Driven: The new Hyundai Santa Fe

It’s the Korean marque’s largest (in ZA) SUV, a seven seater with all the trimmings and this latest 4th iteration marks its 20th year.

I say fourth-gen, but the 2021 Santa Fe is rather an aggressive facelift of the third model. Styling has evolved quite a bit, mostly around the front end. The grille treatment lands somewhere between Aston Martin and Cheese Grater, a resounding success with lights squinting harder than Leonardo Di Caprio does in that scene from Inception. The end result is a car that looks like a million bucks, great since the price tag is creeping steadily to a bar. We’ll get to that later.

The upgrades extend beyond its visage, lightly tweaked rear end and lit side mirrors, creeping heavily into the cabin too with visuals, ergonomics, and tactile surfacing all getting a severe glow up. Say hello to full leather seats and a floating center console. Naturally, there’s a third row of seats, and now storage beneath them. There’s a new dual-clutch transmission by wire, with cogs swapped via paddles shifters or left to their own devices in full auto. To do this you’ll shift into D, and that’s a fun game on your first attempt as you’ll quickly discover there is no gear lever to discover. Rather a D, N and R button selector. Cute.

On with the tech, and it’s a touchscreen media interface at centre stage, blessed with Android Auto and Apple Carplay for all the latest connectivity and syncing options you could hope for. There’s auto climate control here, a rearview monitor, wireless charging and rear window curtains. Takes a deep breath. Then we have heated ventilated front seats on the Elite model, a smart powered tailgate, remote start from key fob enabling you to cool your locked cabin down ahead of climbing in, rear cross-traffic warning, safety power windows and blind-spot collision warning. As a further emphasis on the wellbeing of its occupants, the Santa Fe also features Safe Exit Assist – I.e. it won’t open the traffic-facing door if it detects incoming cars. Fully loaded these are, and taking safety seriously, sounds expensive. Again, we’ll get to that in a moment.

I’ve already mentioned the eight-speed, (9% faster, 3% more fuel-efficient) Smartstream dual-clutch ‘box and you can add an electric handbrake to that. It’s paired with Hyundai’s finest turbodiesel – the 2.2l CRDi engine, good for 148kW and 440Nm. Also here, a full complement of drive modes (Eco, Sport, etc) and terrain modes on the Elite such as mud, sand, snow, etc. The 67l tank is good for a theoretical 1200km and the body structure has been made more rigid than before and that means better handling and more responsive steering. Indeed, tackling two hundred kilometres of twisty tarmac and highway was a pleasure in the lofty SUV, shrinking around the cockpit when needing to and staying plush when the passengers demanded it in the bends.

Brass tacks, how much does it cost then? Well, the front-wheel-driven Executive model sells for R769,500 while the AWD Elite weighs in at R869,500 and if I’m honest, that’s what these premium Korean busses are worth. Both come with the marque’s famous 7yr/200,000km warranty and no matter which model you choose, it will net you a very fine driving experience indeed.

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