Hyundai Santa Fe
Hyundai Santa Fe

Hyundai Santa Fe family SUV needs no options

HYUNDAI now makes the best quality cars in the world, according to the industry benchmark JD Power Initial Quality Study (IQS) for 2018. It's a stunning coup for Hyundai, which took the first three places in a 31-brand contest - its luxury brand Genesis topped the IQS, its subsidiary Kia came second and Hyundai itself was third.

JD Power surveyed more than 75,000 vehicle buyers in the US, asking them about issues with their new car in the initial 90 days of ownership.

Japanese makers - including Toyota, Mazda, Honda, Mitsubishi and Subaru - which for decades set the standards for quality, durability and reliability, all finished on the bottom half of the IQS ladder, as did Audi and Volvo.

Hyundai Santa Fe: Just over $60K and no options boxes to tick
Hyundai Santa Fe: Just over $60K and no options boxes to tick

So rather than asking yourself why you would spend $60,500 on a Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander, the question now becomes why wouldn't you?

VALUE

The Highlander is a fully loaded, seven-seater SUV, the top of the four grades of Santa Fe. The model opens at $43,000 for the Active, with 2.4-litre petrol engine and six-speed automatic.

Powering the Highlander is a 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel, matched with a new eight-speed automatic and all-wheel drive, with selectable modes that include front-wheel drive for maximum fuel efficiency when you're tooling around the 'burbs.

This fourth-generation Santa Fe also gets a lighter, larger and stronger body, locally tuned suspension and new rack-mounted electrically assisted steering with variable weighting.

Fourth-generation Santa Fe: Re-engineered body and suspension and switchable AWD
Fourth-generation Santa Fe: Re-engineered body and suspension and switchable AWD

The spec sheet for the Highlander is big-bucks deluxe. It gets leather upholstery, heated steering wheel, heated and cooled front seats, heated outboard seats in the second row, sunroof, two memories for the driver's seat/side mirror/head-up display settings, wireless phone charging, LED headlights that turn to illuminate your path through corners, LED interior lighting, automatic parking and a power tailgate with proximity key sensor.

Our test car also included the $295 "beige/burgundy interior." Sorry, but the aesthetic merits of two-tone turd brown remain a mystery to me.

Deluxe interior: The beige trim might be an acquired taste
Deluxe interior: The beige trim might be an acquired taste

Unlike most other brands, Hyundai doesn't have stand-alone voice control, so you have to operate navigation, audio and phone functions by touch. The maker assumes you will connect your smartphone via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto and talk to it instead.

This saves Hyundai huge infotainment development costs, because it's happy to let Google and Apple provide the interfaces. Via your smartphone, Hyundai's Auto Link Premium app also allows you to lock or unlock the car, start or stop the engine and monitor all sorts of driving and vehicle data.

COMFORT

This is one seriously luxurious machine, with comfortable, supportive front and second two seats, a smooth, compliant ride and excellent suppression of noise, vibration and harshness - though the 2.2 emits the usual diesel grumble under acceleration.

Second row: Massive sunroof and one-touch release to get access to …
Second row: Massive sunroof and one-touch release to get access to …

In the second row, the smaller section of the 60-40 split-fold bench is kerbside. Its effortless, one-touch release/slide/fold mechanism allows access to row three, though climbing into the back stalls still involves squeezing through a tight opening.

The 50-50 split third row seats are easily raised from the floor and, in common with other seven-seater SUVs, are fine for pre-teen kids. The sliding second row enables enough legroom for adults to tolerate a short trip.

The third row: Vents, fan and — for adults on short trips — tolerable legroom
The third row: Vents, fan and — for adults on short trips — tolerable legroom

Big windows, plenty of storage, grab handles everywhere, window sunshades, aircon temperature controls and two USBs in the middle row, plus vents for rows two and three (with a fan speed control here as well) also help make the Santa Fe's cabin a happy kid place.

In five-seater mode, boot space is reasonable, though at the tighter end of the class.

SAFETY

Hyundai's Smart Sense driver assist safety package is comprehensive. In the Highlander, it's supplemented by 360-degree camera coverage, an alert that lets you know if you've left a kid in the back seat (I can see a few pleas to dealers to turn that one off) and another if anyone's about to open a driver's side door when another vehicle is approaching from behind.

Hyundai's lane keeping sets up a very aggressive, swerving track to keep the car between the white lines. If the constabulary were behind you, you would surely be pulled over for a breath test.

DRIVING

The Santa Fe is still determinedly unsporty yet its dynamics are tightly controlled, responsive and confident for a two-tonne seven-seater, particularly in Sport mode which sends 50 per cent of drive to the rear wheels and adds heft and precision to otherwise over-assisted steering.

Highlander: Economical diesel and confident roadholding
Highlander: Economical diesel and confident roadholding

Roadholding on rough roads is rock solid at speed.

The low-revving 2.2 is getting on a bit but it delivers grunt in abundance and works intuitively with the eight-speed automatic, though the transmission can hunt a little between the two top ratios at 100km/h.

Fuel economy averages 7-8L/100km on the highway and, in Eco mode, 9-11L in town.

HEART SAYS

I saw that Santa Fe ad with the kids going feral in the car. My kids are like that and they drive me up the wall, so the "Peace at Last" punchline almost sold the car by itself.

HEAD SAYS

Hyundais always outperform the market on a value for money basis. The Santa Fe Highlander is a $60,000 SUV with a $100,000-plus car's standard equipment list. Best in the business quality, a long warranty and low running costs seal the deal.

ALTERNATIVES

MAZDA CX-8 ASAKI FROM $61,490

Haven't yet driven this but if you're shopping the class you should. Runs a 140kW/450Nm 2.2-litre twin turbo diesel with better fuel efficiency than the Hyundai. Longer and slightly narrower in the body.

SKODA KODIAQ 140TDI SPORTLINE FROM $52,990

The smaller, 265kg lighter Skoda is an engaging, agile drive with a punchy, frugal 140kW/400Nm 2.0-litre turbo diesel. Lots of kid-friendly features, too. Add $6000 on safety and luxe options to get comparable spec with the Hyundai.

VERDICT

4 stars

Hyundai is showing other makers how it should be done, with premium quality, low-cost, grief-free ownership, pointy-end safety tech and unbeatable value for money in a no-options-required luxury family freighter.

HYUNDAI SANTA FE HIGHLANDER

Hyundai Sante Fe
Hyundai Sante Fe

PRICE $60,500 (great value)

WARRANTY/SERVICING 5 years (long); $2095 for 5 years/75,000km (good deal)

ENGINE 2.2-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel, 147kW/440Nm (average)

SAFETY Not yet rated, 6 airbags, AEB, lane keep assist, blind spot assist, adaptive cruise, rear cross traffic alert (best in class)

THIRST 7.5L/100km (thirsty-ish)

SPARE Full-size alloy (excellent)

CARGO 547L (below average)


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