The Clarkson review: Hyundai Santa-Fe Premium (2013)


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Motoring journalism: someone brings a car to your house on a Monday morning. It’s clean, full of fuel and insured. You have it for a week and then you say whether you like it or not. Couldn’t be easier.

That was certainly the case when I began in the job, because adjusting the vehicle to suit my requirements was a doddle. I simply tweaked the reins and jiggled the saddle around, and all was well. Even as recently as five years ago things were a piece of cake. The car was dropped off and all I needed to do to get comfortable was move the seat back.

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Now, though, it’s often Saturday afternoon before I’ve got it set up just so. Because every single thing is adjustable. Not just the seat but the components inside it: the lumbar support, the massage facility, the headrest. All have been set to suit the chap who dropped it off and they need to be reset to suit me.

When you’ve done that — and I’m well aware these are First World problems — you have to waste more valuable time finding the button that adjusts the suspension. Or, as I discovered with the Audi RS 4 that I wrote about here recently, you spend the whole time being vibrated so badly that your skeleton turns to dust.

Then we get to the climate control. You used to have a choice: warm or cold. Now you can select a temperature — to within half a degree — for each person in the car. This takes about a week. And you don’t have a week because you are way too busy reconfiguring the sat nav.

Most press-fleet delivery drivers like to have the map constantly spinning round so it’s pointing in the direction of travel. I prefer north to be up. So I have to find the buttons that make this possible and work out the sequence in which they have to be pressed — hard when the lumbar support is digging into your back and the temperature is set at absolute zero. And you’ve got the suspension set on Rock. And then we get to the voice guidance. I cannot imagine for the life of me why delivery drivers like to have their chosen radio station interrupted every few seconds by a woman barking orders when there’s a perfectly good map on the dash. But most do. Which means I have to work out how she may be silenced.

If I designed a sat nav system, there would be a massive red button in the middle of the steering wheel marked “Silence the Nazi”. But I haven’t. So there isn’t. And in the Hyundai Santa Fe I was driving last week that was a problem.

I tried every single thing I could think of. I even resorted to pulling over and reaching into the glovebox for the handbook . . . which wasn’t there. So eventually I had to turn to Twitter. And it worked. I was told that while the woman was speaking, I had to turn the volume knob to zero. Doing so at any other time would simply silence the stereo. Not that this would have been a bad thing, as it had been left on Radio 1.

Small wonder the satellite recently launched by the Korean rocket went out of control once it had got into orbit. It had probably been driven mad by the constant stream of spoken instructions about where it had to go next.

So, anyway, the first impressions of the Hyundai were not good. And the second weren’t much cop either. Because it’s all a bit rubbishy.

Cleverly, the company has fitted a soft-touch leather steering wheel, so the first thing you touch when you get inside feels expensive and luggzurious. But don’t be fooled, because everything else feels cheap and nasty. The box between the front seats, for instance, has the quality of a Third World bucket. Johnny Hyundai knew a box was necessary and fitted one with no thought at all about how it felt to the touch. If he’d thought for a moment that it could be made from cardboard, it would have been.

Then we have the leather that covers the seats. It is leather. It must have come from a cow. But most cows I’ve seen are made from meat. The cows Hyundai uses are plainly a bit more synthetic.

This, then, is not a car you can love, because you sense all the time that it was made using bottom-line engineering by a gigantic Korean corporation that produces cars only to make money.

Small wonder this car is so popular with caravannists. They choose to go on what nobody else in the world would call a holiday. So it stands to reason that they like what I can’t really call a car.

However, the Santa Fe is cheap. The high-end, seven-seat, four-wheel-drive version that I tested is £30,195, way less than you’d have to pay for a European seven-seat, four-wheel-drive car.

It’s also cheap to run, though only if you go for a version with a manual gearbox. The automatic will send your fuel bills through the roof.

The options list, however, will not. You get, as standard, ABS, BAS, DBC, EPB, ESP, ESS, HAC, TSA and VSM. This thing has more abbreviations than the British Army. And more airbags — seven, to be precise. In fact, it’s hard to think of anything you’d get on a Volvo XC90 or a Land Rover Discovery that you don’t get on the Santa Fe. Apart from a sense of style, wellbeing and oneness with yourself.

That said, the Hyundai’s not a bad looker and it drives pretty well too. Again, the people who set up the suspension were plainly dancing to a tune conducted by the company’s accounts department, so they haven’t gone the extra mile. Or even the extra inch. It’s not a rewarding car to drive in any way, but it goes round most corners at most speeds without crashing.

Can it go off road? Yes, but not very far. With a part-time four-wheel-drive system, it’ll get your caravan into a field. But it probably won’t get it out again. Which is a good thing for the rest of us.

And so, as we approach the end, I have to start thinking about a conclusion. It’s tricky. Because the petrol in my veins dislikes cars of this type in the way that a restaurant critic would dislike a McDonald’s Filet-o-Fish.

However, in the real world where people live, where a quail’s egg’s a bit daft, the Filet-o-Fish is very popular. And there’s my problem. In the real world the Santa Fe is cheap, it doesn’t drink a lot of diesel, it’s well equipped, it’s good-looking and the 2.2-litre engine is torquey enough to pull your caravan. Even if it’s a Sterling Europa 565. So who cares if the seats are a bit plasticky?

It’s not a car for the silly world in which I live. But elsewhere it’s bloody brilliant.


Verdict ★★★★☆

It’s a load-lugger that’s not from la-la-land.


2199cc, 4 cylinders
194bhp @ 3800rpm
311 lb ft @ 1800rpm
6-speed manual
0-62mph: 9.8 sec
Top Speed:
46.3mpg (combined)
Road Tax Band:
G (£170 for the first year)
L 4689mm, W 1880mm, H 1679mm


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