Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2 CRDi Premium review
by Mike Grundon (29 April 2011)
The first impression I got when I'd been driving the Hyundai Santa Fe for a few miles was that it had crammed a lot of small car features into a big car. This turned out to be very unfair, as I was to find out over the following week, but a few things struck me right away.
Firstly I'd been handed a keyring with an ignition key and a separate blipper for unlocking it. It's quite a cluster of jangles to stuff in your pocket and it was already polishing the facia under the keyhole.
Next, I went to the boot and found it was opened by an old-fashioned trigger latch built into a loop handle. Not a problem, but it's like something out of the 90s. Putting my sweets into the split-level cubby box between the front seats, the plastic seemed a bit cheap and tacky.
This was a range-topping Premium model yet it didn't have satellite navigation and only a single-CD player. Driving on the motorway, I found there was no lane-change indicator setting that automatically flashed five or six times for you before self-cancelling. It all felt a little . . .well, skimped.
It was only when I was scanning the spec sheet at a coffee-stop an hour or so down the road that I noticed the price. Suddenly I was amazed at how much you actually got for your money. For £23,775, the price of a Vauxhall Antara, a Toyota RAV4 or even a Kia Sportage, you get a big, comfortable 4x4. Even if it doesn't have everything you want, it certainly has everything you need. The Santa Fe was suddenly very desirable.
It's big enough to come with seven seats, but this test car only has five, so there's plenty of space left for cargo. It's powered by a 2.2-litre CRDi turbo diesel engine that pushes 194bhp through a six-speed manual gearbox to the front wheels. When it senses there's slippage in the driven wheels, torque is fed by measures to the back wheels up to a maximum 50/50 split of drive. There's also an off-road button on the dash that locks in four-wheel drive when the going gets particularly slippery.
All the seats are leather, the front ones are heated too and the driver's seat is electrically adjustable with pump-up lumbar support. The other places you regularly touch with your hands - the steering wheel and gearknob - are also leather.
Indoors there are separate left and right climate control, cruise control, lots of useful cubby holes including two sunglasses pouches built into the ceiling, a sound system that plays MP3 files, automatic lights and wipers, rear parking proximity sensors, front foglights and electric windows all round. The door mirrors are electrically adjustable and heated, and they can be folded flat at the touch of a button.
After about 500 miles of motorway, trunk-road and the narrowest of winding country lanes, I was genuinely sorry to part with the car. And here's why.
That diesel engine is powerful, smooth and refined. I've heard complaints that it's a bit slow off the mark but I didn't find it so in the slightest. Pulling out into traffic, powering away from traffic lights, overtaking – all of them came and went without any drama. Same with the gearbox. All six cogs located smoothly and the engine still had some acceleration to contribute even in sixth.
This isn't a proper full-blown off-roader, but I did take the Santa Fe gently round part of a motocross course in Cornwall to see how it coped with a few steep and gravely hills, ridges and shallow but slippery puddles. The ground clearance being limited to about eight inches is its biggest restriction off-road, but with stealth and clever straddling of ruts, the 4x4 system coped admirably.
Even on road tyres the 1.9-tonne car only lost traction on one particularly axle-twisting section of a steep uphill. I suspect with a bit more confidence, a bit less of a responsible attitude to a car that wasn't mine, and a bit of a blinding run-up at the hill, the car may still have made it to the top if I'd persevered.
Back out on the road, the seats were extremely comfortable even after hours in one position. Getting in and out was simple as there was no lip on the sill to step over. The sill is, however, a bit wide and I noticed, after a trip along some seriously tractor-abused country lanes, that it was easy to rub mud into the back of my trousers when I got out. There's plenty of room in the back, too, and the two outer seats get their own air blowers built into the B-pillars.
The Santa Fe is still a pretty handsome car in a no-nonsense sort of way. Changes to the exterior in this, the second generation of the car, are subtle but significant; most of the upgrades have been to the engines and equipment rather than the skin. It's an evolution of the old design but happily it still has no frills and trim, other than a small rear spoiler, so it looks uncluttered, unpretentious and capable.
It's a car I could happily live with. I drive around 60 miles a day getting to and from work so the official average fuel consumption of 41.5mpg looks good. My week-long mix of motorways, lanes and towns actually returned a figure 5mpg shy of that but that may have been partly because it took a while to get used to the economy-sapping air-conditioning coming on automatically every time I switched on the engine.
A 0-60mph sprint time of 9.8 seconds is pretty good for such a heavy car and an official top speed of 118mph is more than I'd ever need.
The Santa Fe is now a car with style, economy, good road manners and a measured amount of off-road ability. Taken along with Hyundai's excellent reputation for reliability, its five-year, unlimited mileage warranty, and service intervals now stretched out to 20,000 miles, that all adds up to a lot of high-value, stress-free motoring.