Car Enthusiast - click here to access the home page


First drive: Hyundai Santa Fe. Image by Hyundai.

First drive: Hyundai Santa Fe
The Korean march to dominance continues - here’s the fantastic new Hyundai Santa Fe.


<< earlier review     later review >>

Reviews homepage -> Hyundai reviews

Hyundai Santa Fe

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Hyundai's largest SUV offering, the seven-seat Santa Fe, is back for its fourth outing - and one of the best big SUVs just got a whole lot better. Improved refinement, striking looks and a statelier cabin are the key hallmarks of this large hunk of Korean excellence.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Hyundai Santa Fe Premium SE 2.2 CRDi Automatic 4WD
Pricing: from £43,595 as tested; starts at £33,425
Engine: 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel
Transmission: eight-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Body style: five-door, seven-seat SUV
CO2 emissions: 164g/km (VED Band 151-170: £515 in year one, £450 per annum years two-six, £140 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 47.1mpg
Top speed: 127mph
0-62mph: 9.4 seconds
Power: 200hp at 3,800rpm
Torque: 440Nm at 1,750-2,750rpm
Boot space: 547-1,625 litres

What's this?

The Hyundai Santa Fe, which - once upon a time - would have been something you'd only buy if your life motto was 'never mind the quality, feel the weight.' However, when the third generation arrived in 2013, we all sat up and took serious notice. Here was a Korean SUV that was no longer making up the numbers in the segment, providing some interesting 'cut-price value' colour, but rather it was a vehicle you'd happily recommend to friends and family.

And so it remained, right up until the model slipped out of production earlier this year. Even updates to some of its main rivals, like the equally-impressive Kia Sorento, weren't enough to force the Santa Fe Mk3 into total obscurity. However, the arrival of this new Mk4 model has immediately rendered the preceding generation as 'old hat'. By crikey, just look at the Hyundai! It wears much of the distinctive styling of the contentious Kona crossover, only the Santa Fe wears it in a much more suave manner. It's distinctive and handsome and suitably European, all in equal measure, and its other clever trick is that it doesn't seem gigantic as you walk up to it, despite the SUV measuring 4.8 metres from tip to tail.

Inside, it's a delight. Top-spec models get digital displays and large infotainment touchscreens, but just the general quality of the materials used in the Santa Fe convinces you that you don't need to buy German any more to get the best cabin. Of course, it's still hugely spacious, with a reasonably generous third row of seats, and it's laden with equipment.

Talking of which, here in the UK we get a three-trim line-up of SE, Premium and then Premium SE, with just the one 2.2-litre CRDi diesel engine (200hp/440Nm) doing all the work. There are four drivetrain configurations available but they're spec-specific - so the SE can be had as a six-speed manual or an eight-speed automatic (this is a new gearbox for the Hyundai SUV), but only with front-wheel drive; the Premium SE, on the other hand, is an eight-speed automatic only, with a choice of two- or four-wheel drive; and it's just the mid-ranking Premium model which has the choice of all four layouts (2WD or 4WD, manual or auto, and any combination thereof). UK Santa Fe prices start in the low £30,000s but an all-singing, all-dancing Premium SE AWD Auto like our test car is comfortably the wrong side of 40 grand, bringing with it the increased VED costs for years two to six of ownership.

How does it drive?

Along with the new eight-speed automatic, designed to be much smoother than the old six-speed unit that Hyundai persevered with for so long, the company has decided to major on refinement for the Santa Fe - as it should be for a seven-seat SUV. So, there's suspension that's, er, stiffened for greater comfort (sounds counter-intuitive, right?), while it is also vertically mounted with external shock absorbers to further improve rolling refinement. The 2.2 CRDi has not only cleaned up its act with the fitment of Selective Catalytic Reduction and a Lean NOx trap, it has revised pistons to ensure it's up to 4dB quieter than its application in the old Santa Fe. The plush carpets under your feet are stuffed with extra wads of sound-deadening, while the floor panel has been reinforced to minimise road noise as much as is possible.

Furthermore, all-wheel-drive models like this one are fitted with the HTRAC torque-distributing set-up, giving the drive control of where the grunt is going. It's an easy system to figure out, because it is linked to the Santa Fe's drive modes: in Eco, HTRAC sends between 80 to 100 per cent of torque forwards; in Comfort, the front-bias shifts to a 65 to 80 per cent majority; and then in Sport mode, the Santa Fe will at most send 65 per cent to the nose, otherwise running at anything up to a neutral 50:50 split.

Cobble all this together and you have a beautifully resolved big SUV that's obviously supremely comfortable first and foremost, but which manages to put on an accomplished dynamic display in the curves when you need it to. That might sound like a needless thing for Hyundai's engineers to have gone and done, seeing as no one who buys a large family SUV actually corners it on the door handles, but in terms of passenger comfort, a relative dearth of body roll, pitch and dive can only be good news.

No matter on its significantly above average handling, though; it's the rolling refinement that'll no doubt convince you to buy the Hyundai. That 2.2 engine gets a touch noisy at higher revs but you've absolutely no reason to venture so far up the tacho, given the mammoth 440Nm that's on offer from just above idle to slightly shy of 3,000rpm. Thus, you can make perfectly brisk progress without having to larrup the Santa Fe to within an inch of its life, and then you'll notice that the SUV simply glides along broken road surfaces as if the tarmac beneath its wheels were actually pristine. There's also negligible amounts of wind and tyre noise, while the weighting and action of all the major controls - the steering, the brakes, the gearbox - allows you to make the serenest of progress in the Santa Fe with very little effort. All in all, it's a hugely relaxing experience to drive the all-new Hyundai SUV flagship, which means it'll be even nicer to travel in as a passenger. Job emphatically done, courtesy of the Koreans.


We liked the Hyundai Santa Fe Mk3 a lot. We like the Hyundai Santa Fe Mk4 even more. It does everything its predecessor did so well, while layering on top an extra-thick layer of civility and mixing in plenty of visual clout, thanks to arresting exterior design and a top-notch passenger compartment. In truth, if you want a seven-seat SUV but you're not going to opt for the full-on, expensive premium-ness of either the Volvo XC90 or the Audi Q7, then this new Santa Fe is the first thing you should be looking at.

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Exterior Design

4 4 4 4 4 Interior Ambience

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Passenger Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Comfort

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Driving Dynamics

4 4 4 4 4 Powertrain

Matt Robinson - 9 Jul 2018    - Hyundai road tests
- Hyundai news
- Santa Fe images

2018 Hyundai Santa Fe. Image by Hyundai.2018 Hyundai Santa Fe. Image by Hyundai.2018 Hyundai Santa Fe. Image by Hyundai.2018 Hyundai Santa Fe. Image by Hyundai.2018 Hyundai Santa Fe. Image by Hyundai.

2018 Hyundai Santa Fe. Image by Hyundai.2018 Hyundai Santa Fe. Image by Hyundai.2018 Hyundai Santa Fe. Image by Hyundai.2018 Hyundai Santa Fe. Image by Hyundai.2018 Hyundai Santa Fe. Image by Hyundai.


Internal links:   | Home | Privacy | Contact us | Archives | Old motor show reports | Follow Car Enthusiast on Twitter | Copyright 1999-2024 ©