Hyundai Santa Fe

It’s the largest car on test, but is big on performance and value.

When Hyundai introduced its latest Santa Fe in 2006, it was a revelation. With seven seats, smart styling and loads of standard kit, it was a giant step forward over its 2001 predecessor. Now, the versatile SUV has been updated, and gets revised looks, an improved interior and a fresh powerplant.

The cabin is well built, with better material quality than in the pre-facelift car, but the finish still can’t quite match the Honda. And although you get a lofty view of the road, there’s only a limited range of steering wheel adjustment – so the Hyundai’s driving position is cramped.

Elsewhere, the dashboard layout is straightforward, and the controls for the audio and ventilation systems are easy to use. But the indicators are operated with the right-hand steering column stalk. On the firm’s i20 supermini and i30 family hatch, they are controlled by the left-hand stalk, as in most cars on sale in the UK – so it’s a shame the update didn’t address this on the Santa Fe. The foot-operated parking brake is another minor irritation.

Generous standard equipment helps to offset these small complaints. Seven-seat Premium models like ours feature self-levelling suspension, while its extra row of chairs will appeal to family buyers. Even though access to the rearmost seats isn’t especially easy for adults, and space is tight, they still provide valuable flexibility and are more comfortable than those in the 4007. Fold the third row flat into the floor, and the Hyundai’s wide, deep boot is the biggest here. And further forwards, the middle row of seats provides decent legroom, too.

Hit the road and the Santa Fe feels more like a conventional large SUV than its compact rivals in this test. The softer suspension sees it bounce over bumpy surfaces and its body rolls more in corners. There’s also more dive under braking, and the car doesn’t cope with sharp changes of direction as well as the Honda or Toyota, due to its light steering and slightly vague responses. Plus, while the ride is comfortable on smooth surfaces, it struggles on rougher roads, with the suspension thumping over potholes.

Under the bonnet, the new 2.2-litre direct-injection diesel produces the most power and torque here, at 194bhp and 436Nm. So even though the 1,987kg Hyundai is the heaviest car, it was the fastest in-gear. The 4x4 system ensured acceleration off the line was strongest at our snow-bound test track, too.

The new engine is more refined than before, but the automatic box kicks down too easily. And at high revs, you’re exposed to the worst of the diesel clatter – although the noise at motorway speeds is acceptable. With its roomy cabin, strong pace and great price, the Sante Fe is a talented machine.


WHY: The cheapest model on test brings seven seats and lots of kit, plus a fresh look – the Santa Fe is better than ever...

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