Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2 VGT CDX+7

Hyundai's Santa Fe is one of the best family cars money can buy, let down only by some cost cutting

  • Huge load area, five-year warranty, strong residuals, seven-seat option, cabin space, standard kit, refined diesel
  • Five-speed gearbox, fuel economy, running costs, some cheap cabin trim, body roll in corners, high list price

The SUV is rapidly becoming the first choice of family transport for many buyers. Imposing looks, interior space and passenger safety are all strong points in the off-roader market.

Compared to the car it replaced, Hyundai’s latest Santa Fe is a more grown-up 4x4, with stylish looks. It’s also bigger, but the sharp, clean lines do a good job of hiding its size – the Korean firm describes the shape as ‘European’, although there are definite hints of Toyota and Lexus to it.

Contrary to the widespread belief that all off-roaders are enormous, the Hyundai is actually the shortest car here, and also has the smallest wheelbase. Yet it still offers seven seats. The third row is yours for a hefty £1,000 premium, but we think that’s worthwhile if you have a growing family, not least because wipe-clean leather upholstery comes as standard on all but the base model.

The rearmost chairs are best suited to children – they’re not as spacious as those in the S-MAX and access is trickier, too, because you can only get in from the passenger’s side. But the mechanism is brilliantly simple. One handle on each seat (on both middle and rear rows) folds them down quickly and easily. Space across the middle bench is generous, and the boot is huge, too. Hyundai doesn’t quote a standard boot volume figure – it’s measured to the roofline, rather than the window – but as soon as the large tailgate opens, it’s clear the Santa Fe is big enough to handle the needs of most families, provided the third row is stowed. The Hyundai does lack the extra underfloor space of the S-MAX, though.

The rest of the interior is excellent, however. True, our car’s wood trim is rather odd, but the blue-lit instruments give an upmarket air. And although the plastics used may not feel as solid as in either rival, build quality is just as good and nothing squeaks or rattles. But there are gripes. While comfortable, the driver’s seat lacks support and is set too high, and the stereo lacks some features. Storage is fair, with two cup-holders, a large central compartment and a few smaller bins, but the Hyundai can’t match the Ford for cubbies.

The cushioned suspension makes for an impressively soft ride, and the Santa Fe is relaxing when cruising. However, on twisty roads its rivals expose weaknesses. Body control is poor and it wallows in bends, while over uneven surfaces body shake is noticeable. The manual gearbox is a disappointment, too, as it only has five ratios.

Still, there are no complaints about the engine. The 2.2-litre unit is one of the best diesels we’ve tried. Refined, smooth and very well insulated, it ensured the Hyundai was the quietest car of our trio at both 30mph and 70mph. Yet despite having the largest capacity, the VGT powerplant delivers the least torque, and the Santa Fe was off the pace in our acceleration tests. This is unsurprising considering its weight and 4WD underpinnings, but in everyday conditions the engine rarely strug­gles – even when the car is fully loaded.

That has a double meaning where this range-topping CDX+ model is concerned. Not only is it able to lug around 687kg, but it’s also very well equipped. There is a roof-mounted DVD player, while Smartnav guidance comes as standard, too. However, at £25,630, it’s clear Hyundai is charging a premium for the privilege of driving an off-roader. So is it a price worth paying?

Details

Price: £25,630Model tested: Hyundai Santa Fe CDX+72.2 litre/148bhpChart position: 2WHY: We often wonder why Hyundai has not marketed its latest Santa Fe against compact MPVs. The firm would see easy sales, thanks to the car’s generous kit, strong diesel, fine residuals and excellent seating layout – although the third row of chairs is a £1,000 option.

Economy

Hyundai’s dealers came 11th out of 33 in the 2006 Driver Power survey, ahead of VW in 20th and Ford in 26th, but the Korean firm only has 165 outlets. A figure of £682 for the first three services isn’t that cheap, yet the Santa Fe’s trump card is its standard five-year warranty.

Residuals

The fact that the Santa Fe is the best choice here for residual values shows how far Hyundai has come with its latest offering – and proves that off-roaders remain a popular second-hand purchase. After three years, it is still worth £12,226 – or 47.7 per cent of its original price.

Servicing

With the heaviest weight and least aerodynamic shape, it’s no surprise that the Santa Fe is the most thirsty car on test. In its time with us, it returned 30.6mpg – some way off the official combined figure of 38.7mpg. Despite a large 75-litre tank, it has the shortest range at 505 miles.

Tax

The 2.2 VGT diesel may be impressive, but as it’s mated to 4WD, it’s the dirtiest engine, emitting 191g/km of CO2. As a result, the Hyundai sits three tax brackets above the Ford, while a high list price means lower-band owners will have to fork out £1,579 a year in tax.

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