Hyundai Santa Fe offers more, for more

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The Hyundai Santa Fe has a smart-looking body shape that has plenty of appeal. Photos supplied

Before arrowing straight in on the bottom line, Hyundai hopes potential Santa Fe customers will give the new rig a careful once-over to gain an appreciation of what they are getting, and why some models are so much more expensive than those they replace.

Some of the realignment is to do with the enhanced substance, elevated specification and the addition of a new flagship. But it also reflects an altered status.

Like it or not, this generation Santa Fe was designed to compare with expensive Europeans, notably the $80,000-plus Volvo XC60 and the $111,000 BMW X5.

So regardless that the New Zealand distributor more prudently cites the Ford Territory, Holden Captiva and Jeep Grand Cherokee as rivals, the global stance affects the local pricing strategy.

One other repercussion is the wider gap between the $57,990 to $79,990 Santa Fe and its $46,490 to $66,190 ''sister'', the Kia Sorento.

Then again, they are no longer exactly alike. While both take the latest chassis, the Santa Fe has a more advanced upper structure and technology denied the subordinate brand.

Drivetrain-wise, the six-speed auto and core R-Series diesel that entered service in 2010 remain unaltered, but petrol-wise there is a 3.3-litre V6 that is front-drive only and an entry level 2.4-litre.

Much hope is held for the 2.4-litre now it has updated to direct injection for more power and torque and better economy.

The smart-looking body shape appeals and the interior's complete renovation means plastics of superior appearance and feel, a redesigned dashboard with electroluminescent gauges and more gadgets.

The wheelbase is unchanged, the width is only marginally greater and the roofline is lower. A 40mm increase in body length is most beneficial to front-seat and centre-row occupants. The seven-seater format's rearmost bench loses legroom this time, although access is easier. Boot space is on a par with the previous version.

A media drive route from Queenstown to Mount Cook and return in the turbo-diesel editions highlighted this new Santa Fe is a more sophisticated drive, with a tangible lift in refinement and a more confident road feel. The 30km Black Forest Rd, a dirt track from the Benmore dam that reaches 906m above sea level, left it unflustered.

Sinclair says improvements in safety - the Santa Fe was best-rated of all large SUVs tested by Australia's NCAP in 2012 - from having more high-tensile steel in the construction also contributes to the cost hike.

He suggests it is less relevant to focus on the kingpin $79,990 Elite Limited than the $73,990 Elite CRDi. He points out the Elites now have satellite navigation whose cost - nominally set at $3000 - if put aside, makes this Elite ''just'' $4000 dearer than before.

''We don't think that is unreasonable.''

Technology advancement is certainly expressed strongest by the Elites, but here the Korean market's blind-spot monitoring and lane-change warning miss the boat. It is another reason why it is best not to compare too closely with those cited elite European image-builders.


Hyundai Santa Fe offers more, for more
At a Glance


Prices: $57,990 (front-drive GX) to $79,990.

Engines: 2349cc four-cylinder petrol, maximum power 128kW@6000rpm, maximum torque 226Nm@3750rpm; 3470cc six-cylinder petrol, max power 206kW@6300rpm, max torque 335Nm @5000rpm; 2199cc four-cylinder common rail direct injection turbo-diesel, max power 145kW@3800rpm, max torque 436Nm@1800-2500rpm.

Transmission: Six-speed automatic.

Brakes and stability systems: Disc brakes, ABS, BA, ESC.

Wheels, tyres: 235/65 R17 to 235/60 R18.

Fuel and economy: 7.4 (diesel)/9.4 (2.4 litre) /9.6 (3.5 litre) litres per 100km, capacity 70 litres.

Dimensions: Length 4460mm, width 1890mm, height 1760mm.