The Santa Fe was the first of Hyundai’s range to burst through the $50,000 mark and it didn’t seem to bother Australians one little bit. Emboldened by the success of the $53,240 Highlander and seeing how sporty SUVs are doing alright for the Germans, the Santa Fe SR seemed like an answer to an obvious question.

So the Korean company called in their increasingly busy chassis team to give the bruiser a going over before marketing slapped a $59,990 sticker on it.

Based on the Santa Fe Highlander spec, you’ll want for little in the SR. Standard is dual-zone climate control that reaches all the way to the unfortunates in the third row, a ten speaker stereo (ditto), rear view camera, carbon fibre bits and pieces, cargo blinds, nets and ties, keyless entry and start, cruise control, electric heated and cooled front seats, panoramic roof, sat-nav, auto HID headlights, auto wipers, partial leather interior, power everything including the tailgate and a comprehensive trip computer.

The SR loses the auto-park because the body kit stops it from working but adds big black 19-inch OZ alloy wheels wrapped in Michelin tyres. Behind those pricey wheels is a set of very racy Brembo brakes with slotted and drilled discs.
Options? None from the factory apart from $595 metallic paint in a choice of three colours.


The Santa Fe has always been a handsome beast and the SR’s addition of chrome and bodykit is restrained and classy. The deeper bumpers and sills are a contrasting silver colour and the red Brembo brakes show up vividly from behind the slim spokes of the alloys.

Other than the big foglights, there’s not too much to set it apart from the Highlander, save the SR badges on the boot.

Inside is mostly unchanged, with a few faux carbon bits scattered across the dash and surrounds. It’s just as family friendly as ever, with drink holders and storage everywhere, a reasonably comfortable third row with two flip-up seats.

The interior can be a light-filled wonderland with the blinds back to reveal the glass roof.

Nine airbags (including knee airbag for the driver), ABS, stability and traction control, brake assist and force distribution, lap-sash belts for all seven seats and lane departure warning. It scored a five-star ANCAP rating.

Under the bonnet is a 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel boasting 145 kW and a whopping 436 Nm of torque. Power reaches the road via all four wheels and Hyundai’s own six-speed automatic.

Hyundai claims 7.3 litres per 100km on the combined cycle but a more realistic figure for your around town needs is closer to 10 L/100km. That’s not bad going a big SUV.


The Highlander’s 10-speaker premium sound system makes it into the SR unscathed, with the same up-spec version of the Hyundai head unit software on the Highlander. It’s a reasonably competent thing, but not without its faults.

Hopefully the Tucson’s ApplePlay will work its way up to the Highlander spec cars (currently, curiously, limited to Active and ActiveX specs on Tucson).

Sound from the ten speakers was pretty good and you can connect your phone via Bluetooth or USB with minimum drama.

It takes about five metres to feel the difference in the tuned-up suspension. It’s firmer without losing too much compliance, but the ride was never particularly soft in the first place.

The 2.2 diesel is unchanged, which is kind of a shame, because it wouldn’t cost too much to turn the boost up a bit for a few token kilowatts. Zero to100km/h in 9.6 seconds is adequate but not at all quick.

If there’s a genuine complaint about the standard stoppers on a Santa Fe, it’s that they’re battling the physics of a high, heavy car at all times. Combined with stickier Michelin rubber on big OZ rims, the four-pot Brembo brakes grip cross-drilled discs front and rear (340 mm and 302 mm respectively) are rather more up to the job of handling the Santa Fe’s considerable 1968 kg heft.

The chassis mods deliver a better handling Santa Fe, with all its high-riding, visibility-to-the-horizon intact. The steering feels a but more clued-in to the road surface, the nose turns more enthusiastically.

It’s probably not a bad idea to put these springs and dampers under every Santa Fe, with a tick-box for anyone actually planning to take it off-road. As most will live in the city, the back street bombing run to school is lightly dismissed and despite its huge size is easy to manoeuvre.

The comically large rear vision mirrors (though they are in proportion) are like two LED TVs bolted to the side of the car with a terrific view behind. Cars this big shouldn’t be so easy to park, but this one is.

The SR is a more than a tart-up but nothing like the upscale Germans its aping on the styling and chassis fronts. The Santa Fe doesn’t feature anything spectacular on the dynamics or engineering front (except the bought-in brakes, obviously) but it is a worthwhile bump in price from the Highlander.

Above all, it is a better car than the rest of the range and will be cheap to own and run. We’re still some way away from a 3.0 turbo-diesel five second to a hundred sprinter from Hyundai, but if they work up from here, it should be a good one.

LIKES: tough-but-fair styling upgrades, excellent brakes, good engine
DISLIKES: could do with a better stereo head unit, third row doesn’t get curtain airbags, more power please

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