Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2 CRTD CDX
by David Finlay (27 July 2006)
If badge snobbery works to the same extent among lifestyle SUVs the same way it does in other sectors, the Santa Fe may have a bit of a problem. I mean, picture the scene. Chap goes into pub and says, "Hey, guys, I've just bought a Hyundai." Does the response consist of loud huzzahs and trebles all round, or a stony silence and tumbleweed drifting across the floor? Well, quite.
If, on the other hand, this doesn't matter to you, and a large-ish SUV is what you're looking for, the Santa Fe has a lot going for it. Hyundai offers a certain amount of mixing and matching within the range; you can choose to have either five or seven seats, and whether to go for a 2.2-litre turbo diesel engine or a 2.7-litre petrol V6.
The V6 is the sexier choice, but Hyundai believes that 80% of buyers will go for the diesel. Quite right too. The V6 is more powerful, but you only get it with automatic transmission. In manual form, the diesel provides about the same flat-out performance, pulls far more strongly from low engine speeds and is calculator-pixellatingly more economical (38.7mpg combined as opposed to 26.6mpg).
It's also remarkably quiet, and indeed Hyundai has generally done a very fine job of giving the Santa Fe a feeling of high quality. That's helped by the ride quality, which is quite something for a car of this size and weight. Through corners you can feel that there's a lot of bulk, and that it continues a long way above the road surface - there's quite a lot of body movement, but it's pretty well controlled.
Bumps and undulations are dealt with calmly and slowly, so the ride is never harsh, though at the same time the chassis is always ready for the next disruption. Since the grip levels are also impressive (certainly compared with other, more expensive SUVs of about the same size), the Santa Fe also turns out to be a more sporting drive than you might expect on first looking at it.
All four wheels are driven, but not all the time - power goes to the rear wheels only when the electronics think it would be a good idea for this to happen. It should already be clear from this that the Santa Fe is not a serious off-roader, and the lack of a low-ratio option confirms it.
Well, if you're going to spend your time skittering down steep muddy slopes and crawling through rivers, the Santa Fe probably wasn't on your wish list in the first place. What off-roading ability it has, combined with the high ground clearance, means it will at least continue to run as far away from the nearest piece of tarmac as most owners are likely to take it.
The car's most serious flaw in off-road conditions is the big gap between second and third gears. This doesn't help much in some on-road situations either - going slowly through town, for example - and I can't see why the gearbox has been fitted with those ratios.
In five-seat form, there is a lot of room for all passengers, and even with a full complement on board the luggage volume still amounts to 969 litres. Fold down the split rear seat and this increases to 2213 litres.
The boot floor is level with the top of the rear bumper, and therefore quite a long way up, but there are two compartments underneath it. One is filled with wheel-changing tools, while the other is empty and divided into other compartments of its own, where you can store non-urgent and/or wet and/or smelly items without creating a mess on the carpet, or indeed on the rest of your luggage.
In my view the Santa Fe is a handsome machine as these things go, with an aggressive front end softened by the use of curved metal. Underneath those good looks there's a very appealing lifestyle SUV which is right up there with all of its competitors.