ROAD TEST: 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander sets standard
FAMILIES can be an expensive business.
Unless you're planning to go off-grid with a Bear Grylls existence, the cost of living keeps escalating.
SUVs are the flavour of the automotive moment, and for those who refuse to stretch into a people-mover these seven-seaters are in demand.
Hyundai updated the Santa Fe last year and it's arrived with rave reviews. Prices have risen across the board, now starting from just below $48,000 drive-away, but it's the full-of-fruit model which remains the buyer favourite.
Spending more than $60,000 on a Hyundai a decade ago would have many Aussies channelling their best Darryl Kerrigan: "Tell him he's dreaming”.
Yet the most expensive Santa Fe on offer has been a sales leader for the seven-seat SUV.
Families chasing desirability for their dollar appreciate the leather trim, eight-inch touchscreen with smartphone mirroring apps Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, keyless entry, satnav with live traffic updates, 10-speaker stereo, seven-inch driver's LCD display, heated and cooled front seats, heated outboard seats in the second row, wireless phone charging along with a power tailgate.
Depending on your colour choice, and whether the brown (Hyundai calls it dark beige) trim rather than standard black is more your style, the sticker price can climb beyond $66,000 drive-away.
There are also a trio of packs available, which incorporate items like tailored carpet mats, headlight protectors and a first aid kit. They vary from $286-$575.
Pre-paid service plans look like a solid investment and are at the cheaper end of the maintenance scale with $1197 covering three years, $1696 over four years or $2095 for five years. Service intervals are annual or every 15,000km.
Tech-savvy owners can use the Auto Link Premium app which enables you to lock or unlock the car, start or stop the engine and monitor a wide range of driving and vehicle data. It can also alert roadside assistance if there is a breakdown or send emergency services message after a crash.
Some prestige brands charge extra for the full gamut of kit, Hyundai takes the lead by making the latest technology standard.
All Santa Fe's have the autonomous emergency braking function which can stop or slow the vehicle fast if the driver fails to act (even with pedestrians and cyclists), it has lane keep assist that intervenes if the driver wanders, while Highlanders also have a Child Presence Alert that warn the driver if a child or pet is left back, head-up display, surround view monitor and 12 parking sensors.
Another inclusion is a system which locks the doors if an approaching vehicle is detected.
Hyundai did recall the Santa Fe to replace a bolt after the side curtain airbag was found to have torn during initial crash tests. All new models come with the fix...but the biggest let-down is the curtain airbag doesn't extend into the third row.
Approach and departure angles may be in the specification sheet, but with 19-inch Continental ContiSportContact rubber it's proof the Highlander is not designed for much more than gravel. To be fair the majority of buyers would be lucky to put a corner in the dirt.
The Highlander is a refined luxury cruiser with tremendous on-road manners.
At the heart of its appeal is the tried and tested 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel under the bonnet, matched with a new eight-speed automatic and all-wheel drive.
Somehow the old oil-burner still manages to feel refined, aided by an improved body which is lighter, larger and stronger than before. Hyundai has its own Australian tuning team who make alterations to test cars and the changes are then implemented at the factory before they are shipped Down Under.
Carrying about two tonnes it's a heavy SUV, but the Santa Fe manages to hunker down nicely and feel composed. While it has four-wheel drive, the power is sent primarily to the front end to save fuel, while Sport mode shifts 50 per cent of drive to the rear wheels and simultaneously adds more weight to the usually light and lifeless steering.
Over more than 600km the diesel managed fuel consumption of just over eight litres for every 100km - only slightly above the official figure with a mix of highway and around-town driving.
Occupants are well insulated from the diesel clatter and the suspension set-up managed to cushion without robbing the driver of cornering prowess.
Cabin design is simple and straightforward. Large buttons and the touchscreen stereo take little analysis and you don't need to troll through a labyrinth to find basic functions.
Those in the back have two USB charging points, and there are aircon vents (with their own fan controls) in second and third rows. Getting into the rearmost pew is made easier by a one-button folding function of the kerb-side second row seat.
Loading is made simpler with a button in the boot enabling the 60-40 middle row folding seats to drop flat. The third row collapses in a 50-50 fashion into the floor.
Opt for something in the prestige world and something similar would cost more than $100,000. Badge snobbery can wait until I have passengers who respect the interior.
Feature-laden with a quiet ride, the features available in this price bracket generates all the love I need for a seven-seater.
SKODA KODIAQ 140TDI SPORTLINE $59,690 D/A
Our Car of the Year from 2017, it's a smaller, engaging, agile drive with a punchy 140kW/400Nm 2.0-litre turbo diesel. Some brilliant features, like umbrellas in the doors, but you need to spend about $6K extra to match the safety gear offered in the Santa Fe. Currently available with free on-roads.
MAZDA CX-8 ASAKI $67,120 D/A
For those who want a diesel, this derivative is powered by a 140kW/450Nm 2.2-litre twin-turbo. Quiet cabin with good features list, although doesn't have the good looks of its CX-9 brethren.
Without doubt, the Santa Fe is a stand-out buy in the seven-seater genre. The long features list shames many premium rivals with outstanding safety technology and classy cabin finishes. For those who would only use the third row sparingly, it's our top pick.
AT A GLANCE
HYUNDAI SANTA FE HIGHLANDER
PRICE $65,180 drive-away (whole lot of gear)
WARRANTY/SERVICING 5-yr w'ty (solid); $2095 for 5 yrs/75,000km (good)
ENGINE 2.2-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel, 147kW/440Nm, AWD (meaty)
SAFETY 5 star, 6 airbags, AEB, lane keep assist, adaptive cruise, rear cross traffic alert, child presence alert (impressive)
FUEL 7.5L/100km (good for size, 8.1 on test)
SPARE Full-size alloy (brilliant)
CARGO 547L-1625L, towing 2000kg (good)