Hyundai's latest Santa Fe appeals to those who prioritise space, flexibility and safety
Bigger, better SUV The Hyundai Santa Fe has a head-up display that incorporates visual blind-spot warnings and a sensor system that will trigger the alarm if a child or dog is left locked in the car. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

In this yuletide season, the Santa Fe may well cheekily translate to either "flying Santa" in Mandarin, or "fat Santa" in Cantonese.

The latter would not be completely inappropriate for the latest seven-seater sport utility vehicle from Hyundai, although the description may be more fitting for its slightly more bloated Kia cousin - the Sorento.

The Santa Fe, named after the town in New Mexico, the United States, is sizeably larger than the three earlier iterations.

In this iteration, third-row seating is more comfy, thanks to the car's dimensions and dedicated air-conditioning vents in the section. Still, the last row is best reserved for younger children or small-built adults.

The third row can be collapsed completely to form a flat cargo area. A floor cover protects the seatbacks from sharp-edged items such as foldable bicycles.

The second row can be folded at the touch of button in the cargo area. Reinstating them is a manual affair.

These are the changes most relevant to those looking for more space and versatility in a family SUV.

The car displays the slick, glossy finish of latter-day cars from the South Korean conglomerate. There is absolutely nothing to quibble with.

Everything you see, touch and hear is well within tolerance.

Its cabin is generously equipped - memory seat, electronic parking brake with auto-hold function, a connected infotainment touchscreen, 360-degree camera system, wireless smartphone charging and a multi-function steering wheel with easy-to-use cruise control.

Most impressive are a couple of new safety features.

The car's head-up display - almost unheard of in this price range - incorporates visual blind-spot warnings. The rear doors will not open if the car's rear cross traffic alert detects an oncoming vehicle - very useful, even if you are not a cabby or private-hire driver.

And there is a sensor system, which will trigger the alarm if you walk away leaving a child or dog locked in the car.

No other car offers this elaborate combination of safety-related features.

The big car does not drive too shabbily either, even if it does not quite qualify as a "flying Santa".

Under its bonnet is a familiar 2.4-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine. Its output remains largely unchanged, with power maxing out at 185bhp and torque peaking at 238Nm at 4,000rpm.

Progress is leisurely, but not lethargic. Power delivery is linear, relatively smooth and always refined.

More impressive is how the all-wheel-drive car behaves when on the go. Body control is superb, matching what you would normally witness in a sedan. Tarmac imperfections are dealt with almost dismissively, with the car dishing out a firm but pliant ride.

Despite its expanded footprint, it remains sufficiently - and surprisingly - manoeuvrable in tight spaces.

Its only drawback is its tested fuel consumption of 13 litres/100km, which is about 30 per cent higher than stated.

Design-wise, the new Santa Fe manages to be distinctive in a rising sea of SUVs. Its front section is a clever assembly showing off a new grille flanked by three layers of lights.

Just below the bonnet are daytime-running LED strips. Large five-sided headlights sit under these in a recessed area, followed by small fog lamps below. The arrangement is similar to the smaller Hyundai Kona, but bolder and more stylish in the Santa Fe.

The Santa Fe is also available as a 2.2-litre turbodiesel with an eight-speed transmission and front-wheel-drive.