Santa Fe Elite good-looking, family friendly, and pricey

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Hyundai Santa Fe. Photo by Catherine Pattison

When going on holiday, it pays to pack a Santa Fe, Catherine Pattison reports.

Living in Wanaka means I am well off the beaten track when it comes to testing new cars, so when Hyundai went out of its way to send me the new Santa Fe, the experience was a rare and unexpected treat.

Not having sampled many of its contemporaries, I was somewhat rusty when picking up the rakish 2.2CRDi Elite model from Queenstown. I was all set to go: the gear selector was in Park and the push-button start (Elite model only) was pressed, all to no avail - it took a kindly Hyundai employee to inform me the brake pedal must be also be pressed to fire it up.

This awkward introduction aside, there's much to like about the Santa Fe: lush leather door trim, the steering wheel, centre console and electrically adjustable seats that include lumbar support and a memory function that will save two different driver's-seat positions - again in the Elite models only, sorry.

Although the weather was mild during the test period, I fancy the front and back seat-warmers would have been a treat for cold bottoms after a day on the slopes.

Jack Frost had, however, left his calling card on the Crown Range, and a brief heart-in-mouth moment going around a corner and feeling traction faltering was swiftly rectified by the Santa Fe's plethora of safety systems.

Perhaps it was the brand-new advanced traction cornering feature that curtailed what could have been an unpleasant slide. Basically, it continuously analyses driving data - speed, acceleration, steering angle - then distributes torque to any wheel as required.

Being built tougher from Hyundai's own ultra-high-tensile steel, combined with a multitude of airbags, has earned the Santa Fe a five-star Ancap safety rating.

I suspect Hyundai's pounce on my return-from-maternity-leave email with the generous offer to get its new SUV to Queenstown for me was because the company knew it would be tested with a baby and toddler in tow. So, on to the great bane of my life - fitting car seats.

The Santa Fe got top marks for the simple fact that strapping in two of these contraptions elicited zero swear words.

The baby's rear-facing seat did not end up at a weird uncomfortable angle and on both sides the belts were sufficiently long to reach through the various stabilising catches to their buckles with ease. Time for a road trip.

Unfortunately, Hyundai considers a roof-rack kit an accessory, not the necessity my partner believes it is. So, once a waka ama canoe was attached to the roof, the 516 litres of boot space filled with children's stuff and our water bottles stowed in the handy dual bottle holders, we were set to go.

The two things that stand out about the 600km round trip were the pure pleasure of driving the new Santa Fe with its 2.2-litre R-series diesel engine, and the thrifty attributes of said engine.

Let's start with the powerplant. Equipped with 145kW of power and a hefty 436Nm of torque, it delivered seamless and totally competent get up and go. It operates in conjunction with a six-speed electronic automatic transmission with sequential sports shift that had none of the annoying lag or revving that can sometimes come with such gearbox systems.

The ride was comfortably refined and the cabin noise (from the car at least, not its back-seat occupants) was minimal.

On to fuel economy, which was a real bonus. We averaged about 7 litres/100km, with cruise control set prudently on 100kmh, and it lifted about 0.8 litres over two days of city driving. Heading home, with the occasional hustle, the consumption figure never reached 8 litres.

Other pluses in the child department were the child safety rear door locks - not that ours are at the escaping age yet, but there's a first time for everything and a little added security never goes astray.

The privacy glass on the rear and back windows, however, was a double-edged sword: great for getting the children to snooze without glare, but I believe in the age-old adage of never waking a sleeping baby/toddler.

So, when parked in a friend's driveway with the car stationed by a window, it was impossible to see through the darkened glass and necessitated many trips outside - peering in to make sure the cherubs were still snoozing peacefully. Once again, however, the luxury models are the only ones to have this feature.

And this brings me, regretfully, to pricing.

''Our'' Santa Fe as it affectionately became after a week's testing, retails at $73,990, $6000 cheaper than the top-rung Limited model, but still well out of our ''average family'' price range.

The entry-level 2.4-litre petrol model is $57,990, but without all the extras of the Elite models, it just wouldn't be the same.

Santa Fe Elite good-looking, family friendly, and pricey
At a Glance

Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2 Elite
Price: $73,990.

Engine: 2199cc 4-cylinder 16-valve DOHC R series-diesel, max power 145kW@3800rpm, max torque 436Nm@2500rpm.

Transmission: Six-speed automatic, two-wheel drive with electronic torque-on-demand 4WD system.

Brakes and stability systems: Disc brakes, ABS, EBD, ESC, TCS, ATCC, DBC and BAS.

Safety: Five-star Ancap rating.

Wheels, tyres: Alloy wheels, 235/60 R18 tyres.

Fuel and economy: Diesel, 7.3 litres per 100km on combined cycle, capacity 64 litres.

Dimensions: Length 4690mm, width 1880mm, height 1690mm

For: Combines good looks with family functionality.

Against: Price tag and fact so many good features belong to Elite model only.

Verdict: If we won Lotto, we'd buy one ... with roof racks.

RATING (5/5)