The Hyundai Santa Fe might not be as sought-after as some German four-wheel drives – but it should be, says Charles Rangeley-Wilson, because it’s comfortable, refined and classy.
About five years ago, my father chopped in his well-regarded and quite new German car for a Hyundai Santa Fe. My son asked if his grandad was quite well. ‘A Hyundai?’ he said incredulously. ‘Why?’
The local Hyundai dealer had made my father an offer that was too tempting, except, of course, that he was selling a Hyundai. Stranger still, my father still has it five years later – an unprecedented length of tenure for him.
With a growing suspicion that I might be missing a trick, I keenly accepted Hyundai’s recent invitation to try one of its many new models and, of course, I picked the Santa Fe. Not only because my father now fancies trading up to the latest version and was curious to see it, but also because when looked at objectively, the Santa Fe, with four-wheel drive and tons of room, is an obvious choice for Country Life readers. Except, of course, that it’s a Hyundai.
Confirming my hunch that such a market is an uphill run for the Korean company, the chap who owns our local independent garage, a Country Life reader, petrol head and all-round car expert, had looked at me nonplussed when I told him about the new car in my driveway.
‘It’s a bloody good car,’ I said, with evangelising zeal.
‘Yeah,’ he said, ‘but it’s a Hyundai.’
A steep hill, then. However, Hyundai will be at the top very soon if the new Santa Fe is anything to go by, because it really is a bloody good car.
And I don’t mean surprisingly good, considering. And I don’t mean in spite of the fact that, heated seat for heated seat, it’s much better value than its European rivals. I mean it’s a bloody good car, full stop. Comfortable, refined and classy.
Those looking for flat cornering, however, should probably look elsewhere. Hyundai has built this car with easy companionship, not track days in mind. The steering isn’t as sharp nor the turn-in as tight as the more Teutonic opposition. Instead, pliant damping and generous tyre profiles give you a smooth and unfussy ride over Britain’s choppy B roads and pot-holed city streets.
The choice of engines is intriguingly narrow: there’s only one. Happily, that’s just fine. Hyundai’s 2.2-litre, four-cylinder CRDi unit kicks out 200bhp, together with gobs of low-down torque and, at all states of play except loafer to the carpet, provides refined and quiet propulsion, well matched to the easy gait. Only at those away-from-the-lights or up-the-hill moments, when you have to put some air into the thing, did the engine become at all noisy. Once settled at a given speed or in easy acceleration, it’s superbly suppressed and the eight-speed auto gearbox is ideal.
Inside, the comfort continues. Great seats. Perfect driving position. Good layout of controls and an overall feeling of solidity. The Premium SE test car was well-specced, too: blind-spot and lane-wandering warning, heated steering wheel, ventilated seats, swivel-eyed Xenon lights, heads-up speedo, space-observatory sunroof and so on. It’s all there. Sure, there are more stylish and luxurious interiors, but not by much and not by enough that it matters.
In terms of space, however, this SUV has the competition licked. With the driver’s seat as far back as I’d ever want it I could still climb into the row behind and actually stretch my legs out. I could also tilt the seat back and discover second-row comfort that matched the front. (There is a third row, too, although only tiny people need apply.)
Ladies and gents, this is truly rare in anything other than a sedan designed for chauffeurs and their employers and enough, quite enough, to steal the show, in my opinion. Incredulity is no longer appropriate. It’s a Hyundai, it’s built in Korea, it’s muscling into the smart end of the car park and it belongs there, too.
Hyundai Santa Fe: On the road
Price: From £33,425; £43,985 as driven
Combined fuel consumption: 44.8mpg
0–60mph: 9.3 seconds
Top speed: 127mph
Our motoring expert Charles Rangeley-Wilson will never look back after test driving this incredible car.
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