► Costs up to £45,000
► Genuine seven-seater
► We're also running one as a long-termer
Santa Fe’s come early this year. Ahead of its public de-robing at Geneva in March, we’ve driven Hyundai’s D-SUV in its home town of Seoul, South Korea, to bring you the low-down. We're also now running one as a long-termer, too, and you can skip to that at the bottom the article.
In fact, our drive is so previous, we’ve got next-to-no clue on the specs to expect for the UK market when it goes up against Korean sister the Kia Sorento, the Skoda Kodiaq and Nissan’s X-Trail.
What we do know is that Hyundai’s piled on the posh here. Pricing and specs have yet to be announced but it’s a fair assumption that you’ll be able to order a Santa Fe knocking on the door of £45,000, which incidentally is also decent-spec Land Rover Discovery Sport money and well into VW Tiguan Allspace (Biguan) territory.
This has been justified by liberal use of leather and soft-touch plastics in the admittedly far smarter cabin, though you’ll still spot some cheaper-feeling finishing if you poke around a bit.
Outside the styling’s been tweaked to make the Santa Fe look brawnier while maintaining Hyundai’s cascading grille up front, and an extended wheelbase with shorter front and rear overhangs means its dimensions remain similar but interior space has been improved.
Sounds great, but what’s the 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe’s like to drive?
For this market? Difficult to say. We drove a 2.0-litre diesel that was impressive enough, but also not coming anywhere near the UK in right-hand drive. We’ll be treated to a torquier 2.2-litre diesel with a variable-geometry turbo and 194bhp, but thanks to its heavy kerbweight its performance figures make for somewhat dull reading: 0-62mph in 9.3sec and 126mph all-in. It should tow a good amount though…
What we did sample was Hyundai’s latest transmission, which is an eight-speed torque-convertor auto feeding twist through to a revised part-time AWD system. This operates in front-driven mode only if you’ve switched the car to Eco mode, but sends 35% rearwards in its Comfort setting to maintain optimum cornering stability.
If you’re feeling frisky then dial up to Sport for up to a 50:50 torque split depending on conditions, but don’t expect Stelvio levels of engagement here, despite the slightly spikey ride quality on the largest-available 19” alloys. The Santa Fe is damp rather than dazzling; the uninteresting steering offering no more than a half a crossword clue’s worth of a hint of what’s happening under the front rubber.
And anyway, here’s a learned prediction on the number of actual buyers who’ll engage Sport mode more than once: None.
That’s not the idea. Instead Santa Fe’s a practicality paragon, fine for families with safety on the synapses. And in this respect things look much rosier. The wheelbase has been extended to 2765mm and this has unlocked a vast amount of space inside.
Is it a genuine seven-seater?
Actually, unlike a lot of modern attempts – namely the Skodiaq and the Biguan – the rear bench is useable for normal-sized humans. We tested it in seven-seat mode and found realistic room for six big ugly blokes to sit together in comfort. It’s only the middle seat on row two that’s a little tight, but even so it’s a valiant effort, with acres of headroom on offer even with the panoramic sliding glass roof. That second bench slides on rails quite a way fore and aft, so there’s decent adjustability to cater for most requirements.
The boot ranges from handbag-sized in seven-seat mode to Hindenburg proportions with all five back perches all folded away.
On the subject of airbags, among its six are curtains protecting third-row occupants should the worst happen.
But it shouldn’t, because (surprise surprise) there’s a load of autonomous kit on board to stop you coming a-cropper. It’s not quite Nexo levels of impressiveness, but works more smoothly than a lot of other firm’s current efforts. Lane-keeping, adaptive cruise and auto-braking form the core, and it’s only Subaru’s Eyesight system that feels properly ahead of the curve here.
The Santa Fe doesn’t represent a bold step into the unknown for Hyundai. Instead it’s an iterative improvement on what was already an impressive package. It’s more practical than ever with a far smarter look, all the safety kit modern family buyers will want and doesn’t drive badly either.
In all, a decent effort, albeit not a particularly memorable one.
Month 1: It’s a pity they forget to make them memorable
‘Remember that big SUV we hired in America a couple of years ago,’ I told my partner when I heard we’d be running a Santa Fe. ‘It’s the new version of that.’
Except it isn’t. The US road-trip rental was actually a Kia Sorento. Oops. But that’s frequently been the trouble with Korean cars. The engineering is solid, the value for money unquestionable. But they’re often as memorable as muzak.
Or at least they were. The Kia Soul, Hyundai i30N and Kia Stinger have all shown they can do substance and style as well as long warranties. That confidence carries over to this new fourth-generation Santa Fe, a jumbo-jeep with a starting price not far off £35,000.
Aimed at cars like the Skoda Kodiaq, Nissan X-Trail, Peugeot 5008 and the Santa Fe’s own cousin, the Kia Sorento, the Hyundai looks expensive at first glance. You’ll pay around £26k to get into a basic Kodiaq or 5008, but the leanest Santa Fe will set you back £33,425.
Dig deeper into the spec and it’s easy to explain the difference. The entry-level 5008 and Kodiaq come with puny engines, little kit and endless options lists.
That’s not the Hyundai way. There are only three Santa Fe trims (SE, Premium and Premium SE), only one engine (a 2.2-litre diesel), and they all come with seven seats.
The toys includes adaptive cruise, auto braking and lane departure warning. Premium adds leather, a bigger touchscreen, heated front and rear seats, keyless entry and premium hi-fi, while our Premium SE tops that with a panoramic roof, cornering lights, a head-up display and 360º parking cameras.
In fact there are only two options available on the Premium SE. The first is your choice of paint should you not fancy the standard Horizon Red pearl finish. The second is a full four-wheel-drive transmission in place of the standard front-drive.
The middle row slides back and forth and the final row folds neatly under the floor when not in use. You can also fold one section of each of the two back rows down to create a long loadbay and still have seating for three, which means I’ll be able to take my kids surfing without having to fork out for a new set of Kia-specific feet for my Thule roof bars and board carrier. Did I say Kia? Only kidding. But the Santa Fe has six months to convince us it’s worth making the effort to remember.
By Chris Chilton
Performance 2199cc turbodiesel 4-cyl, 197bhp, 9.4sec 0-62mph, 127mph
Efficiency 38.7mpg (official), 35.8mpg (tested), 164g/km CO
Energy cost 16.5p per mile
Miles this month 3001
Total miles 3378