Hyundai Santa Fe

Does seven-seat layout help give the Korean a distinct advantage?

What the Hyundai lacks in off-road heritage, it certainly makes up for with showroom appeal, as a flexible seven-seat interior sets the Santa Fe apart in this price bracket. Its extra pair of seats are unique in this test, and they don’t compromise the 4x4’s looks.

Sleek headlamps and smooth lines give the off-roader the most car-like styling of our quartet, while its smart interior comes loaded with kit. The cabin is well built and neatly designed, but there’s no reach adjustment on the steering wheel, and the indicators are confusingly operated using the right-hand stalk – fine if this is your only car, but hard to get used to if you regularly drive another vehicle.

There’s plenty of standard kit on board, and in CDX+ trim you get leather upholstery and a DVD player mounted in the SUV’s roof, which is sure to be a hit with any young passengers. The rearmost seats will appeal, too, although adults won’t enjoy clambering into the third row. Limited space makes them better suited to children on longer journeys, but they still provide valuable flexibility.

And when it comes to luggage capacity, there is only one winner. The Hyundai has a vast load area in five-seat form. Its 969-litre boot dwarfs the competition, and provides twice as much space as you get in the Jeep. Fold the middle row, and there’s an incredible 2,213 litres to play with. However, there’s only room for a couple of briefcases with seven on board.

Order a Santa Fe now and your car will benefit from some features not fitted to our test car, as the garish wood trim on the dashboard has now been toned down. The stereo also includes RDS to improve reception on long-distance trips, and a USB-style iPod adaptor is fitted across the line-up.

On the road, the Santa Fe continues to impress, with tight body control. However, the Hyundai doesn’t handle sharp direction changes as well as the Land Rover or Nissan, as the car’s weight makes its presence felt. There’s also much more kickback through the steering over mid-corner bumps, and in pure performance terms, the Santa Fe is left trailing.

On the track we managed 0-60mph in 12.1 seconds, which is 1.7 seconds behind the Cherokee – the next slowest car on test. It can at least keep up with fast moving traffic and is refined at motorway speeds, registering a low 65dB figure at 70mph. Unfortunately, the 2.2-litre diesel is noisy when you work it hard.

Head off-road and the Hyundai is more than capable, with a wading depth of 500mm and 203mm of ground clearance. It doesn’t share the tough no-nonsense feel of either the Cherokee or Freelander, but its lockable four-wheel-drive set-up makes moderate off-roading easy. As a result, the Santa Fe is a practical, well equipped and capable SUV.

Details

Price: £27,495Model tested: Hyundai Santa FeChart position: 3WHY: The Santa Fe is unique in this quartet as it has a third row of seats in the boot.

Economy

Given that it has two more seats than any rival, the Hyundai looks good value for money – especially as its 50 per cent residual is bettered only by the Nissan in this company. Standard spec includes items that would cost extra on the other models – including a built-in DVD player – all of which makes the Santa Fe’s £27,495 price appear even more palatable. Decent economy and reasonable CO2 emissions also keep running costs down.

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