Santa Fe has been unfairly overlooked in a segment dominated by bakkie-based SUVs.
The terms “underdog” or “dark horse” need very little explanation as they can be applied to a variety of modern day life aspects with cars being at the forefront.
While on course to the replaced by the Palisade as Hyundai’s flagship SUV sometime this year, the Santa Fe very much conforms to the “underdog” principle as it has never managed to make much of an impression on the seven-seat SUV segment.
Despite the ongoing success of the Venue and the iX35 that morphed back into the Tucson, the Santa Fe has followed the same trajectory as its Kia Sorento cousin in hardly exceeding sales of more than 50 units a month.
Undaunted by this though, Hyundai earlier this year launched the facelift Santa Fe, whose international debut last year came as a surprise as it had only been on sale since 2018.
Revisions at the rear have been minor.
One of the few unibody SUVs contesting the segment, the recent arrival of a Typhoon Silver Santa Fe elicited an unexpected, but welcome, storm as it turned out to be the front-wheel-drive Executive rather than the top-spec all-wheel-drive Elite.
Given that we as motoring journalists are more often than not spoiled with driving the range-topping versions of specific models draped in optional extras, the “back-to-basics” Executive offered an intriguing glimpse into what buyers could expect for their R769 500 versus the R100 000 extra the Elite commands.
While unlikely to attract favour for its presentation skills, the sombre hue doesn’t detract from the Santa Fe remaining one of the best looking and striking SUVs in its class.
Borrowing heavily of the new Tucson, Hyundai has equipped the Santa Fe with restyled front and rear bumpers, added vertical air vents on the side of the former and redesigned the taillights that are now connected by a central strip.
Executive-spec means 18-inch alloy wheels as standard.
The most prominent though is the new jewelled grille and a T-graphic integrated into the split-headlights. With the lower lamp being smaller than before, the Santa Fe, while not as angry looking as previously, still has a polarising factor that plays to its strength in that it looks both imposing and eye-catching.
Riding on 18-inch alloy wheels rather than the 19s of the Elite, the Santa Fe’s has been taken up a notch inside where it resembles not only the Tucson, but also the Palisade.
Palisade influence clear inside
Taking centre stage, the centre console has been redesigned in the mould of its senior sibling, thus making it worthy of being called a console. Despite appearing cluttered by modern standards, the buttons and dials are easy to decipher with the undoubted pièce de résistance being the shift-by-wire buttons for the new eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox.
Space comes to 332-litres with all seven seats in use.
Although not endowed with flair but more function than style, the cabin still looks and feels premium with soft-touch materials and aluminium adorning most surfaces, while the console itself boasts an imitation carbon fibre look unlikely to find universal acclaim.
In “everyday” five-seat guise, boot space is rated at 1 032-litres.
Despite local models doing without the 10.25-inch infotainment system offered elsewhere, the basic eight-inch touchscreen is easy to use and comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, however, the somewhat dated graphics remains a no-no as does the lack of embedded satellite navigation on a vehicle costing almost 800 grand.
With the second and rows down, the boot can swallow 2 041-litres of luggage.
More acceptable is the space on offer. Despite the third row being really only for children, in addition to requiring a few contortions to get into, front head-and-legroom are excellent with the second and third rows having the added convenience of their own air vents as part of the dual-zone climate control.
Palisade centre console means the gear lever has been replaced by prominent shift buttons.
Measuring 4 785 mm in overall length, the Santa Fe’s boot is capacious to say the least with 332-litres on offer with all seven seats up and a massive 2 041-litres with the second and third rows down. What’s more, the specification sheet is such as that it would require a write-up of its own. The full list can however be viewed here.
The star of the Santa Fe though is its drivetrain. Although around for a while, the combination of the 2.2 CRDI turbodiesel engine and the new dual-clutch transmission works so well in that the engine delivers a strong flow of grunt from low down after a bit of initial lag, while the ‘box is smooth and unobtrusive regardless of being in manual or automatic modes.
Big reasons for the Santa Fe being an accomplished product.
With 148kW/441Nm as its disposal, the oil-burner really comes alive when you select Sport mode on the Drive Terrain selector, the others being Eco, Comfort and Smart. Select this, the boost cuts in so fast that the traction control has to intervene to way off the torque steering front wheels.
In Comfort though, the Santa Fe makes its mark as it offers a comfortable ride, so long as you stick to the black stuff, and praiseworthy levels of refinement. As for consumption, the seven days and 531 km resulted in an indicated best of 6.3 L/100 km in mixed conditions, staggering considering the remaining half tank range of 411 km.
As seemingly accomplished as the Santa Fe has been, the biggest issue encountered was the brakes. While fine at low speeds, stopping at speeds over 100 km/h required a heavy right foot no matter if speed needed to be scrubbed-off or the anchors applied quickly. Although not upsetting the stability or causing vibrations through the steering wheel, it is nonetheless a worrying trait that needs looking into.
Competing in a segment largely dominated by bakkie underpinned models is always going to be a tough nut to crack and despite having the talents to do so, the method of applying it simply doesn’t come to the Hyundai Santa Fe.
Santa Fe bootlid badge
As much as it represents a more accomplished alternative from an on-road perspective, and one festooned with features while being motivated by a well-sorted engine and drivetrain, it remains destined to be left-field option not deserving of residing at the bottom of the segment log.