Hyundai Santa Fe
On your bike! That's been my response so far to colleagues who have asked to borrow the latest addition to our long-term fleet.
Why? Because the Hyundai Santa Fe fits my lifestyle so well. With two young children, I have put its roomy boot to good use at weekends, and although I've yet to try out the third row of seats, I'm glad they're there - even if the £1,000 option price is high.
Meanwhile, the SUV copes equally well with my passion for mountain biking. Hyundai is anxious to promote itself as a lifestyle brand, and so has teamed up with GT bikes in order to gain extra kudos. Not that the Santa Fe needs it; this is a handsome machine which is also capable off-road thanks to its four-wheel-drive system, taking me down remote routes to out-of-the-way places in my quest to find new riding tracks.
My only concern is forgetting about low branches - a worry when the cycle is mounted on the roof! Not that it's easy to get the bike up on top of the tall off-roader in the first place. In fact, it's downright awkward, and standing in the open doorway results in the sill getting filthy - annoying given the light-coloured trim.
Inside, I'm not mad about the red piping on the seats or the wood dash trim. I'd also like the radio to display station names and the electric windows to have a one-touch facility - surely that's not too much to ask of a range-topper?
On the other hand, I love the smooth, tract-able and quiet 2.2-litre VGT diesel unit - but why does the Santa Fe have only a five-speed gearbox? A sixth ratio would lower motorway revs and improve economy - plus make the 4x4 seem better value for money. This CDX+ comes with a roof-mounted DVD player, electric seats and leather trim, but at £25,020 still seems quite pricey - especially as there's no load cover in the boot or parking sensors to help with reversing.
Don't get me wrong, though - these quibbles are more than offset by the Santa Fe's all-round versatility. It's a comfortable and capable cruiser, the rear chairs fold flat in a jiffy, the control layout is good and it's light and easy to drive. The torquey engine pulls strongly from well under 2,000rpm, and that alone helps to take the sting out of my 130-mile daily commute to and from work.
After only a month behind the wheel, it has become even clearer that this Hyundai fully deserved to be named Best Recreational 4x4 in our New Car Honours 2006 awards. Let's hope it continues to live up to expectations.
Second opinion When the first shots of the new Santa Fe appeared, it was clear that the bulbous old model had been banished to history. Taking the wheel of our new long-termer for the first time proved the car's talents aren't only skin deep - this is a well built and practical SUV with a decent ride and a refined engine. I'd have chosen a more rugged combination of cabin trim, but this is the first Hyundai that is a genuine class-leader.Chris Thorp, dep. motoring editor