You might have spotted this car out and about on the streets by now – the Hyundai Santa Fe is an SUV that has proven popular, appearing on ‘best 4x4s to buy’ lists. But you may not have realised how good it can be. For 2015, the Korean automaker has added a number of swoops and tweaks to the body to make it look more appealing. Whether this manoeuver has worked its charm or not will depend on you – sleek looks are subjective, for sure. However, value is not – it is markedly cheaper than the Land Rover Discovery range, whilst offering a 7 seats option for families, and has better fuel economy and CO2 emissions than Honda’s CR-V. With its refined engine, good quality interior and long five-year unlimited mileage warranty, there is no two ways about it: your money’s worth is what the Santa Fe brings to the SUV party.
Hyundai has set the bar high in terms of contemporary design, and the Santa Fe was one of its first models to be given a new aesthetic makeover. The car has a hint of Audi about its imposing nose, with a bold hexagonal chrome grille and striking LED headlights wrapping around the front end. With many SUV touches around it, the body looks sleek overall, making it a better-looking car than the Kia Sorento (which it also beats in all four categories of its five-star NCAP rating – adult, child, pedestrian and safety assist). All trim levels of this SUV come with attractive specs. Entry-level SE and mid-range Premium models feature 18-inch alloy wheels, while the range-topping upscale Premium SE cars come equipped with 19-inch alloy wheels, as well as xenon headlights. On the outside, the basic trim levels get body-coloured exterior door handles and door mirrors with integrated indicator lights, whereas the Premium (5 seat or 7 seat) and Premium SE models (7 seat) feature chrome effect door handles and roof rails. All models come complete with a sporty spoiler with LED brake lights mounted on the rear, front and rear skid plates, powerful daytime running lights, and reverse parking sensors.
On the inside, the new Santa Fe is certainly light years ahead of its predecessor. The perceived quality of the interior is now premium and far superior. From the plastics on the doors to the leather used for the seats, this is a completely enhanced version. Even the switches and buttons are outstanding. With silver accents and leather trim, the dash aptly displays everything the driver needs to know up-front, whilst the other controls are well laid-out and easy to use. All the key controls such as the stereo and air conditioning are arranged into groups high on the centre console, while buttons are distinctly marked so it is quite simple to suss out what everything does. The user-friendliness of the Santa Fe has been bolstered by a reliable hill start assist system and an electric parking brake system, which is in particular a welcome change to the manual foot-operated system on the predecessor. The all new satellite navigation system, which comes as a standard feature on Premium and Premium SE models, is now upgraded to take seven digit postcodes. Five-seat or seven-seat layout options highlight the Santa Fe’s practical sense – so how practical is it? Compared to its predecessor, there is more legroom both in the front and in the back. The middle row of seats slide while the seats at the back can be reclined – though the combination of sloping roof and rising window line may make it feel slimline in space. You can fold the whole back row down, which saves you from having to get in through the doors at the side, particularly if you are halfway through stowing something chunky into the boot.
On the road
Powered by a 2.2 CRDi diesel that can crank out 194bhp of sheer power and 436 NM of enormous torque, this Hyundai car proves you do not need as many gears as a six-speed auto to deliver great performance. The sprightly SUV will accelerate with vroom from 0-60 mph in less than 9.8 seconds. Note that there is only the one engine choice offered across the whole range – so you only need choose manual or automatic. At low speeds, the suspension takes control, smoothing out uneven surfaces well. And, as you put the pedal on the gas, it soaks up big bumps remarkably well. The Santa Fe features Hyundai’s innovative Flex Steer system, which allows passengers to choose between three modes: normal, Comfort, and Sport, each one a little heavier than the previous. Ideal for parking, Comfort feels a little indirect and floaty at higher speeds. Sport is tailor-made for driving along the motorway and for the enthusiastic cornering, but could be demanding on your forearms if you keep at it at lower speeds. Its 4×4-wheel drive actually drives like a front-drive car in most conditions – its intelligent Torque on Demand 4WD system kicks in only when driving conditions become more difficult, giving you more grip when you need it, and better economy when you don’t. On gently undulating roads, the SUV provides a firm, pleasant ride without nauseating oscillation. Having said that, the roll resistance of springs (in the soft suspension unit) is not effective enough to prevent body roll in corners. The range of wheel and seat adjustment is remarkably good and allows you to get comfortable. Some test drivers report that the thick A-pillars can give blind spots in certain driving positions, and that the manual gearbox can feel ‘notchy’, but overall, it is a pleasure to drive.
The Hyundai Santa Fe SR is a brawny, attractive seven-seat SUV that’s family friendly, and an excellent alternative to an MPV. There are undoubtedly more premium SUVs with varied engine options out there, but if you’d prefer something more affordable, or you want a sporty SUV that is dependable, spacious and highly rated for safety, the Santa Fe fits the bill. The excellent warranty, seven-seat option and lots of kit are fantastic bonuses that make it a winner.