Hyundai is not one for standing still, so it is no surprise the South Korean auto manufacturer has upgraded its already well-appointed Santa Fe sports utility vehicle.

The award-winning seven-seat SUV now boasts more luxury, improved standard technology, additional SmartSense safety features and powertrain upgrades in the shape of a 3.5-litre petrol V6 engine with front-wheel drive and standard eight-speed automatic transmission, and a 2.2-litre turbodiesel four-cylinder motor with all-wheel drive.

The latter, mated with a new eight-speed twin-clutch automatic transmission, is said by the maker to produce a 19 per cent (yes, 19 per cent) improvement in fuel economy over its predecessor.

For the first time the Santa Fe takes on Hyundai’s new naming, with entry-level Santa Fe, through Active and Elite to range-topping Highlander. I recently came into possession of a diesel all-wheel drive Highlander for a week.

Prices start at $44,700, plus on road costs, for the Santa Fe 3.5 V6 petrol front-wheel drive and top out at $65,200 for the Highlander 2.2 diesel all-wheel drive.

All are covered by Hyundai iCare, the company’s leading customer care program, offering owners a lifetime service plan, five-year unlimited kilometre warranty, complimentary roadside assist for 12 months on new vehicles, 1500 km complimentary first service, a dedicated Customer Care Centre and myHyundai, an exclusive website.

When servicing with Hyundai, customers will also receive roadside assistance for up to 10 years, 10 years of Sat Nav updates and more.

Like any flagship wagon, the new Santa Fe Highlander 2.2 has a bold street presence, with 15mm more in length, 10mm in width and 5mm in height than before.

Up front, Hyundai signature or not, the double decker radiator grille, with dark chrome inserts, does seem a trifle overdone. Stacked headlights, with split T-shaped daytime running lights, connecting down from the top only add to the bulky, unbalanced effect.

However, the DRLs do save the day by performing extra duties, the upper section acting as direction indicators. Things are much improved at the rear with taillights linked by a full-width reflector strip with integrated indicators coming up with a clean no-nonsense look.

Machine-faced 20-inch alloy wheels and panoramic sunroof impart a classy finish to the range-topping Highlander.

Increased external dimensions translate to more space in the passenger cabin, where premium furnishings feature, with the Highlander featuring Nappa leather appointed seats and dash, and brushed aluminium inlays and a suede heading.

A perforated leather steering wheel with metal-look controls adds to the look of the brushed aluminium surrounds entire console controls.

The centre console acts as a bridge, putting key controls close at hand, leaving room underneath for storage, or as a charging station for larger mobile phones.
Ambient lighting, with a choice of 64 colours can be called up to set a suitable cabin mood at night.

Highlander makes use of a 12.3-inch high-res LCD instrument cluster with speedo and tacho dials, blind spot monitor view, drive modes and SmartSense safety alerts at a glance.

A 10.25-inch touch screen is mounted high on the dash with satellite navigation, audio and other info in panoramic map view, or split-screen navigation and audio display.

Apple CarPlay or Android Auto can be accessed via the multi-media touch screen. Premium audio is courtesy of ten-speaker Harman Kardon system tuned for the Highlander cabin.

A 148 kW / 440 Nm SmartStream 2.2 litre turbodiesel engine is mated with Hyundai’s new SmartStream eight-speed double clutch transmission and all-wheel drive.

Passive safety includes six airbags, while the 2021 Santa Fe features a standard suite of advanced SmartSense technology. These include forward collision avoidance assist, which warns of a potential smash ahead and will even apply the brakes if needed.

Blind spot warning gives a visual driver alert in the external mirror, plus an audible alarm, rear cross traffic alert looks out for approaching vehicles from either side when reversing out of a parking spot.

Lane keeping assist and lane departure warning are switchable on and off, as is smart cruise control with stop and go function in stop / start traffic. High beam headlight assist automatically dims headlamps in oncoming traffic or close to vehicles ahead.

As mentioned above the common-rail direct injection four-cylinder diesel engine uses 6.1 litres of fuel per 100 kilometres on the combined urban / highway cycle, a 19 per cent improvement (7.5L/100km) on the engine it replaces.

The test vehicle recorded 11.5 litres per 100 kilometres in the city and 4.7 litres per 100 kilometres on the motorway, all in a smooth and uncharacteristic quiet manner for an oil burner.

A gearshift lever has been replaced by shift-by-wire transmission buttons on the centre console and while easy to locate needed a firm push to make contact with the required operation. Steering wheel-mounted paddles are an alternative.

As with all Hyundais, the suspension has had close attention from the company’s Australian engineers and it shows, with ride and handling of premium quality over a range of road surfaces.

The Highlander also has the advantage of selectable driving modes for comfort, sport eco and smart and terrain modes for snow, mud or sand.

Out back, there’s help too, with an automatic opening tailgate when the user with a smart key stays in the detection zone for three seconds. Opening speed and height can be adjusted. The remote key also allows the engine to be turned on or off from outside the vehicle.

A one-touch switch on the kerb side allows the second-row seats to be flipped and slid for easy access to the third row, while a switch in the cargo area enables seat backs to be folded at the touch of a button.

On the move, the driver can talk to rear occupants without raising the voice over road or wind noise via a microphone and the vehicle’s audio system. Quiet mode mutes the rear speakers and sets an upper volume limit on the front speakers to allow those in the back to sleep.

The Highlander diesel SUV has become an even more worthy Santa Fe fleet flagship after a substantial refit.


Santa Fe 3.5 V6 FWD petrol auto $44,700
Santa Fe 3.5 V6 Active FWD petrol auto $48,300
Santa Fe 3.5 V6 Elite FWD petrol auto $54,300
Santa Fe 3.5 V6 Highlander FWD auto $61,700
Santa Fe 2.2 diesel AWD auto $48,200
Santa Fe 2.2 Active diesel AWD auto $51,800
Santa Fe 2.2 Elite diesel AWD auto $57,800
Santa Fe 2.2 Highlander diesel AWD auto $65,200
Note: These prices do not include government or dealer delivery charges. Contact your local Hyundai dealer for drive-away prices.

SPECIFICATIONS (Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander 2.2L 4cyl turbodiesel, 8sp automatic, AWD SUV)

Capacity: 2.151 litres
Configuration: Four cylinders in line
Maximum Power: 148 kW
Maximum Torque: 440 Nm
Fuel Type: Diesel
Combined Fuel Cycle (ADR 81/02): 6.1 L/100km

DRIVELINE: Eight-speed automatic, AWD

Length: 4785 mm
Wheelbase: 2765 mm
Width: 1900 mm
Height: 1685 mm
Turning Circle: 11.4 metres
Kerb Mass: 1820 kg
Fuel Tank Capacity: 67 litres

Front: Ventilated disc
Rear: Solid disc

Five years / unlimited kilometres

About Derek Ogden

On graduating with an honours degree in applied science in London, Derek Ogden worked for the BBC in local radio and several British newspapers as a production journalist and writer. Derek moved to Australia in 1975 and worked as a sub-editor with The Courier Mail and Sunday Mail in Brisbane, moving to the Gold Coast Bulletin in 1980 where he continued as a production journalist. He was the paper's motoring editor for more than 20 years, taking the weekly section from a few pages at the back of the book to a full-colour liftout of up to 36 pages. He left the publication in 2009.
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