There are three trim levels, all well equipped. Even the basic Style model gets alloy wheels, parking sensors, air-conditioning and Bluetooth connectivity, with self-levelling suspension on seven-seat versions. Step up to Premium, and you add touch-screen sat-nav, dual-zone climate control, black leather trim and a reversing camera. At the top of the range, Premium SE trim brings larger alloys, electric adjustment on the driver’s seat, a sunroof, xenon headlights, and keyless entry.
The Santa Fe is a 4×4 that makes no effort to hide the fact it’s a big off-roader. From the large hexagonal grille and alloy wheels to the big, plastic-lined wheelarches and slabby sides, this is an unashamedly big car. However, that’s not to say it isn’t classy and relatively upmarket; in fact, every version has body-colour mirrors, and most have a chrome grille and chrome-effect door handles.
The big and bulky theme continues inside, with the dashboard packed full of large buttons that are nice and easy to use on the move. It’s pretty classy, too: every model has leather trim on the steering wheel and chrome-effect door handles; and, all but the cheapest model has a touchscreen sat-nav system. Admittedly, the Santa Fe is not as classy as some other models from the company, such as the i30, but nevertheless, it’s a smart-looking thing.
With only one engine available in the Santa Fe range, the only choice buyers have to face is between two- and four-wheel drive, and manual or automatic gearboxes. Thus far, we have only driven a four-wheel drive model with a manual transmission, and sadly the gearbox is something of a disappointment, with a notchy, slow change. Happily, the engine is strong in the low- to mid-range and you can often rely on its strength to pull you out of trouble without needing to change gear. Once you’re up and running, the car is quick enough, with its sub-10 second 0-60mph time putting it at least on a par with the Mitsubishi Outlander and Kia Sorento.
The basic Santa Fe is just a five-seater, but it has huge amounts of room for passengers and luggage alike: head- and legroom throughout are excellent, and each of the second-row seats folds down separately in the unlikely event you need more space. However, the bulk of the range has seven seats, with two individual third-row seats that fold into the floor when not needed. Admittedly, they’re not big enough for tall adults, but they’ll take a couple of kids in reasonable comfort, making the Santa Fe a realistic alternative to an MPV.
It’s too early to comment on the reliability of this particular model, but the omens are good. Hyundai is recognised as one of the most reliable brands and previous versions of the Santa Fe have proved solid bits of kit. Besides, if you do have any worries about the car’s reliability, they should be allayed by the warranty package, which includes five years of unlimited-mileage cover, roadside assistance and annual health checks.
Ride and handling
The Santa Fe has clearly been set up to provide a comfortable ride, with plenty of travel in the suspension; and, for the most part, it’s fairly effective, giving a smooth ride. However, the ride can prove rather lumpy over poor surfaces, you can often hear the suspension going about its work, and it’s not perfectly controlled. Tackle a ‘sleeping policeman’ a little too enthusiastically and the car can take a while to settle, rocking a little back and forwards. The other downside of the soft suspension is that the car suffers from a lot of body roll in bends, something which is exacerbated by the lack of side support in the seats and the steering, which is over-light and gives you precious little information about what the front wheels are up to.
Value for money is the Santa Fe’s greatest selling point; but, while it does look cheap next to a Land Rover Discovery, it’s much closer to the likes of the Mitsubishi Outlander and Kia Sorento. Naturally, the two-wheel drive models are the most economical, averaging 47.9mpg on the combined cycle, but the four-wheel drive models are nearly as good and, like the 2WD versions, emit less than 160g/km of CO2. That’s not too bad by the standards of the class, but the Mitsubishi Outlander is more impressive still. The Japanese car also looks cheaper for company car users, thanks to lower tax bills and cheaper contract hire rates, although the Santa Fe is the cheaper of the two to insure and you can keep costs down further with a fixed price servicing plan.
Other than a tyre-pressure monitoring system, which comes only on the top Premium SE model, the full safety package is standard across the range. That includes seven airbags, Downhill Brake Control and stability control, as well as anti-lock brakes with Brake Assist – all of which helped the car to an excellent five-star score in Euro NCAP crash tests.
The Santa Fe will appeal to buyers who want both the looks of a 4×4 with the practicality of an MPV. Combining seven-seat versatility with go-anywhere four-wheel drive on most models, backed up with a five-year warranty, the Santa Fe makes a fine family car.