Hyundai's fourth-generation Santa Fe offers more space, performance and features
Hyundai's new Santa Fe is more than just a pretty face The Hyundai Santa Fe sports a distinctive three-dimensional honeycomb design for its grille. PHOTOS: HYUNDAI MOTOR

Hyundai's big seven-seater sport utility vehicle, the Santa Fe, has received a long overdue reboot.

The fourth-generation model looks like a grown-up version of its Kona sibling, with the same slim, high-set headlamps, supplemented by large combination lamps set into the extremities of the bumper.

The prominent "Cascading Grille", as Hyundai calls it, sports a distinctive three-dimensional honeycomb design.

The wheel arches now bulge purposefully and a crisp shoulder-level crease runs from nose to tail and continues into the tail lamp. The rearmost side window is much larger, benefiting internal visibility as well as visually elongating the cabin. The roofline has been stretched and, in profile, the new model looks far sleeker.

It is not, in fact, any lower - the height remains the same at 1,680mm - but the car is 70mm longer and 10mm wider, with a wheelbase that is 65mm longer. Cabin and boot space has likewise grown in every direction - most notably second-row legroom and third-row headroom - over its already-spacious predecessor.

To ease access to the third row, second-row seats now slide forward further and the offside seat in the second row folds automatically at the press of a button on top of the backrest.

Cabin materials are posher and, equipment-wise, the car wants for nothing. It has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, wireless phone charging, USB ports front and rear, air-conditioning vents for all three rows (with separate controls for the third row), powered driver's seat squab extension for extra thigh support and a two-speed electric tailgate.

For absent-minded parents, there is even a Rear Occupant Alert system, which senses movement in the rear seats and reminds the driver to retrieve the snoozing offspring.

Over the hilly, occasionally potholed roads in and around Subic Bay, where we tried out the car, the chassis displayed newfound agility and composure. Its steering was sharper and more consistently-weighted, body movement far better reined-in and the old car's tendency to lurch into bends was absent.

But this being a big SUV, cornering speeds had to be tempered to manage understeer and the car's 1.8-tonne-plus weight was noticeable on tighter bends.

However, taking the Santa Fe over challenging roads is now largely an exercise to be enjoyed rather than endured.

That keener handling seems to have come at the expense of some ride comfort though, with ruts and smaller bumps feeling, subjectively, more pronounced than before.

We tried two variants: a front-wheel drive 2.2-litre turbodiesel and an all-wheel drive 2.4-litre naturally aspirated petrol. The diesel engine, with its healthy 440Nm of torque, was clearly better suited to the Santa Fe's heft, giving effortless surge from low revs and delivering relaxed, refined progress when cruising.

But the eight-speed autobox often refused to obey manual downshift commands, stubbornly hanging on to a high gear even when slowing for corners.

The 2.4-litre petrol unit, paired with a six-speed autobox, clearly struggled more, needing lots of revs to deliver keen progress.

Weedy petrol variant notwithstanding, the new sharper-looking, sharper-handling Santa Fe is a big step forward, with significant improvements on every front to prove it is not just a pretty face.