SUCH has been Hyundai's success in the past five years that it is hardly surprising they are making waves once more in the mid-range SUV category with their new Santa Fe.
The Korean giant has pushed the boundaries since its re-emergence into a growing industry powerhouse and in doing so has forced the established market leaders to up their games.
This third generation Santa Fe, born once more in the design studios in California, is a prime example of answering drivers' needs and delivering reliable performance, enticing inclusions and pleasant looks in a value-for-money package.
Hyundai has splashed out on the interior of the Santa Fe, going for classy, upmarket choices. The textured soft plastics combine nicely with the leather seats and satin chrome highlights for a look that feels more luxurious than the price indicates.
The front seats are comfortable and adequately bolstered with the electric controls on the driver's making it easy to find that perfect position. Seats in the second row, too, can be commended and although they don't fold completely flat, they do slide forward and back which is a nice plus.
The third row, as always, is best suited to children under 12, although they are much better than those found in most seven-seaters and do have vents for air-conditioning as well as their own cup holders.
Instruments are modern, thoughtfully set out and easy to read while the 17cm LCD colour screen with satellite navigation, reverse camera and audio and climate control is a cinch to operate and can lay claim to some top graphics.
Of course with all seven seats in operation the boot is no better than that of a small car, but lower the third row and you have enough space for the family shop and a set of golf clubs.
On the road
Our test car was powered by a 2.2-litre turbo diesel engine and paired with Hyundai's six-speed auto that was difficult to fault.
The ride is comfortable helped by a suspension tuned to Australian conditions - relaxed for the most part but firmer when you need it to be. It is much improved around corners, offering a more balanced approach than its predecessor; its footwork is assured, inspiring confidence and even when it stumbles slightly when pushed hard, the stability control keeps matters in hand.
Road noise is minimal, especially for a diesel, and there is plenty of grunt even under load.
It is difficult to see the end of the bonnet so that takes some getting used to, but that aside, the Santa Fe is easy to manoeuvre and park with a reasonable turning circle.
Off-road performance is fine if kept to unsealed roads and the odd kerb mount but this is an SUV more suited to city and highway driving.
What do you get?
The Santa Fe is clearly not being offered at a bargain basement price - a fact that is pleasantly reflected in the extensive inclusions list.
All-wheel drive, sat nav and seven seats is standard across the range, with the entry-level Active also equipped with a reverse camera, front and rear parking sensors, Bluetooth capability, electric lumbar support, roof rails and dusk-sensing projector beam headlights.
Our mid-range Elite added 18-inch alloys, heated electric mirrors, push-button start with proximity key, automatic climate control, rain-sensing wipers, a premium six-speaker audio system, a cooled glovebox and rear privacy tint.
Safety is five-star thanks to a comprehensive system of seven airbags, anti-lock braking system with EBD, stability control, traction control, advanced traction cornering control as well as hill start assist and downhill brake control.
The clamour for SUVs with seven seats makes this a red-hot segment and there is stiff competition from the likes of the Ford Territory (from $50,240), Kia Sorrento SLi (from $45,490), Holden Captiva LX (from $43,490) and Toyota Kluger ($47,190 although there is no diesel).
The Santa Fe is filled with a host of clever ideas that makes it ideal for growing families, including a glut of cabin storage options, pull-up blinds on the rear doors and a special cavity in the floor of the boot which enables you to store the cargo blind.
The seven seats can be a boon especially if you are carrying the kids' friends and a second row that folds 40:20:40 makes it easy to carry long items like surf boards, skis and gold clubs.
The diesel engine comes top of the class, sticking close to Hyundai's claimed figures of 7.3 litres/100km with the petrol version much thirstier at 9.0L/100km. It comes with a five-year/unlimited warranty with prices for services capped for three years. Intervals are 15,000km or 12 months and are priced at $319 each.
It is obvious, even from a distance, that the Santa Fe belongs to the Hyundai stable, the "fluidic sculpture design" confirming the fact long before the badge is sighted. But here they have been softened just a tad with the sweeping lines and rising beltline complemented by the sloping roofline, and integrated rear spoiler.
What matters most
The good stuff: Comfortable drive experience, clever inclusions and the space.
What we'd like to see: Side airbags for third row, a digital speedo.
Warranty and servicing: Hyundai offers a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty and three-year fixed-price servicing.
Model: Hyundai Santa Fe Elite.
Details: Four-door all-wheel drive large sports utility vehicle.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
Engine: 2.2-litre four cylinder common rail diesel generating maximum power of 145kW @ 3800rpm and peak torque of 421Nm between 1800-2500rpm.
Consumption: 7.3 litres/100km (combined average).
Bottom line: From $45,990 (Active at $36,990).