Switched-on Santa Fe SUV is the peacekeeper on road trips
HYUNDAI is giving peace a chance with its new Santa Fe seven-seat SUV.
To maintain peace and quiet on family road trips, there are more USB outlets, adjustable aircon in the third row and reclining, heated seats in the second row.
And for parents' peace of mind there is an arsenal of standard driver assistance technology that puts most luxury brands to shame.
Hyundai marketing director Oliver Mann says safety and technology are as important to large SUV buyers as the seven seats or off-road ability.
"The segment is all about mum and dad wanting to keep the kids happy, comfortable, entertained and peaceful and that way they can begin to enjoy the journey themselves," he says. "So having lots of in-car power sources, having great heating and ventilation, seat comfort, reclining seats and easy access are all important."
As is safety. To that end, the Santa Fe can slam on the brakes if it detects a pedestrian or cyclist in its path, whether in drive or reverse.
Its blind spot and lane departure warning tech steers the car back into its lane if it senses danger and its adaptive cruise control can bring the vehicle to a complete stop and accelerate again in stop-start traffic.
A windscreen-mounted camera checks for signs of erratic driving and recommends a break if it suspects fatigue, while the high-beams dip automatically if a car approaches.
On more expensive models, a rear occupant alert will sound the horn if you've accidentally locked a little one or pet in the back. The car will also stop you from deactivating its rear-door child locks if a vehicle is about to drive past.
For added peace of mind, the Santa Fe has Hyundai's Auto Link app that can record driver behaviour. It will log maximum speeds, rapid acceleration and braking events and average fuel consumption, among other things - just the thing for keeping an eye on teen drivers. It also provides the location of your parked car and, if it's on a meter, when your time will expire.
All this new technology comes at a cost.
List prices are up between $1150 and $4410, although in reality the price rise is more significant, as the cheaper models in the range have had drive-away discounts for months.
The Active petrol models have been $40,990 on the road, while the new model's drive-away price is about $47,000. The V6 front-drive model has been dropped from the line-up for now but Mann doesn't rule out a return. The V6 accounted for one in six Santa Fe sales.
"Of course we'd like to have a V6. I hope we'll have it available at some point during the lifespan of the vehicle. The outgoing vehicle has done well with the V6," he says.
The Active doesn't get standard satnav but drivers can tether a smartphone to the centre screen and use the AppleCarPlay/Android Auto maps.
Stepping up to the Elite means leather, satnav, rear seat alert, front parking sensors, 10-speaker audio, a smart tailgate that opens when the key is near, bigger alloy wheels and dual-zone aircon.
Over the Elite, the Highlander adds bird's-eye view parking camera, auto parking, bigger wheels, headlights that can peer around corners, sunroof, heated and ventilated seats, wireless phone charger for compatible phones and head-up display.
Its digital instrument display in front of the driver changes colour depending on the drive mode selected.
The Elite and Highlander have a phone app that can remotely start and stop the engine, pre-warm or cool the cabin and sound the horn.
The Santa Fe has grown, with more leg and headroom in the second and third rows, as well as easier access to the third row - push a button on the side of the seat and the second row tilts and slides forward.
The rearmost glass is 40 per cent bigger and the second row seats are set higher to allow kids a better look at the passing scenery. The third row also has individual controls for the air vents.
A notable omission is the lack of airbag impact protection in the third row - the airbags extend to the windows of the third row but not all the way to the back of the car. A knee airbag for the driver has also been removed.
Mann says the company was wary of making the Santa Fe too big.
"It's probably halfway towards its competitors," he says. "A lot of people like the size of the current Santa Fe in terms of not being too large and difficult to park.
"It's nimble and manoeuvrable and I think those characteristics have been preserved in the new car. It is bigger and more accommodating but it is more dynamic to drive."
ON THE ROAD
Hyundai made a concerted effort to modernise the cabin and lift the look of various surfaces. The light grey cloth interior of the Active may not suit all tastes but slivers of faux carbon-fibre and stitched leather on the dash lift the mood.
The seating layout has been improved, with easier access to the third row, while the ability to slide the second row seats fore and aft allows you to mix and match leg room and accommodate adults or teens on a short trip across town.
Smaller kids will be fine for longer distances and the individual aircon controls should help combat car sickness.
Diesel and petrol engines carry over but both are quieter, thanks to additional sound deadening.
The diesel, now matched to an eight-speed automatic, is by the far the pick of the pair, delivering more grunt and quieter, more relaxed cruising. Hyundai expects it to account for 90 per cent of sales.
Its new all-wheel drive set-up can switch the drive bias front to back - sending power to the front wheels saves fuel while switching to the rear delivers sportier handling.
The sports mode also improves throttle response, holds gears longer and adds weight to the steering, although we preferred the normal steering setting.
A stiffer body and local revisions to the suspension endow a sportier feel. The older model was no slouch through the bends but the new one feels sharper and more nimble despite the increase in size and weight. Even with the sportier suspension, it soaks up all but the rudest of bumps without fuss.
The new Santa Fe addresses the criticisms of the old model with the latest safety aids, a roomier cabin, greater creature comforts and a sharper driving experience.
PRICE The Active petrol version has a list price of $43,000, up from $41,850, although the run-out model has been selling for $40,990 drive-away, about $5000 off. The Active diesel is $46,000, up from $44,850, while the Elite jumps from $50,990 to $54,000. The biggest price hike is the Highlander, from $57,090 to $60,500.
TECH The previous model had blind spot and lane wander alerts but the new one brakes and steers the car back within its lane. Smart cruise control brings the car to a complete stop, the high-beams dip for oncoming traffic and the horn sounds if you leave a pet or child in the car.
DRIVING Revised suspension and a stiffer body improve cornering ability while maintaining comfort. New all-wheel drive varies torque between the front and rear wheels to alter the vehicle behaviour.
PERFORMANCE Petrol and turbo diesel engines carry over, the latter now matched to an eight-speed auto for slightly better fuel consumption (7.5L/100km, formerly 7.8L) and improved response. The V6 is dropped for now.
DESIGN Extra length liberates more legroom in the back two rows and there is extra third row headroom. Bigger windows give the cabin an airier feel. Cabin materials have a higher quality feel, although the lower surfaces in the cabin still have hard plastics.
HYUNDAI SANTA FE
WARRANTY/SERVICING 5 years/unlimited km, $945-$1197 for 3 years (good value)
ENGINE 2.2-litre turbo diesel, 147kW/440Nm (strong); 2.4-litre, 138kW/241Nm (OK)
SAFETY Not yet rated. 6 airbags, AEB, lane keeping and blind spot alert, active cruise control, rear cross traffic alert (excellent)
THIRST 7.5L-9.3L/100km (OK)
SPARE Full-size alloy (excellent)
CARGO 547L-1625L (good