- Flexible interior with lots of space
- Excellent ride quality
- Punchy V6 petrol engine
- FWD-only V6 prone to wheelspin
- Light cloth seats might not suit parents with young kids
- Driver-only auto up/down window
We’ve already gone to Canberra in the 2020 Hyundai Santa Fe, now it’s time to see how things are at the other end of town with another road trip review. This time, we’ll be swapping the Highlander 2.0-litre diesel for an Active paired with the 3.5-litre V6 petrol. Funnily enough, we’ll be taking this Santa to the Blue Mountains where we’ll be encountering unsealed roads. That all-wheel drive system would be pretty handy right now, wouldn’t it?
How does the base model Santa Fe go at hauling families holidaying in the mountains? And is the front-wheel drive V6 sufficient or should you fork out the extra $3,000 for the 2.0-litre diesel with all-wheel drive? Read on to find out.
Price & Specs: 8.0/10
You’d think going from a Highlander to an Active would be a disappointment but the entry point to the Santa Fe range has a charm all of its own. The chubby tyres and fabric seats might not be everyone’s taste but the Active has a certain understated appeal.
At $43,000 before on roads for the Active V6 petrol (the diesel with all-wheel drive will set you back another $3,000) you can expect 17-inch alloy wheels, halogen headlights and tail lights, a reversing camera and rear parking sensors, front and rear fog lights, a leather wrapped steering and gear selector, an electronic parking brake, cloth upholstery, manual air conditioning, a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and a six-speaker sound system. More impressively, it gets autonomous emergency braking (AEB), radar cruise control with stop and go, blind spot monitoring and lane-keep assist.
We did miss having automatic climate control, automatic wipers, front parking sensors (especially in such a large car), satellite navigation (more on that later) and the driver-only auto up/down window is disappointing on a $30,000 car – let alone a $40,000 family SUV – but the Active otherwise presents a mostly complete and well-finished package.
The brand new Kia Sorento S is currently available from $46,990 plus on roads and wraps the same V6 engine in a newer design with a fresher interior and more standard kit. The Mazda CX-9 Sport FWD on the other hand offers a slightly more sporty driving experience from and a posh interior from $45,920 before on roads.
Performance & Economy: 7.5/10
Before an era of downsizing and turbocharging, the V6 has been the engine of choice for Australian family cars for decades – whether it be in a large family sedan or a SUV. So, it makes sense that Hyundai replaced the slightly anaemic 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol with a new 3.5-litre V6 in late 2019. What’s not so ideal is that the larger engine is not compatible with the Santa Fe’s all-wheel drive hardware due to right-hand drive packaging constraints. It’s not the end of the world in a car that will really spend most of its life in the suburbs, but buyers do enjoy the option of all-wheel drive even if they don’t plan on using it.
The ‘Lambda-II’ V6 is a good unit, pushing out 206kW and 336Nm through an eight-speed torque converter automatic. The beauty of the V6 is that it’ll happily pull from low revs, despite the Santa’s substantial 1,800kg kerb weight. Combined with the automatic transmission, it makes for a pleasant driving experience free from the low-speed irks of a dual clutch unit. When you’re in a hurry, low-grip situations will have the front wheels struggle to put the power down, but when you can put the power down it’ll manage 0-100km/h in a swift 8.2 seconds. Speaking of low grip, the Santa handled some loose-gravel roads with ease despite the lack of all-wheel drive. Unless you plan to venture to the snowy mountains or frequently tackle gravel roads, we think most people will be find with the
During our trip up to the Blue Mountains, we cruised lazily in eighth and recorded 7.7L/100km. Not bad for a big barge. A few trips around town plus some dirt road adventuring meant that the economy quickly climbed to 11.2L/100km. This levelled out and settled to 10.7L/100km overall – not bad against a claimed 10.6L/100km. It also only requires 91RON rather than premium fuel.
While choosing the Santa Fe Active V6 over a Kia Sorento S V6 is a matter of personal taste as the mechanical package is largely identical, the Mazda CX-9 offers a gutsy 2.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine packing 170kW/420Nm. The hefty dose of torque means that you can drive it more like a diesel and don’t have to rev it out to get the most out of it.
Ride & Handling: 9.0/10
Another Hyundai review calls for another mention of how good its Australian engineers are. The Santa Fe might be a bulky SUV, and yes its ride is cushy, but it also maintains good levels of body control and composure at all times.
The Santa doesn’t get adaptive suspension regardless of which model you choose, so the Active is actually the comfiest of the lot thanks to its small alloys and chubby tyres. It deals with everything from course bitumen to unsealed roads in an un phased manner. The long suspension travel also means that you don’t have to wince when you spot that giant pothole in the road at the the last second.
And if you must swerve to get yourself out of a tricky situation, the Santa Fe feels planted and stable most of the time. The steering is light but communicative and you never feel like there’s a disconnect between the amount of lock in the wheel and what the from wheels are doing. We didn’t push the Santa very hard in the time we had it, but that’s really not the point of a car like this.
If you are after a more spirited seven-seater without delving into premium SUV territory, a Mazda CX-9 would be a better bet or even the Santa Fe Highlander with its higher-end Continental tyres.
Interior & Practicality: 8.5/10
The interior of the 2020 Hyundai Santa Fe is a nice place to spend time regardless of the spec you choose. Going for the Active sees obvious omission of leather upholstery, a premium sound system or a sunroof, but it is still well finished with good quality materials. The dash features a lovely stitched leather-like material that is soft to the touch, framed by an aluminium-effect trim that sweeps from the dash to the front doors (that is somewhat reminiscent of the Jaguar XJ) and lifted by pops of satin chrome around the vents. The rest of the cabin is treated with yielding soft-touch plastics in high-traffic areas and robust and sturdy materials lower down.
As is common in base models, the Santa Fe Active has cloth upholstery. Yet, unlike most non-premium cars that offer little variety at this end of the market, the Santa trades dull black cloth for a grey textured cloth that almost has a Nordic vibe to it. It does wonders for the ambience and wouldn’t look out of place in a more expensive vehicle. For families with young kids and dogs, we do get that stepping up to the Elite with its leather pews would make more sense in terms of keeping them clean.
Being a practical family SUV, there is plenty of storage scattered about the place. A handy smartphone shelf proved handy for the front-seat passenger and there are cupholders aplenty, all the way to the third row. Big door bins mean you can easily keep front and rear passengers hydrated and there are USB charging ports across all three rows. You will need to climb further up Santa’s tree for a wireless charger, though.
Infotainment is taken care of with a 7.0-inch touchscreen that does look decidedly small in the otherwise modern cabin, but at least it has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to keep the designated DJ happy (just don’t expect the best sound out of the humble six-speaker sound system). Admittedly, we were left slightly frustrated by the lack of in-built navigation after venturing to down a dirt road to visit the glow worm tunnel just outside of Lithgow. Luckily it was an easy route back or we could’ve easily got lost before finding reception again.
The driver is also left with analogue dials supplemented by a monochromic screen, rather than the Highlander’s lush partially-digital display, but the inclusion of the full active safety suite across the range deserves praise and is a must for a family hauler.
The second row is a lovely place to spend time – with plenty of leg and headroom, climate vents, map pockets, big door bins and a centre armrest. Clamber in to the third row and you’ll quickly find out that it’s best suited to smaller adults – not my 6’3 frame. Entry and egress is relatively easy and you get climate vents to boot, but the lack of curtain airbag coverage is a bit of a concern and should be a dealbreaker if you plan on using it frequently.
Open the manually operated tailgate to reveal a nice and versatile space. The boot ranges from 130L with all rows of seating in use, 547L with just the two rows in place and a huge 1625L with the second and third rows folded. We used it as a five seater for our five-day trip and the boot was more than adequate for our luggage and shopping in one hit. Bonus points go to the Santa for having an allocated spot for the cargo cover and a full-sized alloy spare wheel under the body.
Running Costs & Warranty: 8.0/10
The 2020 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander comes with a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty. The only large SUV to better it is the Santa Fe’s brother from another mother, the Kia Sorento, which adds another two years of coverage. The Santa Fe also comes with 12-months of roadside assistance, which at every scheduled service through Hyundai, is extended for a further 12-months for up to four years (Kia will go up to eight years if you service with them).
The V6 is cheaper to service than the diesel, costing $330 per year or 15,000km for the first five years, except for the 48-month service which is $390. That adds up to $1,710 over five years, which is reasonable when you consider the Mazda CX-9 will set you back $2,202 in the same time and it’ll only do 10,000km between visits to the dealer.
2020 Hyundai Santa Fe Active DiscoverAuto Rating: 8.2/10
Does the 2020 Hyundai Santa Fe Active feel half-baked after spending time in the plush Highlander model? And does the lack of all-wheel drive leave the ‘utility’ in SUV null and void? No and no. The well-finished interior and decent standard kit means that the Active feels every bit as complete as the Highlander, especially in the safety department.
The creamy V6 might occasionally struggle to get its power down through the front wheels but it’s mostly an effortless cruiser with a bit of pep when you need it. You can even get away with some soft roading thanks to its stable chassis and chubby tyres. Ultimately, the Hyundai Santa Fe Active has everything you need in a family hauler – space, comfort and safety – and nothing you don’t.