What are you driving?
The fourth-generation Hyundai Santa Fe. Power comes from a sole 2.2-litre turbodiesel engine, though buyers can keep costs down by going for the entry-level front-wheel-drive version, or one with a manual gearbox. We reckon the Santa Fe really needs four-wheel drive to be at its best and, given that this generation has taken a step up in terms of luxury, it might be prudent to invest in the resale value of your purchase by going for the new eight-speed automatic option, too. Here we're testing the range-topper, called the Executive Plus version, which has both. It's also weighed down with equipment, as you'd hope for the asking price.
Name its best bits
There's a lot to like about this new Santa Fe; it has taken a big step forward from its predecessor in several areas, a car that was always in high demand. The interior quality and ambience grab you immediately, especially in the Executive Plus version we test here, with soft quilted leather, a Krell sound system and double-glazed front door glass all adding to the luxury image. Sure, there are a few harder-wearing plastics to be found in the cabin if you go looking, but that's not unusual in the least. Hyundai's latest dashboard and instrumentation are good-looking, clear and easy to use, too, if not quite as high-tech as the latest from the premium manufacturers. More importantly, space in the front two rows of seating is generous and we found the front seats especially comfortable on the lower back.
Now, all of the above will matter more to most SUV buyers than what I am about to say, but the way Santa Fe handles the road is noteworthy to say the least. It doesn't have sophisticated adaptive suspension and this car is riding on 19-inch alloy wheels, but even so, it deals incredibly well with bad Irish roads. It means less chance of car sickness on long journeys for your passengers, an all-round sense of luxury and comfort and, when you're in a hurry, the ability to maintain high speeds in safety without feeling like you're asking the Santa Fe to do something outside its comfort zone. It's a polished chassis, that's for sure. More so than it needs to be.
Anything that bugs you?
Given all the changes in the market, it's a little surprising there aren't other engine options for the Santa Fe. The 2.2-litre turbodiesel, while hushed on a cruise, well-matched to the automatic transmission and generally powerful enough for most drivers, isn't the quietest at start-up and around town. Oh, and for your information, the rearmost seats are short on space for adults and their use means a paltry amount of luggage space behind. But what's new for a seven-seat SUV?
And why have you given it this rating?
Hyundai's stalwart SUV is under fire from all directions. The mainstream brands are on the offensive with efficient new SUVs that don't have the weight of workhorse expectation on them, allowing them focus on the family-carrying side of the equation. And yet, the premium marques have more SUVs on offer than ever before. The new Santa Fe attempts to straddle the middle ground, being more 'premium' than before, without abandoning its no-nonsense roots. It makes for an accomplished and unassuming family SUV that also happens to be rather good at most things.
What do the rest of the team think?
This feels like a big step up for the Santa Fe, which in fairness it needs to be given the chunky price tag. It now feels like a proper, premium product with excellent cabin quality and very good long-haul refinement. It's good to drive too, dealing neatly with twisty roads, even if you'd struggle to call it a driver's car. Tonnes of cabin space too, which will make it popular with (well-heeled) family buyers. Impressive stuff, really.
Neil Briscoe - Editor-at-large