Hyundai Santa Fe (2012-2018) review
The Hyundai Santa Fe is a stylish, lavishly equipped and comfortable SUV, but it’s relatively pricey
The Hyundai Santa Fe Mk3 is a family 4x4 SUV that boasts a spacious interior and a feel that’s sufficiently high quality to compete with the likes of the Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-5 and even the Land Rover Discovery Sport.
It’s the third generation Santa Fe, and along with the rest of Korean maker Hyundai’s product range, it’s come a long way in terms of design, technology and refinement in a relatively short time. The Santa Fe is available with five or seven seats, the latter option putting it up against a relatively small number of competitors in a similar price and size range. Apart from the Disco Sport, you could also look at the Nissan X-Trail and there’s also the Kia Sorento which shares much of the Santa Fe’s engineering.
The Santa Fe for sale today may have come a long way, but so too have Santa Fe price lists, and it’s a bit of a problem for Hyundai that it treads on the toes of the Audi Q5 and BMW X3. Both offer a little more in terms of premium feel and ‘badge value’ but if such things are of little consequence then the Santa Fe long standard spec list and trim options make life easy for you – there’s only one engine, and two trim levels.
Car group tests
- Audi Q5 vs Volvo XC60 vs Hyundai Santa Fe: 2021 group test review
- Mitsubishi Shogun Sport vs Hyundai Santa Fe vs Skoda Kodiaq
- Mitsubishi Outlander vs Hyundai Santa Fe vs Kia Sorento
Used car tests
The engine is a 194bhp 2.2-litre CRD diesel, and it comes with either manual or automatic gears. There’s no two-wheel drive version, and while you choose five or seven seats with the Premium entry model, the top-spec Premium SE is a seven-seater only. This big diesel isn't the most efficient engine on sale, especially if you choose the auto gearbox, but it has plenty of power for towing.
The kitbag is impressive as you’d expect, and the Premium model rides on 18-inch alloy wheels, has chrome exterior highlights, roof rails and privacy glass, plus leather seat facings, a big touchscreen infotainment system, cruise and climate control and all round parking sensors. The Premium SE version gets bigger wheels, a panoramic roof, blind spot detection, park assist and rear cross traffic alert on a genuinely impressive spec sheet. Both also get Hyundai’s impressive five-year warranty of course.
Overall, the Santa Fe is a solid all-round big family car. That's why it won the award for Auto Express' Best Large SUV of 2014.
The Hyundai Santa Fe has spearheaded the Korean company's progress from a budget manufacturer to a mainstream competitor, and the Mk3 added some design style to the mix when it arrived in 2012. It combined this with a luxury interior that offers great practicality, especially in seven-seat guise, although those rearmost chairs are only really for kids.
Overall, the Santa Fe is a good choice for buyers after a stylish looking family SUV that can't stretch the budget to premium models from Volvo, BMW or Audi. The Santa Fe is thirsty, but the high fuel bills are easy to overlook for such a comfortable and well specced family car.
Engines, performance and drive
While the Hyundai has four-wheel drive, the part-time system means it drives like a front-drive car in most circumstances, and you’ll only feel the dynamic benefits when grip is low.
The six-speed auto looks archaic alongside the eight and nine-speed autos in some rivals, but given that the 2.2 CRDi diesel delivers 194bhp and 436Nm of torque, the Hyundai proves you don’t need lots of gears to deliver good performance.
Spec it with the six-speed manual, and the Santa Fe will sprint from 0-60mph in a sprightly 9.8 seconds.
At low speeds, the suspension smooths out rough surfaces well, yet go faster and it thumps into big bumps, sending shudders through the cabin. Undulating roads will see the Hyundai pitching and wallowing like a boat, and the soft suspension results in lots of body roll in corners.
It’s not helped by the steering, which is rather vague. The Santa Fe features Hyundai’s Flex Steer system, which allows the driver to vary the assistance, although in normal driving, the differences between the three settings are barely perceptible. Overall, the car is vice-free, but a little underwhelming.
There’s a good range of seat and wheel adjustment to help you get comfortable in the Santa Fe, but you’re aware of the car’s size. While you sit high, the view ahead is spoiled by the chunky A-pillars, which cause nasty blind spots.
MPG, CO2 and Running Costs
The Hyundai Santa isn't too bad when it comes to running costs. Despite its powerful 194bhp 2.2-litre CRDi engine, it emits either 155, 159 or 178g/km of CO2 depending on the drivetrain and/or trim level.
With the six-speed manual gearbox and front-wheel-drive, the Hyundai Santa Fe manages 47.9mpg and emits 155. When the six-speed manual gearbox is combined with four-wheel-drive, it emits 47.9mpg and the CO2 output rises slightly to 159g/km. In 4x4 guise with the automatic gearbox, it achieves 41.5mpg and emissions rise to 178g/km.
Experts predict that, thanks to its upmarket interior, attractive styling and seven-seat configuration, the residuals of the Hyundai Santa Fe should be quite strong.
As with all other cars in the Hyundai model line-up, the Santa Fe includes a fully transferrable, five-year unlimited-mileage warranty and it's probably one of the most affordable cars in its class to run on a daily basis.
Interior, design and technology
Hyundai has made great strides in terms of design, and the Santa Fe was one of the first models to be given a sharp new look. The large chrome grille is the main talking point, while the headlights wrap around the front end. The nose is large and imposing with an Audi-esque grille, while there are plenty of SUV touches elsewhere.
Inside, the Hyundai has the trappings of an upmarket model, with touchscreen sat-nav, plenty of leather trim and silver accents on the dash, but the overall finish can't quite match up to the quality of more upmarket rivals.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
Given its size, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the Hyundai Santa Fe is supremely practical.
There's 585-litres of boot space with the seats in place of the five-seat model, and when they are folded, this extends to 1,680-litres. If ferrying a brood of people is high on your agenda, a third row of seats is also available. It is, however, worth noting that these are difficult to access. Boot capacities with the seats up and folded are slightly reduced on the five-seat model, at 516-litres and 1,615-litres respectively.
The 60:40 split-fold middle seats in the Hyundai Santa Fe slide back and forth for easier access. They can also be folded down by the simple pull of a handle. Leg and headroom is impressive, while large storage cubbies in the doors and centre console offer ample space for your odds and ends. The rearmost windows are quite small, though, so those sitting in the third row of seats might feel a little claustrophobic.
If caravans are also your thing, the Hyundai Santa Fe is a competitive choice as a tow car. It can pull a 750kg unbraked trailer or a 2,500kg braked trailer. However, the transmission is the limiting factor in the drivetrain, as motorists who opt for an automatic sacrifice 500kg of the braked towing capacity over those who go for stick shift. Buyers can even specify a special Trailer Stability Assist system that improves towing safety by limiting torque and braking individual wheels when necessary to keep the trailer in check.
Reliability and Safety
The Hyundai Santa Fe was awarded the maximum five-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests in 2012. It scored an impressive 96 per cent score for adult protection and as standard, it comes with seven airbags, a strengthened body shell and electronic stability control (ESP).
What's more, Hyundai includes a five-year unlimited mileage warranty meaning buyers can be assured of peace of mind. The interior feels well screwed together and all of the mechanicals were proven in the previous generation Santa Fe.
In our 2014 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, the latest Hyundai Santa Fe didn't feature. In terms of manufacturers, Hyundai ranked 18th out of 33.