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Review: All-New Hyundai Santa Fe – Revolutionary Design And Driving Experience


Review: All-New Hyundai Santa Fe – Revolutionary Design And Driving Experience

The Hyundai Santa Fe was one of the earliest large SUV that entered the market. As the product was designed around the SUV boom-period in North America, the Santa Fe had its size as its advantage.  

Designed as a seven-seater since the second generation in 2006, the Santa Fe has now evolved to become one of the company’s most important product, landing itself as Hyundai’s second best seller in the USA market last year with over 133,000 units.

Closer to home, the Hyundai Santa Fe has earned many fans. The SUV offered more space compared to the well-known Japanese competitors, as well as a turbocharged diesel mill that offered plenty of performance.

With the arrival of newer Japanese SUVs that now stretched longer to include a third-row seating, Hyundai revolutionized the Santa Fe in both design and driving experience to stay ahead of the crowded SUV landscape.   

Prior to the official launch of the all-new Hyundai Santa Fe in Malaysia, Hyundai Motor Co. together with Malaysian Hyundai Sime Darby-Motors (HSDM) arranged a regional media test drive around Subic Bay, the Philippines.

As such, the specifications and features will differ from the Malaysian units offered by HSDM.

Specifications of the Hyundai Santa Fe 2.4 GDI 2WD

  • Engine: 2.4-litre, in-line 4-cylinder, direct injection, petrol
  • Transmission: 6-speed automatic
  • Drive: Front-wheel drive
  • Max Power: 188 PS @ 6,000 rpm
  • Max Torque: 241 Nm @ 4,000 rpm

Specifications of the Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2 CRDI AWD

  • Engine: 2.2-litre, in-line 4-cylinder, turbocharged, diesel
  • Transmission: 8-speed automatic
  • Drive: HTRAC Variable torque-split all-wheel drive
  • Max Power: 200 PS @ 3,800 rpm
  • Max Torque: 441 Nm @ 1,750 – 2,750 rpm


The fourth generation Santa-Fe, codenamed TM, has grown in all dimensions except height. Gaining 70 mm in length, with much of the addition could be seen in the longer wheelbase (+65 mm). This has certainly improved access to the third row as well as better comfort for all occupants. 

Compared to other 3-row SUV models, the all-new Hyundai Santa Fe has close similarities to its Korean cousin, the Sorento, in both dimensions as well as powertrain configurations.

The all-new Santa is comfortably larger than the rivals from Nissan, Mitsubishi, Peugeot and even Toyota. The Fortuner with its ladder-frame based chassis translates to its taller height (and ground clearance).

Thanks a larger footprint, the Hyundai is also more spacious for all occupants, which we will elaborate further in the section below. 


Hyundai is certainly making its mark with their new design language. The tall cascading grille and split-head lamp arrangement design is Hyundai’s new identity for its SUV line-up. There are plenty of details to absorb at the front.

The DRLs are positioned at the extreme edges of the bonnet, making the all-new Santa Fe immediately recognizable. LED head lamps with dynamic bending function in the middle cluster of lamps don’t look out of place, in fact, the designers have handsomely created a characteristic and unique look.

A longer roof plus larger rear quarter windows provide more light to occupants in the third row, plus creating the distinctive top half styling of the SUV.

The LED tail lamps also display impressive graphics that looks premium and not seen in other brands.

Other key features include 19-inch wheels, a power-operated tailgate, and a large panoramic moonroof.

Apart from identification emblems, different designs of exhaust tips are tell-tale signs to the engine type: the petrol variant has a single, rectangular design while the diesel variant has a double-outlet design.


The interior takes a more traditional approach to design but injected with a high sense of quality. The double-wave dashboard features plenty of soft-touch vinyl-covering, with switches all well laid-out. The design at both ends flows seamlessly onto the door panels, creating a feeling of encirclement.

An organic-diamond pattern can be found on the dashboard tray and door panels. In the latter, they also double-up as audio speaker grille/covers.

Hyundai also paid special attention to the pillar-covers; they aren’t your ordinary textured finish in light grey. Hyundai has applied a nice ‘polished-stone’ finish, further creating the crafted-quality feel in the interior.

The driver receives driving information from the digital TFT instrument panel measuring seven inches in size. The display theme changes according to the selected drive modes, which consists of Sport, Eco, and Smart/Normal modes.

Hyundai has improved access to the usable third row by including clever designs to the interior trim as well as seat mechanism. Recessed grip ‘handles’ are integrated into the rear side trim panels, providing the occupant with additional support going into or getting out of the third row.

The second-row seat meanwhile features a one-touch switch that will tilt the backrest and slide the bench forward. Apart from the traditional placement on the top of the backrest, one more switch is placed on the seat bench for better access. 

This tilt-and-slide mechanism is common among SUVs with third-row seating, however, Toyota outscores the rivals thanks to its one-touch tumble mechanism, which allows for unobstructed passage for occupants to access the third-row seating.

Passengers at the third row also have access to an air conditioning system. Space here is certainly better than the Nissan X-Trail and Mitsubishi Outlander. The headroom certainly felt class-leading thanks to the extension of the roof. Legroom is better than average too for yours truly who is at an average height of 5’ 6”.

Driving Experience

The roads around the Subic Bay offers a great example of how the targeted consumers will be using their Santa Fe. Smooth highways, twisty back roads, as well ascending and descending on paved roads of below average quality provides plenty of information on how the Santa Fe has evolved.

We started the first leg of the journey the petrol variant with a rather familiar powertrain driving the front wheels through a six-speed conventional automatic transmission.

The petrol engine with over 180 horsepower felt about right while overtaking large lorries and buses on the highway. The transmission drops to a lower gear (or two) smoothly and the engine delivers power predictably. Nothing outstanding, just like any modern sub-190-horsepower four cylinder engine that is smooth and linear in power delivery.

Engine and tyre noise meanwhile are very well insulated at highway speeds, and the cabin atmosphere itself felt really serene. Wind noise was non-existent too.

An outstanding feature in the new Santa Fe is the Rear View Monitor which also operates at highway speed. Yes, the driver can simply turn on the rear view camera at highway speed for much better visibility of the rear, reducing blind spots while changing lanes or making an exit off the highway.

On the handling department, the new Santa Fe maintains a really good ride comfort characteristics, keeping the body roll in check, yet soaking the plentiful of potholes on a poorly paved road ascending to the hill-top memorial.

The speed of the steering wheel ratio matched the suspension really well, to the point that the 7-seater felt sporty negotiating the series of hairpins both ways to our first driver change point.

On our return leg, we swapped our petrol variant to the highlight of the all-new Santa Fe- the 2.2-litre CRDI turbo diesel paired with an 8-speed automatic and HTRAC all-wheel drive.

It was raining quite heavily when we moved from our lunch venue to the next driver change location. The above-mentioned powertrain variant (diesel with AWD) was such a surprise to drive in these challenging conditions on the twisty back roads. Maximum torque of 441 Nm arrives under 1,800 rpm and the variable torque-splitting all-wheel drive system delivered the traction brilliantly.

The chassis and powertrain were clearly set up to provide the driver with plenty of confidence. Electronic stability control only intervened at the most excessive input to throttle and steering angle. 

On the return drive back to the starting point, the added insulation meant the diesel mill sounded more muted than the outgoing model. 


The Hyundai Santa Fe’s triumph card has always been its size that is bigger than the Japanese rivals. Experience behind the wheel has also been elevated to a more ‘European’ flavour since the previous generation.

We hope the local distributor will equip the Malaysian-bound Santa Fe with equally high features as seen in these Filipino demo-units. During the preview at KLIMS 2018, we notice many niceties were missing (panoramic moonroof, rear door sunshades, surround view camera, head-up display etc.)

Update: The all-new Hyundai Santa Fe has been launched in Malaysia with an introductory price of RM169.888.

The great experience behind the wheel and high comfort levels in the second and third-row seats are a tall order to substantiate the estimated pricing, given that it will be priced the highest compared to its competitors, but not significantly higher in equipment levels.

Gallery: Review: All-New Hyundai Santa Fe (the Philippines)

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