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Driven: Hyundai Santa Fe. Image by Hyundai.

Driven: Hyundai Santa Fe
Big seven-seat SUV shows just how far Hyundai has come.


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Hyundai Santa Fe

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Good points: styling, impressive interior quality, ingenious cabin design, space, refinement

Not so good: one 2.2 four-cylinder diesel only, the Kia alternative, VED costs, duff multimode steering

Key Facts

Model tested: Hyundai Santa Fe Premium SE 4WD 2.2 CRDi Automatic
Price: Santa Fe from 27,995; Premium SE 2.2 from 37,110; car as tested 37,695
Engine: 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel
Transmission: all-wheel drive, six-speed automatic
Body style: five-door, seven-seat SUV
CO2 emissions: 178g/km (Band I, 350 VED year one, 225 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 41.5mpg
Top speed: 118mph
0-62mph: 10.1 seconds
Power: 197hp at 3,800rpm
Torque: 436Nm from 1,800- to 2,500rpm

Our view:

If you've got a minute and you can remember to do so, next time you're out and about driving, see if you can spot a 2009 vintage Hyundai Santa Fe. Or even better, one of the first-generation examples (built from 2000 to 2006). There are plenty of them on the road if you know what you're looking for - perhaps proving that Korean cars have had a degree of longevity engineered into them for some time. However, it's not to revel in the old Santa Fes' ongoing survival that we're asking you to look for one; it's so you can check out the styling.

When you do, the following things should come to mind: two-tone bodywork, tiny alloys lost in comically large wheel arches, anodyne front- and rear-end design and a general air of something that was incredible value compared to contemporaneous rival 4x4s... but for very good reason.

So, with all that in mind, now take a look at the 2015 edition of the same car. It's almost inconceivable that the current Santa Fe could even be from the same company. It looks incredibly smart, the dynamic swage lines, dominant Hyundai 'face' and neat styling at the back all combining to make an SUV that stands out from the crowd - and we're including premium German opposition in that. It's a prime example of how unfeasibly far Hyundai has developed in such a short space of time.

There's obviously overlap in the automotive world at the moment, plenty of places where cars from a perceived 'lower' sector of the market seem to be challenging more expensive machinery. And when it comes to crossovers/SUVs, due to the sheer variety of them available there's a huge amount of overlap. The Santa Fe is a prime exponent of this. You might think that, with a Hyundai badge, it's destined to fight Ford, Vauxhall, Renault and similar marques, but none of these offer an SUV of the physical size of the Santa Fe.

So it's only natural to look at the German offerings, such as the BMW X5, Audi Q7 and Volkswagen Touareg. And it's the last of these that suddenly looks ludicrously overpriced in the face of the Santa Fe. We recently tested a V6 3.0 TDI model with 204hp, not much more power than this Hyundai. The Touareg cannot be had as a seven-seat vehicle, while the top-spec Premium SE Santa Fe comes with seven chairs as standard (five-seat models are available lower down the range) and the Touareg range begins at - begins at, mind - a staggering 43,000. Start adding the kit to a base model to match the Santa Fe's toy count and the Volkswagen would become around 10,000 more expensive.

Indeed, the loaded Touareg we tested didn't have some of the nicer additions of the Santa Fe, such as the panoramic roof or self-parking functionality. It returned worse fuel economy than the Hyundai, at 30mpg vs. 34.1mpg (the Santa Fe didn't even have a motorway run on which to improve that number to closer to its quoted combined mpg), and the Volkswagen generally felt a bit lacklustre.

It's at this point you realise the Hyundai comprehensively undoes the Volkswagen's case, unpicking the Touareg's seams at every turn, and you subsequently accept that the Korean firm is not just there making up the numbers any more but is credibly one of the first names you turn to when recommending machines to friends, family and anyone who asks for your advice. Take the interior of the Santa Fe - the way the back two chairs tumble up and down, folding flat into the boot floor in a mere instant, is superb. That they're just about big enough for adults to squeeze into them is great, while the middle row seats all slide individually and have a clever one-touch fold-away set-up to allow people easy access to the third row. It has all the versatility of an MPV and even some boot space left over when all the chairs are in situ.

The cabin looks nice and feels of a high quality, there being few of those old-fashioned buttons you find in some cars from Asia. All the haptics and ergonomics of the Santa Fe are excellent, while the big central touchscreen for the satnav is clear, the mapping itself is excellent and there are some neat LCD displays in the centre of the two sunken dials in the instrument cluster. At 37,110 basic, including 585 for our car's metallic paint, it might not seem exactly cheap, but the Premium SE Hyundai is top of the tree, meaning everything is fitted as standard - including heated outer seats in row two, ventilated and heated seats in the front, leather trim, keyless entry and go, a heated steering wheel, cruise control, Smart Park Assist with all-round parking sensors, a 10-speaker premium sound system (that's very good, by the way), an automatic tailgate, reversing camera (with excellent clarity), rear door blinds (great for those of us with small kids) and self-levelling suspension. It feels like a premium product.

This isn't a case of 'ah, it's well equipped, competitively priced and spacious, but it drives like a duffer', though - the solitary 2.2-litre turbodiesel offered in the Santa Fe has a mega 436Nm and the best part of 200hp, so it doesn't struggle to move the big SUV about. It's quiet at all times and even the six-speed auto is a fine transmission, shifting gears discreetly and reacting in decent fashion to hefty clogs of the accelerator. The ride is sumptuous on the 19-inch wheels and body control is reasonable for something so big and high-riding.

Are there any flaws to the Santa Fe? Well, despite torque on demand four-wheel drive (i.e., the Santa Fe is nominally front-wheel drive until it detects slip at the rear axle), CO2 emissions of 178g/km, placing it in Band I, are nothing to write home about, while the Flex Steer mode select for Hyundai's steering is a waste of time - all the settings feel largely the same, which is to say lacking any meaningful feedback and with odd weighting. And for some, the lack of a six-cylinder engine will always render this behind the German opposition... although we'd counter by saying the all-new, four-pot-only Volvo XC90 has no such issues.

There is one final elephant in the room and that's the Kia Sorento, the cousin of the Santa Fe. We've come to the same conclusion a lot recently in the Hyundai versus Kia debate, when comparing like-for-like models; that conclusion being that the Kia always seems to have an interior with a touch more design flair, it comes with two years of extra warranty cover and it's normally a bit cheaper than the Hyundai too. We'll be bringing you a Driven of the Kia Sorento KX-2 in a few weeks and it possesses all the attributes of the Santa Fe with the three extra bonuses we list above. The only thing the Hyundai has over the Sorento is more interesting exterior styling; the Kia is a little more conservative, albeit still quite a handsome thing.

Nevertheless, as Hyundai owns Kia, we're sure it won't be too bothered if the only car that tempts you away from the Santa Fe brochure is the Sorento. Because, looking at the premium opposition, there's little that obviously springs to mind that's as attractive an all-round ownership proposition as this Santa Fe Premium SE. It's one of our very favourite big SUVs you can buy right now.


Honda CR-V: it's here because, despite ostensibly being a smaller vehicle than the Santa Fe, its steep list price puts it into competition with the Koreans. We've always liked Hondas and the revised CR-V's a fine vehicle in many respects, but you'd have to say the more powerful, bigger Hyundai is the better machine for most owners.

Kia Sorento: toughest one to call. Largely the same car as the Santa Fe, with the same engine, mechanicals and brilliantly simple interior layout. The Kia is a bit cheaper spec-for-spec, has a longer warranty and also has nicer instrument cluster displays, in our opinion, although the Hyundai is the better-looking car externally.

Volkswagen Touareg 3.0 TDI 204hp: a car that seems lost now. It's no match for any of the other three German rivals - Audi Q7, BMW X5 and Mercedes GLE - and it looks positively extortionate compared to the Hyundai/Kia offerings. Not one we can easily recommend.

Matt Robinson - 23 Aug 2015    - Hyundai road tests
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- Santa Fe images

2015 Hyundai Santa Fe. Image by Hyundai.2015 Hyundai Santa Fe. Image by Hyundai.2015 Hyundai Santa Fe. Image by Hyundai.2015 Hyundai Santa Fe. Image by Hyundai.2015 Hyundai Santa Fe. Image by Hyundai.

2015 Hyundai Santa Fe. Image by Hyundai.2015 Hyundai Santa Fe. Image by Hyundai.2015 Hyundai Santa Fe. Image by Hyundai.2015 Hyundai Santa Fe. Image by Hyundai.2015 Hyundai Santa Fe. Image by Hyundai.


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