and dealing well with sudden changes in terrain.
The Santa Fe feels well-planted, absorbing inadequacies in the road and delivering a smooth, refined drive.
Handling is excellent, although steering feel can be a tad bland and it is quickly obvious that flex steer settings are just there for show, but by and large it is a performance Hyundai can be proud of.
The Santa Fe makes good use of its Australian tuning and is well balanced, betraying itself only slightly when pushed haphazardly into tight corners.
The diesel clatter is evident, but only at low speeds and top quality work on the Santa Fe's noise, vibration and harshness indicators ensures that very little noise actually penetrates the cabin.
What do you get?
A five-star ANCAP safety rating comes courtesy of seven airbags, ABS brakes, stability and traction control, hill assist and advanced traction cornering control.
The Santa Fe has ground to make up over the Ford Territory (from $50,240) and Toyota Kluger (from $47,690) with stiff competition also coming from the Kia Sorento (from $43,990), Nissan Pathfinder (from $56,890) and Holden Colorado 7 (from $35,490).
Seven seats, especially as standard, is always a boon for larger families, or those who sometimes have to transport a child's friend.
The Santa Fe is a capable and spacious product with excellent features and clever inclusions like the air-conditioning vents in the third row and hidden underfloor storage that helps you stow the luggage blind when all seven seats are in use.
Our kids loved the pull-up window blinds, usually found in the Peugeots and Renaults, which are handy in keeping the sun off young faces.
With less than 190mm of ground clearance the Santa Fe is hardly an off-roader and it doesn't pretend to be, but it can handle secondary and rutted up roads with aplomb.
The Santa Fe, for a big unit, is far more economical than one would expect.
We averaged 9.3 litres/100km during our week which compromised more short trips than long and even though that is more than the official 7.3L/100km claimed by Hyundai, it was still rather decent.
The Santa Fe comes with a five years unlimited kilometre warranty and three years capped price servicing.
Hyundai has sharpened up the exterior of the Santa Fe by bringing it into line with the fluidic sculpture design adopted by the rest of its stable.
But in the Santa Fe the effect is more subtle and streamlined, using deft touches to produce a sleek yet athletic look. This is certainly the best looking Santa Fe to date and complements the nifty interior and driving performance.
What matters most
What we liked: Seven seats, driving dynamics, excellent diesel engine.
What we'd like to see: Better off-road capability.
Warranty and servicing: Hyundai offers a five year unlimited kilometre warranty with three years capped-price servicing. Servicing is annual or every 15,000km. Each service is $379.
Model: Hyundai Santa Fe Elite.
Details: Five-door all-wheel drive large sports utility vehicle.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
Engine: 2.2-litre turbo diesel generating maximum power of 145kW @ 3800rpm and peak torque of 436Nm @ 1800-2500rpm.
Consumption: 7.3 litres/100km (combined average).
Bottom line: $46,490 (plus on-roads).
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