Hyundai’s Santa Fe is one very economical people mover. 

Story Bruce McMahon  Photo Hyundai

Hyundai’s hybrid Santa Fe is a long way removed from the cheap and cheerful Hyundai cars of the late 1980s. Those Excel sedans and hatchbacks helped the South Korean car maker establish a tyre print in the Australian market, despite a bargain-basement approach to motoring. The Santa Fe wagons of 2023 are solid, middle-class citizens with a far more refined approach to motoring. These are large sports utility vehicles for the family, offering room and comforts for 5 adults – plus, maybe, a couple of children in the third row of seats. 

The Santa Fe range starts out with a petrol-engined, front-wheel drive model priced around $46,000, then moves through all-wheel drive, diesel-powered wagons and on to 2 more recent (and more expensive) hybrids. Both run with a turbocharged 1.6L petrol motor plus a 44.2kW electric motor supplied by a 1.49kWh lithium-ion battery. That makes for a combined 169kW and 350Nm of torque – more power than the diesel and more torque than petrol versions – to be delivered by a 6-speed automatic transmission to all 4 wheels. 

For a vehicle this size (almost 5m long by 2m wide), it’s a confident drive experience with management systems sharing power around all wheels to ensure constant traction, plus there are drive mode options to cater for conditions from eco-friendly driving to slushing through snow. This is no sluggish SUV, and the smooth drivetrain slips quietly through gears and between power sources for a civilised drive experience. 

Hyundai claims a combined fuel consumption average of 6L/100km, a stingy figure for a large SUV. Around town, it’s more like 7.5L/100km, but on the open road, consumption can drop below 6L/ 100km. A country run could see the 67L fuel tank good for some 900km.

There is some sense of the wagon’s bulk if turned hard into a corner, but generally this is a well-planted machine, thanks to decent chassis and all-wheel drive. It is particularly competent, and the suspension nicely compliant, at speed down a dirt road. Quiet too.

The 19-inch Continental tyres and smart alloy wheels give the Santa Fe a touch of high-riding, rough-road muscle in profile. Ground clearance is 176mm, which is handy for a number of tracks, if not always enough for a farm paddock.

Well-finished bodywork is matched by a premium interior, with good head, shoulder and leg room in the first 2 rows of seats and thoughtful storage spots throughout. Even third-row passengers score air-conditioning controls, 12-volt outlet and USB port. Underlining quality touches is a Harman Kardon audio system. 

There’s a full suite of driver and vehicle safety aids, from a crash-avoidance aid that brakes if a possible collision is detected (unsure how it may work on errant kangaroos), through to dashboard warnings if 2 hands aren’t on the steering wheel. The lane departure warnings, relatively polite, can be turned off. Praise be.

A tyre-pressure monitoring system is a plus for long-distance drives, as is a regular-sized spare wheel.

Santa Fe drivers are well-catered for, with electric controls to help sort the best seat position. Taller folk might consider configuring the central speed read-out on the instrument cluster for most trips – for some the steering wheel rim may obscure the vital 60km/h through to 100km/h figures on the regular speedometer.

Helping the drive experience is a very ergonomic set of instruments and controls, all kept tidy and simple, even if the reverse and drive buttons on the centre console need familiarisation before attempting a tight reverse park. Thumbs up, though, for audio control knobs rather than slipping and sliding greasy fingers over the 26cm touchscreen. 

Overall, Hyundai’s Santa Fe Hybrid is a mature SUV – a safe and economical family-sized wagon with decent road manners for all sorts of roads and drives. 

This story excerpt is from Issue #151

Outback Magazine: Oct/Nov 2023