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Diamond Diesel Service, Inc., Auto Repair & Service - Diesel, Oakland, CA

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Back To Diesel Products>First drive: Hyundai’s new Diesel Santa Fe
BRUCE NEWTON
November 2, 2009

2010 Hyundai Santa Fe Elite

2010 Hyundai Santa Fe Elite

Hyundai has abandoned petrol power for its latest version of the Santa Fe off-roader.

The conversion of the Hyundai Santa Fe to an all-turbo diesel line-up has done no harm to the driving experience the Korean mid-size soft-roader offers.

It remains alright.

Not great, not poor, just a middling effort that has undeniably more strength under the bonnet but remains underwhelming to drive thanks to the ageing platform that underpins it.

First the good part: the sophisticated new engine is definitely a solid step forward from the old diesel, as is the new six-speed auto over the old five-speed.

The engine can't quite live up to the promise of its engine output numbers - 145kW and 436Nm in auto form. That's because the Santa Fe weighs in at nearly 2.0 tonnes and that understandably means the crispness of response is dulled.

There are also some issues when using very little throttle, such as when inching forward in traffic. Then there is a tendency to be a bit jumpy on and off turbo boost.  But get past that and there's plenty of fat to work with from low revs to beyond 4000rpm.

As is the way of modern turbo-diesels, the R Series is quiet, even at idle. The only time there is ever intrusiveness is when the throttle is worked hard. A rise in clatter is clearly noticeable and a suggestion of buzz emerges beyond 4000rpm. But it is never severe.

The transmission is even smoother, never getting hyperactive at any point during our hilly Adelaide introductory drive.

Hyundai claims a 7.5L/100km fuel consumption average for the auto Santa Fe R Series. Our drive - which encompassed not only the Adelaide hills but suburbs and city as well - came out on the trip computer at a 9.0L/100km average.

This is a decent result for an SUV of this size and weight, but it also does make you look forward to the day when this drivetrain turns up in something lighter. Both fuel economy and performance should be exceptional.

Which is not a way to describe the rest of the drive experience.

The monocoque platform is equipped with MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension. Hyundai describes it as optimised for Australia, but in reality it is grumbly at city  speeds and still too soft and wallowy on the open road. Body control is better and cornering attitude is flatter, but it offers nothing like the well-sorted behaviour of a Ford Territory.

While quicker, the steering is undoubtedly still on the slow side. It is also vague and tends to transit from zero feedback to unruly kickback with nothing in between. It also doesn't self-centre much, so you are forever winding lock off exiting corners.

On gravel roads, with the on-demand all-wheel drive system's Lock engaged and drive being apportioned 50:50 front to rear, the Santa Fe is not at all inspiring. The test car's 17-inch Kumho tyres don't provide much in the way of grip and there is plenty of bucking and banging over ruts.

Okay, you might be saying that the Santa Fe is very much a school-run soft-roader, but the point is, the better that primary safety assets such as grip, handling and steering are tuned, the easier it is to avoid accidents. The Santa Fe relies too much on its stability control safeguards to make up for these fundamental shortcomings.

That's a pity because the cabin of the Santa Fe remains excellent for family use. The seats, while flat, are large and the amount of space for passengers in the first two rows is truly adult-friendly.

There is also plenty of storage with door bins in the both front and rear seats, seat-back string nets, a centre console box, glovebox and cupholders in each row.

The driver gets a reach and rake adjustable steering wheel and a simple and legible set of controls to work with. However, the left footrest is set at a  peculiarly flat angle.

The third row is kid-only for journeys of any distance. Headroom is the biggest problem for anyone over 175cm. Most concerning is how close these seats are to the tailgate glass when in use.

The third row seats provide added luggage versatility because they fold individually into the floor. With both down the luggage capacity is a hefty 969 litres. Fold row two and that expands to a wardrobe-engulfing 1582 litres.

The new Santa Fe goes on-sale from December 1 in three specification levels - SLX, Elite and Highlander. All are powered by the same R series diesel, all are all-wheel drive and all now come with a five star ANCAP crash protection rating and seven seats.

Pricing ranges between $37,990 and $48,490. Only the SLX comes with a six-speed manual transmission, the auto is a $2000 option.

Standard equipment for SLX includes front, side and curtain airbags, stability control, air-conditioning, cruise control, alloy wheels, single CD audio, reversing sensors and iPod and USB connectivity. The Elite – which is expected to be the biggest seller – adds a coolbox, conversation mirror,  driver's power seat, roof rails and climate control with third row vents.

The Highlander includes a rear parking camera, leather seats, six CD audio, a sunroof and a powered passenger seat.

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