Hyundai Santa Fe (2018 - 2020) used car review

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By Jonathan Crouch

Introduction

Hyundai is increasingly offering some very high quality cars and one of them was the original version of the fourth generation 'TM'-series design, launched in 2018 and sold only with a diesel engine until Spring 2021. In this early diesel form, the MK4 'TM' generation Santa Fe offered a more spacious, better quality cabin than its direct predecessor and came with seven seats as standard. Plus its 2.2-litre diesel was one of the gutsier offerings in the SUV 'D'-segment from its period. This sleeker MK4 design brought a sharper sense of style to this model line, yet also had a look that hinted at the kind of adventure the brand claimed customers would be able to better exploit thanks to a redeveloped optional 4WD system. It's an SUV for people who probably never thought they'd drive an SUV. A Hyundai for those who probably never thought they'd drive a Hyundai. It also has a level of towing capacity missing from more recent electrified Santa Fe models.

Models

5dr SUV (EV) [SE, Premium, Premium SE]

History

The very first Santa Fe was launched back in 2001, that early 'SM'-series model very much a budget brand SUV option. It's second generation successor though, launched five years later, showed that the Korean maker was capable of much more. That 'CM'-series design was the first relatively affordable crossover to blur the boundaries between the mid-sized class and the large SUV segment better suited to bigger families. With it, Santa Fe buyers paid compact sector prices but got the kind of 7-seat capacity they'd previously needed a much larger SUV for: all good. The third generation 'NC'-series model of 2012 built on that success and sold for six years until the original version of the fourth generation 'TM'-series design was first launched - and that's the car we look at here. It sold until Spring 2021, when Hyundai ditched diesel and relaunched this MK4 model with a choice of Hybrid or Plug-in 1.6 T-GDI petrol powertrains. It's the earlier diesel versions of this MK4 model we look at here.

What You Get

Over four generations, the Santa Fe has typified an impressive evolution in Hyundai design. This 'TM'-series design was a little bigger than its direct predecessor, as buyers of the previous model might note from a profile perspective. The 70mm length increase may not sound like that much but it was enough to mean that Hyundai this time round had no need to offer the larger Grand Santa Fe body shape that it had previously sold in other markets. It also ensured that this car would take up a parking space around 4.7-metres in long - which in size terms isn't that far off a large luxury SUV - say a Range Rover Sport - from the next class up.

The silhouette here though, is a little less stylised than you'd get with a 4x4 of that sort. Primarily because the rear side windows dip deeply towards the waist of the car to improve visibility for passengers riding in the rear. At the wheel, the unusually angular dashboard styling of the previous third generation model was replaced by a layout that proved to be more universally appealing. The central infotainment screen was no longer as seamlessly incorporated into the dash as had been before, its higher positioning making it easier to see.

Cabin quality still isn't at premium brand levels but took a noticeable step forward here in a way that'll be particularly evident if you're in an upper-spec variant, with its handcrafted leather seat quilting and textured door speakers. What didn't change here was the properly commanding high-set SUV seating position which delivers impressive all-round visibility from the glassier body shell. More key MK4 model improvements feature relate to the driving instruments. Avoid entry-level trim and the instrument binnacle features a 7-inch central colour TFT display that on the auto model changes colour according to drive mode selection.

What about the second row? Well, once you get comfortable, there's a much greater feel of space than was the case with the previous generation version of this model. It's not an illusion either. Hyundai claimed that legroom in this part of the car had been increased by 38mm for this MK4 model, though the actual amount of space you get will depend on the way you position the sliding seat base, which can be moved back and forward across a 300mm range.

And the third row? Well once you're in, there is - as advertised - more room than you usually get in the rearmost pews of a typical 'D'-segment 7-seat SUV, thanks to the extra body length we referred to earlier. Here, this freed up just enough room to more comfortably accommodate the couple of full-sized adults who would have been significantly more cramped in the previous generation version of this car.

Of course, with the rearmost seats in place, there's won't be much room for luggage - but then of course that's true of any seven-seater that isn't directly based on a van. Lift the tailgate (which is powered above entry-level trim) and you'll find that with all three rows in place, you'll only have enough space for a few shopping bags. Of course, most of the time, you're probably going to be using your Santa Fe with the third row chairs folded flush into the boot floor - which frees up a total of 547-litres of space. Completely flatten the central bench and 1,662-litres of fresh air can be freed up.

What You Pay

Prices start at around £23,750 for a typical 'SE'-spec 2WD variant on a '19-plate, with values rising to around £29,250 for the last of the pre-facelift '20-plate models. Budget around £2,000 more for mid-range 'Premium' trim - and around £3,000 more for the same car with 4WD.

What to Look For

By 2018, Hyundai had solved the crankshaft position sensor problem that had caused engines in earlier Santa Fe model to develop faults. A few engine problems were still reported on our customer survey though, some involving the car's engine/electrical systems interfering with one another, causing engines to idle inappropriately, hesitate, or cut off. A problem was also found with the emergency system that alerts the emergency services with your exact GPS location in the event of airbag deployment in a crash - though this should have been fixed as part of a product recall. Otherwise, it's just the usual things for a luxury SUV of this type. Check all the media tech on your test drive - and the workings of the navigation system to see if it's been kept up to date. Check the touchscreens and Bluetooth connectivity. Check the leather upholstery for cuts and stains. And inspect the alloy wheels for kerbing damage. Check all the electrical functions too. And insist on a fully stamped-up service history.

Replacement Parts

(approx based on a 2018 Santa Fe 2.2 CRDI AWD - Ex Vat) Front brake pads sit in the £40-£42 bracket; rear pad sets are around £37. Front brake discs sit in the £123-£133 bracket; rear discs are around £61. A pollen filter is around £8. A mirror glass is around £18. A wiper blade is in the £14-£30 bracket. An oil filter is around £22. A fuel filter is around £81.

On the Road

You might need your SUV to be a large seven-seat family wagon, but there's no reason why it has to handle like a bus. Better 'D'-segment models from this century's second decade don't - and this is one of them. Even on quite narrow roads, you don't really feel this Santa Fe's actually quite prodigious size. That's not to say that this Hyundai feels in any way 'sporty' - but what SUV of this size is? Revisions to the rack-mounted electric steering system and a stiffer body structure thanks to this fourth generation design's stiffer platform both helped to deliver a little more composure through the turns - or at least as much as a large SUV weighing nearly 2.0-tonnes is ever going to give you anyway. Hyundai offered Santa Fe buyers looking at this 2018-2021-era diesel model a choice of 2WD and 4WD drivelines: most took up the option of All Wheel Drive traction, governed by the brand's 'HTRAC' 4x4 system.

Like other models in this segment, this one is somewhat limited in the extent to which it can tackle really gnarly terrain, but lighter forest tracks are easily coped with via the kind of usual 'on demand' 4x4 system you tend to get in this segment that brings the rear axle into play only when a lack of traction demands it. With this MK4 Santa Fe, Hyundai embellished that standard set-up with its 'HTRAC' package. This gives you some say in altering the front-to-rear torque-split via various 'Drive Select' modes that vary the amount of power the system sends rearwards, thereby altering the drive demeanour you get. This technology was designed to work with the brand's 8-speed auto gearbox, an option on this car most original buyers took up. It certainly makes it an accomplished highway cruiser - which is the point at which you'll maximise the potential efficiency figures from this model's 200PS 2.2-litre CRDi diesel engine, which in the 4WD auto model are rated at 44.8mpg on the combined cycle and 164g/km of CO2 (both NEDC figures). It's a gutsier powerplant than cheaper rivals often offer, able to properly endorse this model's tow car credentials; manual variants can tug along up to 2,500kgs.

Overall

The fourth generation Hyundai Santa Fe improved significantly. Its predecessor was a convincing contender that looks a great used buy, but this replacement car added in an extra layer of polish. And, unlike later MK4 Santa Fe models, it wasn't compromised in terms of towing by smaller capacity petrol engines. With this original MK4 'TM'-series car, you had to have a gutsy diesel.

Which might work well for you if you've got a growing family, have room in your life for just a single car and need one that's stylish, practical and will discreetly go the distance without a hiccup. If so, then it's well worth trying one of these. Do that and who knows. You might once again, start to believe in Santa.

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