The latest Hyundai Santa Fe: now with that 'want one' feeling fitted as standard. Jonathan Crouch reports
Ten Second Review
With far sharper styling, some fantastic equipment on offer and a punchy 200PS 2.2-litre diesel engine, the latest Hyundai Santa Fe punches its way upmarket on merit. Customers choose between five and seven seats, manual or auto transmissions and get standard four-wheel drive. It's hard not to be impressed.
Look at a car like this, Hyundai's improved third generation Santa Fe SUV, and you get some idea of just how far this South Korean brand has come in recent years. This, after all, is the kind of quality product that has driven the improvements in its recent fortunes.
The Santa Fe has had a big role to play here. Looking back, it was the launch of the MK2 version of this car in 2006 that really put Hyundai on the map. Not only was it beautifully built - it also had beautiful market positioning, this the first affordable SUV to blur the boundaries between the compact CR-V/RAV4 class and the family Discovery/Shogun segment. So Santa Fe buyers paid compact sector prices but got the kind of 7-seat capacity they'd previously needed a much larger SUV for. No wonder this car became a best seller for the UK importers.
Not surprisingly, it's a concept that competitors have since copied - including Hyundai's partner Kia, whose Sorento model has basically the same 2.2-litre diesel engine beneath the bonnet. Important then, for this improved third generation Santa Fe to be able to distance itself from this and other potential rivals, particularly as its pricing has risen to reflect dramatic claimed improvements in quality and design. Let's check it out.
As before, the Santa Fe rides on a specially UK-tuned MacPherson strut front end and a multilink rear suspension, but delve a little deeper and there are some interesting details. There's self-levelling suspension as standard on seven-seaters, a FLEX STEER System that delivers normal, sport and comfort steering modes, plus the 4WD system all UK models have to have is interesting. As expected, it's front wheel drive most of the time, but when sensors detect slippage, up to 50% of drive can be diverted to the rear wheels. Those who expect a little more of their 4x4s will like the fact that in especially slippery conditions, such as muddy off-roading or driving on snow or ice, four-wheel-drive can be selected with the push of the 'lock' button, delivering a 50/50 power split at speeds up to 25mph. There's also an economy-oriented front-wheel drive car offered.
There's not much change under the bonnet. As previously, the UK gets only the 2.2-litre CRDi desel version, with 200PS and a healthy 440Nm of torque. Customers get to choose between a six-speed manual or six-speed auto gearbox, both fitted with an extra tall cruising gear for economy. The automatic is innovative as it's fitted with a flat torque converter and its space-efficient layout means it's the most compact six-speed unit currently built, weighing 12kg less than a conventional automatic.
Design and Build
The latest Santa Fe isn't quite the sort of car that will have pedestrians bumbling slack-jawed into pavement furniture but it's undoubtedly a good looking thing. It has that inherent rightness to its proportioning that'll make it tricky not to throw a glance over your shoulder when you lock it and walk away. Road presence is enhanced by smarter front and rear bumpers with redesigned foglamps and LED daytime running lights, framed with smart silver trim. At the front, a different layout for the xenon projector headlamps has been applied, while the rear lamps feature a fresh LED graphic. We love designer-speak and Hyundai reckons the Santa Fe's lines are influenced by its 'Fluidic Sculpture' form language, with its own design concept called 'Storm Edge' which captures the strong and dynamic images created by nature during the formation of a storm. We'll have what they're having.
Inside, Santa Fe remains a refined and comfortable place to be with updates to the console cluster and audio visual navigation system presenting the car's intended up-market image. As before, there's a choice of five or seven-seat interior configurations, while a long, wide, single-frame panoramic sunroof allows high levels of natural light into the cabin. Luggage space is decent - 534 litres with the front five seats upright. Passengers sitting in this improved model's second row of sliding seats will benefit from greater space as an extra 15mm has been added to the travel, boosting the adjustment to 270mm.
Market and Model
As before, prices sit in the £31,000 to £38,000 bracket and there's a premium of around £1,200 for the seven seat layout most buyers will want. All variants are well equipped, with even the ntry-level version getting 18-inch alloy wheels, reverse parking sensors, daytime running lights, self-levelling suspension on the seven-seat version, air-conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity and a multi-function steering wheel.
New safety systems now added to the range include Autonomous Emergency Braking, Blind Spot Detection with Lane Change Assist and a Rear-Cross Traffic Alert system reduces the risk of collision with approaching traffic when reversing out of narrow areas with low visibility. There's also now a Smart Cruise Control function and an innovative Around View Monitor that uses a series of strategically-located cameras to present the driver with a complete 360-degree view of the car, useful when negotiating tight gaps or a narrow parking space. For further convenience when parking, the Smart Parking Assist System now supports bay and parallel parking.
What else? Well the latest Audio Visual Navigation system combines with DAB digital radio and Infinity Premium sound to provide occupants with a high-quality interface, including the latest in-car audio technology. The high-end Infinity Premium Surround Audio system with 12 speakers, 630 Watts and QuantumLogic Surround (QLS) provides a multi-dimension surround sound experience for all passengers.
Cost of Ownership
As well as offering decent value for money, the Santa Fe isn't going to break the bank when it comes to day to day running costs. With no petrol engine in the range, it's hard to come up with a model that is anything other than saintly in terms of economy and emissions. There is one slight caveat though and that's the automatic gearbox. Compare manual and auto versions of this Euro6 design and the manual can register as much as 46.3mpg on the combined cycle and as little as 161g/km of CO2, whereas the automatic fares markedly worse at 42.2mpg and 177g/km. Still, it's worth putting even that worst case figure in perspective. Getting better than 40mpg from a seven seat four-wheel drive vehicle really isn't that bad is it?
Residual values look extremely good in part thanks to the Santa Fe's increasingly strong reputation for reliability. Owners also take advantage of Hyundai's excellent Five Year Triple Care deal. This includes a five year unlimited mileage warranty, five year RAC roadside assistance and five year annual vehicle health checks from your dealer. If you're a higher mileage driver, this could well swing the balance in the Hyundai's favour. Even if you're not, what value do you place on five year's peace of mind? Think about that when you're comparison shopping.
The Hyundai Santa Fe has improved and improved fast in third generation form and with this improved version, it's better still, with even slicker styling and better safety tech. All of which makes this Korean contender probably a very good choice for someone who's never even really considered an SUV before. It's not showy or offensive, instead marrying all the best bits of models of this kind, namely their space, versatility and ease of ownership, with the refreshing lack of drama of a normal big family car. And it is big, a size up from the five seat-only Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4-class compact soft roaders that'll probably cost you much the same sort of money.
Cars like those might be better to drive of course. And there are a few similarly targeted Far Eastern rivals that are a little cheaper to buy. Some Santa Fe buyers may also look for more of a choice when it comes to engines, though the options of five or seven seats and manual or automatic transmissions should see most customer preferences covered off.
Ultimately though, this car's quite good enough to justify its market positioning. Which means that if you've got a family, have room in your life for just a single car and need one that'll discreetly go the distance without a hiccup, then it's well worth trying one of these. Do that and who knows. You might once again start to believe in Santa.