Santa Fe XC60

Santa Fe & XC60 – middle of the road luxury SUVs that stand out in the crowd.

Volvo has always operated pretty successfully on what we like to call the left field of the motoring style pack. Safely so, its cars are a little different, a little more quirky than their traditional rivals. That’s a path that has served the Sino-Swedish brand very well. Now it seems Hyundai has taken note of that wan for quirky SUVs, if it’s new Santa Fe is anything to go by.

If the Volvo is left field, then this Hyundai takes SUV quirkiness to a new extreme. Enough for us to get it together with its closest Volvo rival to take a closer look…


Boasting bold, edgy and powerful looks, the fourth generation Santa Fe turns more heads. Its striking metallic egg crate grille in a sculpted front bumper between geometric inlay headlights with T-shaped daytime running lights (cheeky — they appear to be Thor’s hammers turned 90 degrees!) out a fresh, modern and alternate look. Its stylish stance follows through a set of stylish 19-inch alloys all the way around to the combination lamps at the rear.

The Volvo is unique in its own way. More conventionally styled, its still edgy. Boxy, maybe. But that’s an old Volvo thing, no? Carrying its familiar family look, the Volvo grill is now as traditional as its Thor’s hammer DRL headlamps. The XC60’s generous proportions are maturely well executed. But still quirky enough to set it enough apart from its more traditional rivals. Which is something that’s always set the Swedish brand apart.

Moving inside, the XC60 carries Volvo’s austere cabin feel down from the bigger XC90. And up from XC40. It’s a kind of a bauhaus-cross-sauna look, although this one spares the wood in favour of a satin metal and black leather finish. With hints of crystal, too. Its quirky, different and pretty cool — a contemporary cabin that’s a super place to drive. Typical Volvo but in its own specific character and quite refreshing in today’s China doll motoring world.


If the Volvo’s quirky, the Hyundai cabin takes it even further left field. Cool and quite different, Santa Fe’s facia is quite average above its belt line. But below that, it’s most interesting. A broad centre binnacle has unique push-button auto box selectors alongside a rotary drive and terrain mode knob. There’s a neat charging slot on the side of the flip up compartment. The entire cockpit is well appointed and finished and appears to sit down in a scalloped boat-like fashion. Cool!

Moving on to their car-to-person interfaces, the world has moved on very quickly from the XC90’s Euro CotY heyday. In fact, Volvo appears to have been caught napping. Perhaps not so much versus the Hyundai here, but certainly so versus its upmarket Merc, BMW and Audi rivals. And the more premium positioned Volvo is not head and shoulders above its more p’raps humbly positioned Korean rival in that particular department, either.

Volvo’s now decade-old default button and knob-free 9-inch portrait touchscreen has never been easy to operate on the move. Neither via touch on the screen, nor by steering wheel controls that even Dr. Spock may struggle with. And it’s dated very quickly.


The Santa Fe is no great infotainment shakes though. But then it doesn’t over -promise either. The Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Bluetooth-packed 8-inch screen is controlled by Hyundai’s latest, more logical and better marked multifunction steering wheel. Or by the touchscreen itself, which has a few logical knobs and buttons to help, too. No major frills. But it works well enough.

The Volvo is of course safe as houses. XC60’s 98% Adult Occupant Euro NCAP crash test result made it the safest car on the road a few years ago. Fortunately our regimen excludes testing its Scalable Platform Architecture’s crash resistance. But it’s gratifying to know that you have the likes of Autonomous Braking, Oncoming Lane Mitigation, Blind Spot Information and optional semi-autonomous Pilot Assist on your XC60 batting line-up.

The Hyundai is no safety slouch, by the way. It also earned five Euro NCAP stars at 94% Adult protection. That in part thanks to a stronger steel chassis and it packing reverse parking with collision avoidance, a rear cross-Traffic Warning and Safe Exit. Add Downhill Brake and Hill Start Assist Control, ABS EBD brakes and ESP and Vehicle Stability Management on Santa Fe’s list of active safety features.


The Santa Fe is larger than the Volvo in most respects on its bigger Gen 3 platform. At 4,785 mm long 1,900 mm wide and 1,710 mm tall versus the Swede’s 4,688 mm, 1902 mm, 1,653 mm dimensions, the Volvo however crucially rides on a 100 mm longer 2865 mm wheelbase. So it packs its passenger cell in better versus its proportions. But the Hyundai also has seven seats versus the Volvo’s five, for which you need to upgrade to the bigger and even more expensive XC90.

And even though its cheaper, the Korean car is certainly luxurious and convenient enough. Santa Fe comes with the likes of remote start (keyless access is only optional on the Volvo), heated (optional on the Volvo) and ventilated front seats, rear window curtains and a smart opening and closing power tailgate as part of its spec arsenal.

In this 173 kW 480 Nm D5 get-up, Volvo’s modular 2-litre four-pot D5 turbodiesel is quiet, unassuming and efficient. It drives the default Volvo 8-speed Automatic and all four wheels. Performance is on the better side of good in this neck of the woods at 7.3 seconds to 100 km/h and a mighty frugal 5.5 l/100km.


Three kilowatts stronger and 5 Nm torquier now, the Smartstream R2.2 turbodiesel is still slightly less powerful than the Volvo. The 148 kW 440 Nm Hyundai is not as quick as the Volvo, but it is very difficult to launch. Not that such practice will be common to this buyer type, but that second it loses on launch, goes on to haunt it throughout its performance envelope, as the two are surprisingly well matched from there.

The Santa Fe also has an 8-speed auto, but it’s a wet dual clutch, rather than a slush box turning all four wheels. The Hyundai is also thirstier, at a claimed 7.2 l/100km.

Boasting exceptional ride quality and progressive handling and road-holding, the Volvo XC60 D5 truly is a carefree car to drive. The Hyundai is not all that different, albeit a tad more honest. It also suffers a little more tyre roar on less than perfect surfaces. And it’s perhaps a little less pointed, compared to its sharp Swedish rival.


The Volvo’s World Car of the Year and leading NCAP cred add to all its other virtues to make the XC90 an exceptional package. Even if many of its rivals have moved forward more quickly since the Volvo was bestowed that hallowed gong. It remains quirky too — a trait that Volvos have long been famous for.

But the Hyundai out-quirks it for sure. It may be a little less athletic and dynamic, but the Korean is braver and bolder in many respects. And it’s bigger with seating for two more passengers, when required.

But most of all, the Hyundai is different enough to be quite appealing. And it’s that wan to be different, tied in to a sharper price, while still being brilliantly backed, that sees the Korean get our nod in this one. Not by very much. But a nod indeed. — Michele & Giordano Lupini

Images: Giordano Lupini

QUICK SHOOTOUT:  Hyundai Santa Fe  Volvo XC 60
                 2.2D 4WD Elite    D5 AWD Inscription
Engine:          148 kW 440 Nm     173 kW 480 Nm
                 2.2-litre         2-litre
                 turbodiesel I4    turbodiesel I4
Drive:           8-speed DCT AWD   8-speed auto AWD
0-60 km/h        3.97 sec          3.17 sec
0-100 km/h:      8.17 sec          7.30 sec
0-120 km/h       11.06 sec         10.04 sec
0-160 km/h:      19.63 sec         17.92 sec
400m:            15.9 s @ 146 km/h 15.1 s @ 148km/h
80-120 km/h:     5.28 sec          5.05 sec
120-160 km/h:    8.57 sec          7.88 sec
VMax:            205 km/h          220 km/h
Fuel:            7.9 l/100 km      5.5 l/100km
CO2:             162 g/km          144 g/km
Warranty/Service 7y 200K/6y 90K km 5y 100K/5y 100K km
LIST PRICE:      R869K             R953K
RATED:           8                 7
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