“The Hyundai Santa Fe is a design revolution, and offers lots of space, but it now comes with a price to match.”
There's no doubting that the third-generation Hyundai Santa Fe looks and feels much higher quality than its predecessor. More stylish outside with a much-improved interior, the jump in quality comes with a price increase to match, unfortunately – a hike that impacts on Hyundai's reputation for value for money more than any car it's released before. It only comes with a 2.2-litre CRDi diesel engine, with all but the base model coming with four-wheel-drive as standard. You can choose between manual or automatic gearboxes across the whole range. You can also get the Santa Fe with seven seats, which would be a greater selling point if the extra row of seats weren’t so difficult to access or felt quite so claustrophobic thanks to the tiny back windows. As for that price hike, the Santa Fe now sits in the same bracket as the Honda CR-V and Land Rover Freelander 2, which pushes the large SUV increasingly upmarket. However, you do get Hyundai's excellent five-year warranty, as well as good handling, generous dimensions and a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating, too.
The Santa Fe isn’t as fun to drive as the rival Ford Kuga, but it's well set up for a comfortable ride, and easily absorbs many bumps and smooths out most rough road surfaces. It's a big car, so it's no surprise that it rolls about in the corners a bit, but if you do get a four-wheel-drive model then there's plenty of grip and it copes well on slippery surfaces. While it's actually more of a family car than a true off-roader, equipment like hill descent control and a button that sends power equally to all four wheels is effective and comes as standard on 4x4 models. You only get one choice of engine, but you can choose between front and four-wheel drive, with the 4X4 marginally improving fuel economy and CO2 emissions. The 194bhp 2.2-litre CRDi diesel model is pretty powerful without becoming uneconomical, going from 0-62mph in 9.8 seconds, but that performance ability is spoiled a little by a tendency to be loud and grumbly, especially on start-up. We’d recommend sticking to the six-speed manual gearbox, as the six-speed automatic slows the engine and reduces fuel economy.
The Santa Fe's dimensions are generous, so the interior is spacious and very quiet. You rarely hear any wind or engine noise at any speed. Hyundai's tuning of the suspension specifically for UK roads has only produced mixed results, with it proving very comfortable at high motorway speeds, but struggling with a lot of body roll on twisty roads that becomes quickly tiresome. The Mazda CX-5 does a better job of balancing comfort and fun driving, with the Santa Fe banging through potholes and canceling out the otherwise quiet atmosphere inside. It comes with three driving modes – Normal, Comfort and Sport – that adjust the weight of the steering, but there isn’t much difference between them to be honest.
The interior of the Santa Fe is well constructed and all the mechanicals are well proven in the previous model, so there should be minimal problems. Hyundai's comprehensive five-year/unlimited mileage warranty comes as standard, including RAC Roadside Assistance and annual health checks for that extra peace of mind. The warranty can also be carried over to the next owner, too – yet another sign of Hyundai's confidence in the quality of their car. The Santa Fe secured a full five-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests and was named the safest large SUV in its class, scoring an impressive 96 per cent for adult passenger protection. You can put some of that down to its seven airbags, strengthened body shell, electronic stability control and a bonnet that pops up to reduce injury in a collision with a pedestrian. If you get a 4x4 model you also get increased grip in wet conditions, and useful off-road extras such as hill descent control and four-wheel-drive lock. The driver sits nice and high, with the large windows giving excellent visibility in the front. However, smaller rear windows mean that the rear visibility leaves a lot to be desired.
If you have small children, you might to consider the seven-seat option for the Santa Fe, but be warned that access to the rearmost seats is not easy. Rivals such as the Volvo XC90 and Chevrolet Captiva are more spacious, but once in the third row, even adults can get comfortable for short journeys. With no rear seats in place, the boot offers 969 litres of storage space, plus an extra 48 litres under the boot floor for secret storage away from prying eyes. With all seats folded down the capacity goes up to an enormous 2,247 litres. The middle seats split 60:40, slide back and forth for easier access and can be folded down by a simple pull of a handle. The head and legroom in the front is much better than the previous model, with massive storage cubbies in the doors and centre console that should stow away any bits and pieces you need.
Value for money
The current Santa Fe will cost you about £3,000 more than the previous model thanks to the improved exterior design and the much more modern, luxurious interior. Like Kia, Hyundai's recent move upmarket has brought the prices to go with it. The flipside of that is you can expect better resale values in the used market compared to previous Hyundais, which suffered severe depreciation previously. The seven-seater model should perform especially well. And all cars are very well equipped for your money, with even the entry-level Style model coming with 18-inch alloy wheels, Bluetooth connectivity, voice recognition, reverse parking sensors, daytime running lights and air-conditioning as standard. Some of the interior materials are made of cheaper plastics, but standard have generally improved.
Given its size and engine capacity, the Santa Fe is surprisingly reasonable to run. The 2.2-litre CDRi diesel is impressively cheap and returns strong economy. Paired with the manual gearbox, it will return 47.9mpg - which is great for such a big car – while the automatic still manages to return 41.5mpg. And the Santa Fe won’t cost that much to tax either, with the manual two-wheel-drive models emitting 155g/km of CO2, and four-wheel-drive versions emitting 159g/km. If you do want the automatic, however, the emissions do increase to 178g/km, with quite a hike in road tax. None of that changes the fact that the seven-seat Santa Fe is one of the most affordable cars in its class to run.