A mid-sized SUV that was capable and honest when launched, the Santa Fe is now clearly feeling the march of time and is on the cusp of replacement. Even so, the fundamental point of its existence, to fill the hole between smaller, more recreational SUVs and full-sized monsters such as the Land Rover Discovery, remains valid. This is a seven-seat off-roader but smaller and cheaper than the norm. The Santa Fe can be specified in three trim levels and with five or seven seats. Whatever you choose, it’ll be powered by a 194bhp 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel with permanent four-wheel drive. Rivals, such as they are, come no closer than the Kia Sorento.
The car may be old but its engine is state of the art. That and a rather lower kerb weight enable it to provide broadly similar performance to that of a Discovery (slightly inferior acceleration, slightly better top speed) and to beat its fuel consumption figure by more than 11mpg. The engine is refined, too, at its best when hooked up to the optional six-speed automatic gearbox.
Unsurprisingly, given the Santa Fe’s near two-ton kerb weight and high centre of gravity, reserves of grace under pressure while it is being hustled down a country lane are limited. Grip levels are low and roll rates high, but the Santa Fe rarely gets flustered and puts up with such treatment with what’s best described as benign indifference. The ride is less impressive, with too much crashing and banging from inadequately damped suspension movements over rough surfaces.
It’s an effective rural workhorse, too. It’ll tow 2,500kg, a ton less than a Discovery can manage but enough for most purposes, and unlike most soft-roaders it won’t give up completely in the mud. A Land Rover it ain’t, but its ground clearance and approach and departure angles are better than most and it comes with hill descent control, an underbody skid plate and, in seven-seat models, self-levelling rear suspension as standard.
It’s here that the Santa Fe most feels its age. The materials used, including carbon-effect trim on the doors and awful wood finishes to the dash as well as a mishmash of other plastics of varying quality, didn’t create much of a stir when the car was introduced in 2006. Time has done little to improve matters.
Anyone wondering how Hyundai squeezes seven seats into such a compact shape need only climb aboard to wonder no more. Legroom in the front and middle rows is restricted, and the individually folding rear seats are hard to get into and strictly for children only. At least, if you fold down the middle and rear seats, a massive load area is available.
The one to buy
Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2 CRDi Style (7-seat)
- 2199cc, 4 cylinders
- 194bhp @ 3800rpm
- 311 lb ft @ 1800rpm
- 6-speed manual
- 0-62mph in 9.8sec
- Top speed:
- 41.5mpg (combined)
- Road tax band:
- L 4660mm, W 1890mm, H 1760mm
Or buy used for similar money
- Mercedes Benz GL (Check Mercedes Benz GL used car prices on driving.co.uk)
- Land Rover Discovery (Check Land Rover Discovery used car prices on driving.co.uk)
- BMW X5 (Check BMW X5 used car prices on driving.co.uk)