Road Test: Hyundai Santa Fe
SECTOR: Large SUV PRICE: (March 2013): £25,270-£34,015 FUEL: 41.5-47.9mpg CO2: 155-202g/km
With an eye on Europe’s biggest sectors, Hyundai has proved itself very capable of benchmarking and in some cases beating its key rivals. But while the Santa Fe is a backbone of the carmaker’s North American line-up, some 350,000 have found homes in Europe which means no expense has been spared bringing the largest model up to par too.
It’s a much more aggressive-looking car than its predecessor, and with the sheer size of its bodywork it’s far more imposing on the road too. A large hexagonal grille with sharply-creased body lines and chiselled lamps add up to a classy, premium-styled SUV which not only stands up to its most obvious rivals, but to much more expensive models too.
Quality has stepped up markedly inside. High quality materials are used throughout, finally including textured indicator stalks – a small detail where the Santa Fe has traditionally lagged behind European counterparts. With sweeping lines across the door cards and dashboard and a commanding, very comfortable, driving position, it’s a hard vehicle to find faults with.
Or at least it is for most of the passengers. The back row pops up out of the boot floor with a tug on a handle, and drops in the same way. They’re not uncomfortable per se, but the steeply raked roofline means taller drivers will struggle and the middle row doesn’t tip forward for easy access so getting in and out is hard work. Drop both rear rows, though, and the Santa Fe becomes a capacious load-hauler with a huge, flat load area to the backs of the front seats.
Engine options comprise two diesels in the UK – a 150hp 2.0-litre unit or the 200hp 2.2-litre tested here. The larger of the two is the more efficient, offering CO2 emissions of 155g/km for the seven-seat version if you can live without four wheel drive and are prepared to change gears yourself. Extra traction and an automatic gearbox push CO2 emissions up to 178g/km.
The trade-off is a few useful extra features. American consumers tend to demand more off-roading ability than in Europe, so four-wheel drive versions gain a bank of switches most of its competitors don’t. To the right of the steering wheel are controls for hill descent and forcing a 50/50 split between front and rear wheels, plus the more common sight of an eco switch which cuts fuel consumption.
This is often a mixed blessing, returning a few more miles per litre of fuel but blunting acceleration as if a parachute has been attached to the tailgate. But in the Santa Fe there’s plentiful power not to let performance drop too heavily when it’s running in eco mode. That said, it’s fairly efficient in on its regular setting too, returning around 7l/100km at high speeds.
The downside to its off-roading ability is that the Santa Fe can, at times, feel a little high-sided and more prone to body-roll than the car-focused crossover even with its standard-fit self-levelling suspension and Europe-only chassis settings. The new 2.2-litre diesel engine is potent, even off the mark, the gearbox shifts smoothly if a little slowly through its ratios and the multiple steering settings give a good mechanical feel on the road, but it’s not a car which likes to be rushed.
On the whole, though, Hyundai has clearly benchmarked an ever-tougher segment and the Santa Fe performs well in almost all areas. It’s a sophisticated SUV for a very reasonable price.
The Santa Fe is competing for a part of a still growing sector, but with real off-roading ability and the comfort and on-road presence of a much more expensive SUV it makes a strong case for itself. With a five year warranty and competitive running costs, it’s an option not to overlook.