June Neary takes to the lanes in Hyundai's Santa Fe family SUV
Will It Suit Me?
For me, mud plugging doesn't really hold any great appeal, so would Hyundai's family-sized third generation Santa Fe tempt me to join the ranks of the on-road off-roader drivers? Well, possibly. After all, it has everything you'd want from a good-sized family car and you don't have to have it with 4WD. And if I did change my mind, go for an all-wheel driven version and decide to drive across a field (I can't think why I'd do that, but you never know), I'd be tooled up for the job.
There's a choice of either five or seven-seat versions. Either way, this chunky five-door comes equipped with a whole host of goodies. Choice was definitely on the agenda when Hyundai designed this car. The top-spec 2.2-litre CRDi diesel model I tested had a sunroof, reversing sensors and air-con, along with all the usual gadgetry, including a decent CD sound system and leather seats - not my own personal favourite on the upholstery front, but each to his or her own. At least the seat facings are easy to wipe sticky marks from. One area where the old MK2 Santa Fe was noticeably slipping behind the pack was in terms of interior build quality. Although everything seemed durable and customer satisfaction surveys have shown that little goes wrong, the perception of quality was an aspect that needed addressing. So it is that the third generation Santa Fe now offers higher quality wood and metal detailing, mesh type upholstery fabrics and smart leathers. And practicality? Well, in the seven-seat version I tried, the third row of seating was difficult to reach, even for kids, but once younger ones had reached it, they seemed quite happy. Of course, with three seating rows in place, there's precious little luggage space, but if you put the rearmost chairs down, there's a decent 534-litres on offer.
Behind the Wheel
Step inside the cabin and everything falls easily to hand. All the controls are logically placed and it's quite roomy - no chance of elbowing my other half in the chest by accident. Come to think of it, it'd be pretty difficult to do it on purpose - shame. Some of my taller passengers have occasionally had to open the sunroof on test cars in order to avoid rubbing their heads against the roof lining. Thankfully, this wasn't the case in the Santa Fe. Nice touches include standard height adjustment for the driver's seat and dual power sockets so that the kids' Nintendo games needn't clash with the needs of your mobile 'phone. Responsive power steering comes as standard on all models and the ride is pretty impressive. We took the car out into the Sussex countryside for a pothole test and it came out with flying colours. It was smooth on the motorway too, so no complaints there.
Value For Money
One inevitable consequence of the Santa Fe becoming better finished, better equipped and better engineered is that prices have crept up. That price rise is partially offset by the provision of the front-wheel drive models which start at less than £26,000, with the step up to an equivalent all-wheel drive car costing around £1,400. Most UK customers want to specify a seven-seat model, a configuration that attracts a premium of around £1,200 over the five-seat layout. British buying preference is also for the 6-speed automatic gearbox that requires a £1,700 premium over the manual. In rough terms then, with the 4WD, seven seats and auto gearbox that you'll probably want to have in this car, you'll be requiring a budget of around £30,000, even in entry-level trim. If you're tempted towards this Hyundai, it'll certainly help that you get a lot of gear for your money. Even the entry-level trim will net you 18-inch alloy wheels, daytime running lights, privacy glass, power heated door mirrors, rear parking sensors, heated front seats, cruise control, the Flexsteer adjustable steering system, Bluetooth with voice recognition, a trip computer and a decent quality six-speaker stereo with Aux-in and USB connectivity and controls on the leather-covered steering wheel. Personally, I'd want to find another couple of thousand and trade up to the mid-range 'Premium' trim that would get me leather upholstery, roof rails, sat nav and a reverse parking camera.
Could I Live With One?
The Santa Fe and I have been only out a few times now, so it's probably a bit early for us to be living together. However, if we got to know each other a little better, who knows? Seriously though, the car has opened my eyes to the virtues of on-road 4x4 driving. The feeling of security and the excellent all-round visibility of 4x4s attract female buyers and I must admit that being able to see a long way up the road is a major plus. It also makes spotting parking spaces a whole lot easier! I love a bargain and always seek out quality merchandise. In this respect this car is most definitely a winner. It's spacious enough to suit my lifestyle and it's ride and handling make for effortless driving - my favourite. With all this in mind, I'd have to say yes I could live with a Santa Fe.