• The new Santa Fe is a massive design improvement reflecting that trademark “fluidic design”. Picture: Motor News

  • Echoes of BMW and even the Subaru Tribeca are apparent. Picture: Motor News

  • Hyundai really has come a long way with its interiors. Picture: Motor News

THE third generation Hyundai Santa Fe, which has now been launched in SA, will take the fight directly to the Audi Q5, BMW X3, and the Volvo XC60 in the premium crossover segment.

Its forebear, which was launched in 2006, and received a facelift in 2010 together with an updated diesel engine, was a very well sorted vehicle as far as capability, appointments, and overall performance was concerned.

However, in a segment where aesthetics and curb appeal rate quite highly on the wish list, the model fell rather short.

This is not the case with the latest model though, which sees the company’s fluidic sculpture prominently underscoring its design with a very chunky front façade that adds an air of purpose.

The rear does display elements of the Audi Q7 and Subaru’s B9 Tribeca, which is not a bad thing, but the designers have managed to make the vehicle stand out from the herd with its wider stance and 15mm lower overall ride height compared to its predecessor.

There are three model derivatives (Premium, Executive, and Elite), all powered by the same 2.2l turbo diesel with variable geometry technology from the previous model. It puts out a healthy 145kW at 3,800r/min and 436Nm between 1,800 and 2,500r/min. All models come standard with a six-speed automatic transmission.

The Premium model comes in front-wheel drive only, while both the Executive and Elite variants come with all-wheel drive (AWD) traction as standard. We took the latter two on both tarmac and sand terrain and found both to perform well in either instance. Thanks to the lockable centre differential lock, we managed to traverse beach sand with minimal effort from both engine and driver.

At the launch, we spent a lengthy spell at the helm of the flagship, Elite variant.

Over and above the high levels of comfort such as leather upholstery, seven seats, USB and auxiliary connection, climate control, and a multifunction steering wheel, you also get 19-inch wheels, a panoramic sunroof and a 12-way electrically adjustable driver’s seat as standard. You also get a rear view park assist camera.

Oddly, there is no Bluetooth connectivity on the model, whereas both its top of the line i30 and Elantra siblings have this as standard equipment.

That said though, the Santa Fe is one of the safest vehicles in its class having achieved five stars in the EuroNcap crash safety rating. It managed no less than 96% for adult crash safety, 89% for child occupants, and 71% for pedestrians.

Spacious and comfortable with fairly good materials used throughout the cabin, there is certainly an air of premium polish apparent here. The second row of seats can be moved either forward or backward to accommodate the third row passengers.

I managed to sit in this row and found it to have decent legroom space for children, but headroom is decidedly at a premium.

Boot space, as can be expected, is generous with the rear most seats folded (994l ), but a trailer would be in order with the full complement of passengers on board. E ither a fixed or foldable tow bar can be specified.

A full size alloy spare wheel (located underneath the vehicle), is also standard on the model while other accessories can be further specified.

Overall it makes a strong case for itself when one considers that to have equivalent specification on any of its German rivals, a few options boxes need to be checked, at a princely price, of course.

In my book, the new Santa Fe takes the baton from its capable, but admittedly conservatively styled predecessor with aplomb.

It re-addresses what many of the buyers in this market would foremost consider, which is the styling and aesthetics of the vehicle.

There is a little oversight on the manufacturer’s part though, and that points to the leather used on the steering wheel in the Elite variant, which lacks sufficient grip to instil confidence in the driver. A perforated type leather finish would be more ideal.

With regards to sales projections, the company plans to move around 150 units a month, which is more than the figures achieved last December by the Audi Q5 (47 units), BMW X3 (58 units), and Volvo XC60 (66 units). It is certainly not an outlandish figure when one considers that it comes laden with standard specification at this price level.

Meanwhile, Thomas Bürkle, who heads the Hyundai European design studio, will now report directly to Peter Schreyer, who has been appointed head of design for both Kia and Hyundai global studios. It will be interesting to see how Schreyer keeps the two brands as unique as possible, but I guess only time will tell.

All models come standard with a five-year/90,000km service plan and with a five-year/150,000km warranty.

Pricing:

  • Premium FWD 5-seater R434,900
  • Executive AWD 7-seater R459,900
  • Elite AWD 7-seater R499,900