What is it?
The latest Santa Fe is an all-new version of the UK’s most popular Hyundai. The model is so popular here that the importers haven’t felt able to change its name, even though their policy for naming all other Hyundais has taken a completely new tack. Research shows it has better recognition than any other Hyundai, and sales since 2001 have totalled 37,500 units, a big tally for an import. Last year’s UK sales accounted for a third of deals across Europe.
The Santa Fe is a full-size SUV, more Range Rover than Freelander, and the updated version is a whole lot better looking. The new edition is also a little larger in all directions — except height — than the outgoing version. This has brought impressive gains in rear legroom (45mm) over its predecessor. A headroom improvement of 11mm is harder to explain, especially since the makers say their reduction in overall height is to make the model look more like a crossover (it doesn’t). For the first time there’s a two-wheel-drive Santa Fe, whose prices start at £25,495, around £1400 less than the cheapest 4x4 version.
There are also new seven-seater versions, impressively roomy in the third row even though they aren’t built on the longer-wheelbase chassis also shown in New York. Hyundai believes the stretched model wouldn’t sell here, and has capped its line-up model at a very reasonable £35,000, especially since top-spec Premium SE models have equipment that includes gadgetry like a reversing camera, a self-parking system and lane departure warning.
What is it like?
With compact SUVs currently selling out of their skins against a general downward trend for everything else, Hyundai’s Santa Fe selling message tries to create an advantage: this may be a full-size SUV but it’s so well-priced and emits so little CO2 from its improved, 194 bhp, 2.2-litre turbodiesel engine (just 159g/km for the 4x4, with combined fuel consumption of just 46.3mpg) that you might as well buy big, Mr SUV Buyer, and enjoy the extra space. The Santa Fe’s established popularity means a good response is practically guaranteed.
The Santa Fe gets UK-only settings for its all-independent suspension, the difference being mostly upgraded dampers to improve body control and tame wheel-hop over ruts. Hyundai’s teams carefully assessed the new Santa Fe on UK roads, they say, before deciding on the upgrade. We have yet to drive the UK car, said to feel better controlled, but the prototypes we tried in Germany seemed relatively firmly suspended, with quite a lot of body roll and occasional wheel-hop detectable. Better damping is definitely a good idea.
The car’s engine feels flexible, strong and quick. In particular it works well with the six-speed Hyundai-made auto 70 per cent of British buyers will choose (even if the CO2 rises rather alarmingly to 178g/km and the combined fuel consumption falls nearly 5mpg to 41.5mpg). Handling is decently neat, via light and acceptably accurate steering, without exactly pushing any barriers. We’ll want to drive the UK version before a firm verdict on the dynamics can be delivered.
Should I buy one?
On price and equipment grounds, this is a good car. Look at the built-in quality, the equipment and the length of warranty and there can be little doubt that the new Santa Fe is heading for more British success. It’s far better than any previous Santa Fe, without abandoning any age-old values. The model still has the Hyundai toughness we all now expect, and offers a five-year warranty to back it up. Few SUV buys ever made more sense than this.
Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2 CDRi auto
Price: from £25,495; as tested £34,395; 0-62mph: 10.1 sec; Top speed: 118 mph; Economy: 51.4 mpg; CO2: 178g/km; Kerb weight: 2001kg; Engine type, cc: 2199cc, 4cyl transverse; Power: 194bhp/3800 rpm; Torque: 311lb ft/1800-2500 rpm; Gearbox: Six-speed auto