Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2 VGT CDX+

With diesel power and a practical cabin, Hyundai is a strong option

  • Excellent engine, well constructed, seating, DVD player
  • Expensive (but well kitted out), five-speed transmission

The latest Santa Fe has become such a success that it’s hard to remember how poor its predecessor was. To say the current car is a giant leap forward in all aspects is an understatement – a testament to the new model’s designers and to Hyundai, which has obviously listened closely to its customers.

Launched last year, it’s a completely new proposition and now able to rival more upmarket brands. Competing in the compact SUV class, it’s noticeably bigger than the CR-V, but interestingly nearly the same length and width as the Captiva – it also has a virtually identical wheelbase. In fact, parked side-by-side, the two appear quite similar, particularly the high bonnet, large grille and headlight shape. The Santa Fe looks larger than the Chevy, but the smooth lines hide its bulk well, even if it’s no match for the stylish CR-V.

Inside is a similar story. Everything feels well put together and the quality of the finish is high, but it lacks the sophistication and modern air of the Honda. There’s little to criticise, though; the controls are well laid out and all the switchgear is superbly damped, while the instruments are easy to read. However, as in the Captiva, the stereo requires constant retuning, which is frustrating, especially on long journeys. And although the Hyundai comes with sat-nav, it’s a Smartnav call centre guidance system, rather than a fully integrated unit as in the CR-V.

The front seats are short on support and the driver’s is set too high, although both are electrically adjustable and prove comfortable enough. But where the Santa Fe leads the way is with passenger space. While the rearmost seats add £1,000 to the price of the Hyundai, this is good value when you consider that specifying seven seats in the Chevrolet costs £1,145 extra.

As in the Captiva, these are best suited to children, but they offer better space all-round and are simple to fold flat. Access isn’t as straightforward, because you can only get in from the passenger side of the car. Yet this is a minor criticism, and overall the Santa Fe offers the most flexible and practical cabin here.

It also has an excellent engine. The 2.2-litre unit is superbly refined and smooth on the move, and was the quietest at both 30mph and 70mph – in fact, it’s easy to forget you’re driving a diesel. It’s the most powerful motor here, but is let down by the slack five-speed manual transmission – as in the Chevrolet, we’re surprised that a six-speed set-up isn’t offered.

Although the engine feels strong and rarely struggles, the five-speeder hampered the Santa Fe’s performance at the test track. The Hyundai was the slowest car here, taking 11.5 seconds to complete the sprint from 0-60mph. It posted the poorest in-gear times, too, while 30-70mph through the ratios took 12.7 seconds. Thankfully, ride quality is good, and the Santa Fe is relaxing over smooth surfaces and motorways. Unfortunately, it lacks the rigidity of the Honda, and over rough tarmac body shake is noticeable. It’s also undone on twisting roads, where it tends to pitch and wallow, while the snappy steering doesn’t help matters.

A sticker price of nearly £26,000 means the Hyundai is the most expensive model in this test. But it does come generously kitted out, with a rear DVD player, leather seats, climate control and a CD changer as standard. It’s also the only car here to have a four-wheel-drive lock option.

Details

Price: £25,977Model tested: Hyundai Santa Fe VGT CDX+Chart position: 1WHY: With its refinement and practicality, the Santa Fe marked a big leap forward for the brand.

Economy

At 1,823kg, the Santa Fe is the heaviest car here, and yet its return of 36.2mpg is virtually identical to that of the lightweight Honda. Best of all, a generous 75-litre tank means you’ll be able to go 597 miles between fill-ups.

Residuals

The Santa Fe continues to perform well on the used market, and is by far the best Hyundai for resale values. But you can hold on to even more money by opting for the GSI model over this CDX+ – the former retains 50.5 per cent.

Servicing

In our Driver Power 2007 dealer survey, Hyundai’s network beat the likes of BMW and Porsche, finishing seventh out of 32. But £682 for the Santa Fe’s first three services isn’t cheap, and the 10,000-mile intervals are short.

Tax

Not surprisingly given its price, the Hyundai is the most costly business choice, even if its CO2 output is 6g/km less than the Chevrolet’s. Drivers in the lower tax band pay £1,600 – that’s £176 more than for the Captiva.

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