Hyundai Santa Fe review
by David Finlay (11 October 2012)
According to Hyundai's current naming system, its latest SUV should have been called the iX-something-or-other, but when market research suggested that Santa Fe was the badge that most members of the public remembered the decision was made to bring it across to the new generation.
It's about the only thing that this car and its predecessor have in common. The third-generation Santa Fe is to all intents and purposes all-new, and while some things have not changed all that much (the rear window design, for example, is shriekingly awful and adds a ludicrous amount of guesswork to the process of reversing), there are some impressive new features.
Trailer Stability Assist, for example, is available for the first time on any Hyundai, and so is an active bonnet whose rear edge rises by 60mm if a pedestrian lands on it, thereby protecting him or her from possible injury through making contact with anything solid underneath.
This is also the first Santa Fe which can be specified with front- rather than four-wheel drive. The lack of weight and drivetrain friction in these models gives benefits in terms of combined fuel economy and CO2 emissions (47.9mpg and 155g/km respectively), but the 4x4 nearly matches those figures, and only 10% of UK customers, most of them owners of MPVs and estate cars, are expected to take up the new offer.
Possibly my favourite thing about the new Santa Fe, though, is that no matter which model you buy, you get a full-sized spare wheel. Not a space-saver or - far, far worse - a tyre inflation kit to be seen. Hurrah!
As in the previous car, there's a choice of five- and seven-seat layouts, and it seems reasonable to assume that most people will go for the latter. Access to the third row, in cases where there is one, is difficult and involves clambering over a folded-down second-row seat, and whoever sits back there will have their heads uncomfortably close to the rear window.
Although the wheelbase is the same as in the previous model, Hyundai has contrived to make the interior slightly more roomy. Luggage capacity with two rows of seats in place is 534 litres, and there's an extra 51 litres' worth in a compartment under the boot floor of five-seat models.
All Santa Fes use the same 194bhp 2.2-litre turbo diesel engine, which is very quiet most of the time and most obviously diesely only in hard acceleration. There's a choice of six-speed manual and automatic transmissions, of which the latter dulls down the driving experience quite significantly. In manual form, the Santa Fe feels much perkier.
But not very perky. Hyundai says that the suspension on UK-market cars has been tuned to suit our road conditions, and gives stiffer damping as an example of this. On the test route in Hampshire, however, it feels ponderous and takes a long time to settle after any kind of disturbance, from which we might conclude that a) the damping did indeed require stiffening but b) it wasn't stiffened enough.
The pedals and the manual shift for the automatic transmission have very spongy actions, but the steering is smooth, well-assisted and very easy to use.
Four-wheel drive versions also seem to behave well off-road, though the course Hyundai provided on the media launch was very easy and - with the exception of one steep grassy slope and a couple of axle-twisters - could probably have been completed successfully in a number of more conventional family cars. Then again, it was quite possibly every bit as challenging as anything a Santa Fe owner would be prepared to tackle.
There are three trim levels, starting with the one called Style. Priced from £25,495 for the five-seat front-wheel drive manual, it comes with 18" alloy wheels, Hill Start Assist, air-conditioning, rear parking sensors, daytime running lights, Bluetooth connectivity, heated front seats and, on seven-seat 4x4 models, self-levelling suspension.
Style is the only trim level available with front-wheel drive. The entry price for 4x4s is £26,895, to which you add £1200 for the third row of seats and £1700 for automatic transmission.
The most popular specification is expected to be Premium, which is like Style but with dual-zone climate control, satellite navigation, a reversing camera, electric folding door mirrors with puddle lamps, roof rails, chrome-effect doorhandles and black (or, optionally but at no extra cost) beige leather upholstery, all of which adds £2100 to the price.
At the top of the range is Premium SE, available only in seven-seat form and costing £32,695 with manual transmission or £34,395 as an automatic. Standard equipment on this one includes 19" wheels, a panoramic sunroof, xenon headlights, keeyless entry, front parking sensors, electric adjustment of the driver's seat, Smart Parking Assist, tyre pressure monitoring and the splendidly named Supervision Cluster display screen.