Test Drives

Hyundai Santa Fe Review 2019: Emissions inhibited

Hyundai’s new Santa Fe is appealing in many ways, but it also carries a heavy burden, courtesy of the tax man…

SINGAPORE — Hey kids, Santa’s here, and just in time for Christmas! Whoops, sorry, we meant the Santa Fe, Hyundai’s biggish Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV), not jolly Saint Nick.

The latest model (generation four, if you’re counting) takes the same basic approach to motoring as before, pairing seven seats with a rugged-looking crossover form, but refines things somewhat. How so? Read on…

It looks like a big Kona…
Well, yes and no. The new Santa Fe wears Hyundai’s current corporate face, so it has the same “cascading grille” as the Kona, along with slim lamps. But the styling’s more toned down in this car, and less radical.

There’s a nice Germanic muscularity to the body, while the upright front end and matte chrome strip that stretches across the body tend to make the car look huge in pics, but it isn’t, really.

How not huge is it?
If you want numbers, the Santa Fe is now 4,770mm long and 1,890mm wide (compared to 4,690mm and 1,880mm before). Not huge, like we said, but meaningfully bigger than before.

Plus, the wheelbase is a whopping 65mm longer, at 2,765mm.

Plenty of space inside, I presume?
You presume correctly. The interior does feel pretty huge, with Row 2 especially spacious. The middle seats recline quite a bit, so ensconcing yourself back there is liable to make you feel pretty king-like.

The third row is a different matter; the new body brings a bit more headroom back there, but it’s still a tight fit if you’re an adult. Access to the two seats requires near monkey levels of climbing ability, too.

On the plus side, there’re air-con blowers back in the very back with their own fan speed control. And the 60/40 split for Row 2 seats now has the correct side (that is, the left or kerb side) tipping forward to let people clamber into the back.


So is it a Multi Purpose Vehicle alternative?
Ah, the classic question! Short answer, no. If a family bus is what you want, you’d be better off with an MPV like, say, a Volkswagen Sharan. The Santa Fe is more like a comfy family car with two emergency seats.

Built for refinement, then?
Very much so. It’s quiet on the move and rolls placidly over the bumpy stuff. The suspension is definitely set up for comfort, yet the body doesn’t get sloppy when you whip the Hyundai this way and that through corners.

The steering is a little on the heavy side, but that will probably just add to an illusion of solidity for most people.

Overall it’s not much fun to drive, but you can definitely imagine doing a drive to, say, Kuala Lumpur without a groan.

What’s under the bonnet?
Two choices: a 2.2-litre turbodiesel and the 2.4-litre non-turbo petrol that we tried. It’s got a decent amount of muscle, but you have to rev it to get the Santa Fe going properly.

For that reason the diesel is likely to be the more satisfying version to drive on a day-to-day basis (besides being cheaper to feed) although it’ll cost you S$8,000 more.

Both versions come with Htrac, Hyundai’s all-wheel drive system. It’s pretty clever in that it actively controls where to send the power: in the Sport driving mode the rear axle gets more torque to sharpen the handling, for instance, while in the Eco setting the car is mostly front wheel-drive to save fuel.

There’s a button to lock the split at 50:50 for off-roading, along with another button that lets the Santa Fe crawl safely down steep slopes at a controlled speed.

Sounds like you get plenty of kit.
Yes and no. After making your engine choice you have to choose between sunroof and non-sunroof models. The sunroof option comes with other equipment, but it costs a whopping S$23,000 more.

For that you get welcome safety stuff, such as a head-up display system, blind spot monitors and an around-view camera — those last two items are genuinely useful in a car this size and this tall.

The Santa Fe with sunroof introduces couple of novel safety features, too. If the car detects that your rear passengers might open the door into the path of a cyclist, it uses the child locks to prevent the resulting accident (and lawsuit).

There’s also a rear occupant detection system; it ensures you don’t forget you have someone in the back seat after you park. Children left in cars under the sun have died that way.

Sounds worthwhile. But do you get anything more “exec”?
Well, the sunroof models come with a powered tailgate and ventilated front seats, if you like your gadgets. But the Santa Fe feels posh overall anyway. The cabin might not be exquisitely trimmed, but it feels like a quality affair. And just look at the chocolate hues used for test car’s dashboard — a nice touch of class, if we ever saw one.

The seats (also upholstered in brown) have an eye-catching quilted pattern, too. One look and it’s clear that Hyundai put effort into making the Santa Fe look nice inside.

So should I be asking Santa for a Santa Fe?
Don’t be ridiculous. You should obviously ask for a Ferrari. Failing that (no one has been that nice all year, anyway), it might make sense to ask for a Santa Fe — as large, comfortable and well-equipped as it is, it’s also expensive.

The 2.4 GDI with sunroof that we drove costs a salty $169,999 with Certificate Of Entitlement, for instance. Less money would buy a fully equipped Skoda Kodiaq with better acceleration, while still less would snag a Honda CR-V.

For the Santa Fe’s hefty price tag you can thank (or blame) the tax man, who is imposing a S$20,000 pollution surcharge on every model available. Without that the Hyundais would look much more reasonably priced.

As things stand, our pick would be the base model, for S$146,999, or if you’re feeling more spendy, the more peppy diesel without sunroof (for S$154,999). The sunroofless versions are less gadget-laden, but for what is more reasonable money you still get a spacious seven-seater with the refinement and good looks that the new Santa Fe is blessed with.

Of all the presents that this Santa comes with, the S$20,000 surcharge is pretty unwelcome.

Hyundai Santa Fe 2.4 GDi 4WD with sunroof


2359cc, in-line four


188hp at 6000rpm


238Nm at 4000rpm


6-speed automatic



Top Speed

10.5 seconds

Fuel Efficiency


VES Band / CO2

C2 / – g/km


Komoco Motors


S$169,900 with COE




about the author

Leow Ju-Len
Leow Ju-Len is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 23 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.