Hyundai’s largest SUV, Santa Fe, delivers on all counts

In recalling his first drive of Hyundai’s original Santa Fe model, Iain Robertson recalls a ‘blobby’ soft-roader that drew attention to the brand but did little for its reputation, although it was more capable than most observers realised.

Four generations in, the original having made its debut in 2001, the new five-seater, which has adopted the attractive slit-eyed frontal appearance of the Kona model, not only looks the business but sits comfortably in the upper echelons of 4x4 estate cars. In its top Premium SE 4WD Auto specification, it carries a (pre-discount) price tag of £43,295, in a handsome range that starts at a more affordable £33,425, yet it is so comprehensively equipped that the buyer will want for nothing at the top-end.

All Santa Fe models are powered by the same 197bhp, 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine, cleansed by AdBlue. It is a punchy unit, producing a healthy 324lbs ft of torque that warrants both tremendous towing capabilities (2.0-tonnes braked trailer) and a prodigious off-road potential, courtesy of an electronically managed 4x4 system (HTRAC). Featuring a Driving Mode selector button, it is possible to scroll through Comfort, Eco, Sport and Smart settings, each of which alters the drivetrain bias from front, progressively to rear/4WD, in default settings that also change the instrument pod colours and layouts. It can also be locked in 50:50 form (up to 19mph) for really tricky conditions.

Driving through a smooth 8-speed fully-automatic gearbox, the car’s stated performance is good, with a top speed of 127mph, 0-60mph in a modest 9.0s, emitting 164g/km CO2 and returning 44.8mpg on the Official Combined test cycle. Without trying hard, I obtained an average of 44.0mpg and, on my 100-miles mixed conditions test route, the Santa Fe attained a superb 47.8mpg, aided by the ‘stop:start’ program and ‘auto-hold’ for the parking brake.

At 4.77m in length, the Santa Fe is a large car. Fortunately, it reflects the dimensions in a truly spacious and comfortable cabin. Its hide-clad seats are supportive and electrically adjustable in the front. The passenger seat can even be adjusted by the driver, courtesy of a pair of switches on its right side-bolster. The driving position is commanding and excellent, the power steering requiring a mere 2.5-turns from lock-to-lock for easy manoeuvrability. Its boot is also enormous and there are plenty of useful storage slots dotted around the interior, with a charging-pad for mobiles in the centre console. Leather is wrapped around the steering wheel rim and spokes, as well as the dashboard’s upper surfaces, for an extra up-market splash. It is not ‘Audi-style’ but, then, it is not Audi price either and it possesses an unique appeal.

Santa Fe drives very well, its general ride comfort erring on the side of cossetting, which results in a relaxing and refined experience overall. It tracks true and, despite its relative ‘softness’, handles crisply and responsively. Hyundai has worked very hard to achieve the right balance with its biggest family car and its beguiling smoothness and sophistication will be appreciated by drivers seeking unquestionable reliability, a long (5 years) warranty and low running costs.

FCD Summary

Competent, comfortable and exceedingly well-equipped, the Hyundai Santa Fe, in top-spec, is a car worth closer inspection, should you be in the market for a full-size 4x4. It will be loved for its available space and raft of practical features.

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