The West

Hyundai s headturner
Hyundai Santa Fe. Supplied picture

The large SUV market has been one of the growth areas in the Australian car market over the past two years.

This year it is expected to account for more than 120,000 of the million-odd new vehicles sold here and, according to research conducted by Hyundai, 70 per cent of those cars will be bought by families with at least two children.

And the Korean car maker has targeted its third-generation Santa Fe squarely at that group of buyers.

The latest iteration not only has head-turning good looks - a static display of the car at the national launch in Sydney this week attracted more interest than Tony Abbott's budgie smugglers - but it is also more functional, better equipped and more efficient than its predecessor.

The steering wheel, centre console stack and tech items are signature Hyundai; everything else, from the styling and aluminium accents, provides a premium feel.

And while a 300km test drive might not be enough time to confidently call it the best car in its segment dynamically, first impressions were very good.

The drive took in conditions ranging from silky-smooth highways with 110km/h speed limits to rough dirt roads.

One thing that really stood out in all conditions was just how quiet it was in the cabin.

Hyundai has added an additional 17kg of sound- deadening materials to the Santa Fe with outstanding effect.

Whether driving the diesel or petrol model, there was virtually no engine noise in the cabin, which was also well insulated from any wind or tyre noise.

While there were no manual variants available to test, the six-speed auto was smooth and well matched to both engines.

But if I were forced to make a choice I would lean toward the 2.2-litre common rail diesel engine, which is a carryover from the previous model, for its extra low-down grunt.

With nearly three years experience, the team charged with modifying the steering and suspension of Australian-bound Hyundais to suit our conditions now has the formula right.

The ride of the Santa Fe, all variants, is comfortable without the car ever feeling unbalanced.

My only criticism was that while driving down a couple of long steep hills with cruise control on our speed crept up by 10-15km/h, putting us over the speed limit.

The Santa Fe also offers more flexibility than it ever has before.

And it is the second row of seats that creates this unequalled level of versatility. It not only splits 40:20:40 but also tilts and slides back or forward and folds flat with the flick of lever.

As good seven-seaters should do, the third row of seats, which can also be split 50:50, folds neatly, and easily, into the cargo floor area.

The third-generation Santa Fe completes the transformation of Hyundai's model line-up that started more than three years ago.

It is a program that started with the i30 hatch and has helped to transform Hyundai into one of the world's most progressive and fastest-growing auto companies.

The West Australian

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