The Santa Fe is a handsome car with competent diesel engines
Hyundai is one of the few new vehicle distributors to have increased its sales this year. Buyers finally trust Korean brands, and it has a good range of products in brackets Kiwis appreciate.
It also has competent diesel engines - but the new R-series unit fitted to the facelift Santa Fe and Kia's latest Sorento could be the best of the bunch.
The 2.2-litre powerplant delivers 145kW at 3800rpm and a strong 436Nm of torque pulling from 1800 to 2500rpm.
There's also a 128kW/226Nm 2.4-litre petrol replacing the previous 2.7, and a 206kW/335Nm 3.5-litre V6, all claiming a more frugal thirst than the outgoing cars. Hyundai says the R-engine drinks at just 7.5l/100km despite all that torque - the six-speed auto replacing four-speeds across the range no doubt assisting.
Santa Fe is a handsome car, and the facelift is minor. The bumpers were redesigned, along with the taillights and grille; the wheels have changed and there are a few minor visual tweaks inside the cabin.
The spec list includes a few extras - like keyless entry and start, and a rollover sensor connected to the airbag ECU - and the Elite spec adds a few goodies like the reversing camera, and better-quality leather seats.
This is a well thought-out family wagon with plentiful practical touches. Parents will approve of the seven-seater's conversation mirror, to check on squabbling kids without turning your head.
Santa Fe also offers impressive any-roads ability. Our test drive included some fairly demanding roads, which showed off its relatively car-like handling. But we also traversed wet grass hills, a beach at high tide, and a few lumpy, tricky sections with steep side slopes and drop-offs.
Santa Fe is front-drive, apportioning power rearwards when slip is detected. But you can lock the centre diff for true four-wheel delivery, albeit without low range. So no, this car isn't Jeep Jamboree material, but it reminded me yet again just how far some of these soft-roaders can go if you've got a bit of gumption. Plus another vehicle, with a tow-rope on hand, just in case it goes wrong!
Our beach exit was interesting. Entry had been easy, as gravity assisted us through the deep, soft sand. Leaving was another matter, and involved plentiful throttle commitment.
Once back on the road we found Santa Fe assured, and initial impressions are it's more refined than Kia's lower-priced Sorento, despite their almost identical underpinnings. Hyundai says basic suspension architecture is shared, but spring rates, damper curves and anti roll-bar stiffness are not, and neither are the tyres. It'll be interesting to drive both cars on familiar roads for a more extended period, to better compare them.
The Santa Fe facelift further refines an already good soft-roading SUV, one which has led sales in its bracket and clearly is capable of continuing that lead.
It'll have to, as part of Hyundai's ambition to beat Toyota at the top of the passenger market by 2013. It's currently sitting on seven per cent share with Toyota on over 21 per cent.
Good though the Korean brand's cars are, it's a big ask.
See the Hyundai Santa Fe for sale here.