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Hyundai Santa Fe review (2012 onwards)
What: Hyundai Santa Fe
Where: Farnborough, UK
Date: September 2012
Price: £25,495 - £34,395
Available: October 2012
Hyundai’s new Santa Fe is a competent all-rounder, but does the improving perception of the brand match price rises at the same rate?
Key rivals: Kia Sorento, Nissan Qashqai, Vauxhall Antara/Chevrolet Captiva, Peugeot 4007, Land Rover Discovery
We like: Ride and handling, adequate off-road ability, strong, bold styling
We don’t like: Prices creeping ever higher, poor access to third row of seats, limited space when you’re there
First impressions count. On this front the third generation Hyundai Santa Fe is a winner. It looks bold, substantial and individual – exactly how an SUV should portray itself. If you’re buying an off-roader you’re making a statement, why not let your car say it for you?
The strong first impression continues inside. We sampled a well-specified mid-range Premium trim model, and the expanse of leather, decent ergonomics and good level of equipment immediately makes you think, “yeah, I could live with this.”
But is that enough? Shouldn’t you want to buy a car, not think you could get by with one? This latest incarnation of the Santa Fe is much more upmarket in its approach compared to its predecessor, but will UK buyers be able to look past the badge? Is there a competent SUV lurking beneath those smart looks?
With prices starting at £25,945 for the entry-level Style model, rising to a not inconsiderate £34,395 for the top-spec seven-seat Premium SE version before options, some prospective customers will have to realise Hyundai just isn’t a budget brand anymore.
There isn’t a choice of engine options in the new car. Every variant gets the Korean manufacturer’s 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel engine producing 197hp and 311lb ft of torque.
It’s a strong unit and nicely refined too. Noise intrusion into the cabin is well suppressed and it’s only when you rev the car out to that the familiar four-pot diesel rattle makes itself known. Under everyday conditions though, it’s no noisier than our Range Rover Evoque long termer. Impressive.
As a result, you waft along rather serenely
You don’t need to work the motor that hard anyway, such is the large swell of torque. The automatic version actually boasts a further 11lb ft, with both cars’ maximum twisting force available from 1,800rpm.
This means you can move the Santa Fe along relatively swiftly, despite its significant size. 0-62mph comes up in 9.4 seconds while top speed stands at 118mph.
Flat-out performance isn’t what the car is about however. The well-programed six-speed automatic does a good job of always keeping you in the meat of the engine’s range without constantly hunting for gears. As a result, you waft along rather serenely, accompanied by a well-tuned chassis…
Ride and handling
The setup is on the firm side, but that’s because the UK market Santa Fe gets a completely different chassis tune, “to work on our undulating roads,” according to Hyundai. It’s well judged, too.
The car feels taut and body roll is well controlled, but it’s still compliant – you notice potholes, but not to the point where it uncomfortably shocks the car. As a result grip is good and you can actually begin to throw the car into corners with gusto.
The on-demand four-wheel drive system copes well
The latest Santa Fe gets Hyundai’s Flex Steer technology that offers three modes – Comfort, Normal and Sport. Comfort is eerily light and doesn’t inspire confidence. Normal is better weighted and is OK for everyday use, but the Sport mode is the setting we prefer.
It doesn’t mean you have to drive the car fast all the time, it just affords a little more feedback as to what the front end is doing and the extra weight (it’s not too heavy, however) means the big SUV feels more planted on the road.
As the Santa Fe is an off-roader, we also sampled what the car could do once you leave the tarmac. Albeit it not the toughest course, the on-demand four-wheel drive system copes well and senses wheel slip early, switching smoothly between two- and four-wheel drive.
There is a manual override to lock the centre diff and keep it in off-road mode permanently, if you wish.
We seem to say it with every knew Hyundai these days, but material and build quality compared to even five years ago has moved on leaps and bounds.
Leather seats are standard on the mid-range Premium trim we tested and the chairs are comfortable. There is plenty of soft-touch plastic scattered throughout, as well as some nice chrome detailing.
For the third-gen vehicle Hyundai has redesigned the indicator stalks too. The ergonomics are better – as is the action – but importantly, the scratchy, shiny plastic has been dropped in favour of a nice solid, matt-finish material.
It’s a small point, but one that shows the brand has serious premium aspirations and is backing it up with attention to detail.
One major gripe we have with the Santa Fe’s interior centres on the seven-seat model – and as a predicted 62% of buyers will opt for the bigger car, it’s an important point, too.
Access to the third row of seats is difficult. The second row seatbacks fold, but the base of the chairs doesn’t flip up. You can slide the seats forward to help, but not when the backs are down.
It’s an annoyance and means the aperture you’re left with to climb through is pretty tiny. Once you’re back there, legroom is poor as well. The seven-seat configuration doesn’t help boot space. Seats down, it gives the same 534 litres as the outgoing car.
Economy and safety
It’s the first time Hyundai has offered a two-wheel drive Santa Fe, meaning best efficiency now stands at 47.9mpg combined with 155g/km CO2 emissions.
The 2.2-litre motor has been retuned to reduce emissions and fuel consumption. The best four-wheel drive version offers is 46.3mpg combined with 159g/km CO2 – an 11.5% improvement over the second-gen vehicle.
The new Santa Fe hasn’t yet been put through Euro NCAP’s crash test procedure, but Hyundai is confident the latest Santa Fe will attain a full five-star rating. Watch this space.
The MSN Cars verdict
The new Hyundai Santa Fe is a capable all-round SUV. In its latest guise it’s better looking, more efficient, faster, and nicer inside. But it’s also more expensive – an extra £1,740 for the range opener. Then again, you get more for your money and it’s better quality, too.
The fact is Hyundai doesn’t make bargain basement cars today – the firm has grown and improved so quickly over recent years, punter’s perception of the badge arguably hasn’t grown at the same rate in many cases.
If you’re looking for a competent off-roader – in either five- or seven-seat guise – the Santa Fe is certainly worth consideration.
Need to know
Engines, petrol: N/A
Engines, diesel: 2.2
Torque: 311lb ft, (322lb ft automatic)
0-62mph: 9.4 secs
MPG: 47.9 combined
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