Judge all other crossovers by the new Santa Fe

Wed, Jan 2, 2013, 00:00

ROAD TEST:Amid the reports of stagnant new car sales and dealer closures, Hyundai is recording remarkable growth. It is now the sixth biggest brand in Ireland, rubbing shoulders with the well-established household names. Its Irish importer has done particularly well from the success, recording a 37 per cent growth in turnover in 2011 and profits of €3.4 million.

The story of the Korean brand’s growth has been told before, but it’s often attributed to its expanding model line-up. What should not be forgotten is that for most Irish motorists for most of the last decade Hyundai was about one model – the Santa Fe.

This model was a brand in itself, the relatively affordable answer to SUV desires.

First generation models were a bit lumpy in performance, too soft for any real off-roading and a little unsophisticated around the edges. Over the years the model has improved but this time we get a major overhaul in both design, refinement and handling.

So much so that the Santa Fe name was at one stage going to be replaced. It was clearly a tough decision but the name is just too strong – arguably stronger than the brand name itself – so it stays.

The exterior of the latest model is far more refined than previous generations and this refinement is carried forward inside, where much of the look and trim is taken from the popular i40 family car range, including touchscreen controls and switchgear.

Where once Hyundai represented the budget end of the market, the Santa Fe now has the equal of rivals like the Honda CR-V in terms of comfort and equipment levels. The level of standard equipment is very impressive. This is a very competitive marketplace, with a host of rivals on offer and aside from the dealer network and the brand reputation, it’s the little things that will win over customers. That’s why the Santa Fe is arguably one of the major players in this crossover market.

The Santa Fe boasts seven seats, but in reality you would need the dexterity of a Russian gymnast to make proper use of the third row of seats and they are only for small children or the very occasional short run to the school and back. This is a five-plus-two format rather than a real rival to the big people carriers.

Under the bonnet is a 2.2-litre diesel that is well-matched to a relatively short-throw manual transmission. It’s well-suited to the car and in keeping with the overall refinement of the car, quiet yet refined.

It’s as comfortable sitting at motorway speeds as it is fighting through a muddy field. It’s hardly worth mentioning that this is a crossover and not a tractor so even the four-wheel-drive version is really for towing and muddy ditches rather than mountain passes. The handling is a little dead for our tastes, not helped by Hyundai’s Flexsteer system that offers three choices of feel from sporty to comfort, none of which improve matters. Aside from showing off to friends and neighbours it’s likely you will spend most of the time in either normal or sport. The “sport” tag is a misnomer because its not exactly racy, but it gives you a more informed steering feel.

The €40,000 family SUV sector of the market is very well catered for and buyers have plenty of choice. However, for all that’s on offer, the Santa Fe is one of the first on the list.

It has an established reputation with a strong customer base, which means there will be a ready market when it comes time to trade in. There’s also the reassurance of Hyundai’s five-year unlimited mileage warranty that offers great peace of mind.

Finally there’s the level of equipment, which certainly matches what’s on offers from even the big premium rivals. There are already anecdotal tales from the forecourts of motorists trading in premium behemoth SUVs that would have cost six figures when bought new and opting for the new Santa Fe.

The market might seem awash with small and mid-sized soft-roaders these days and there are certainly lower-priced rivals but the Santa Fe is the benchmark against which the others should be judged.

The lowdown: Hyundai Santa Fe

ENGINE

2,199cc turbodiesel engine putting out 197bhp @ 3,800rpm

SPECIFICATION

Standard features include: Bluetooth with voice control; reversing camera; four- spoke multifunction steering wheel; ABS with EBD; ESP (electronic stability programme); six airbags including driver’s knee air bag; downhill brake control; hill start assist; trailer stability control; speed sensitive door locks with crash unlock; MP3 compatible , AUX, USB and iPod interface; my music hard drive storage, up to six CDs; manual air conditioning; flex steer system with individual settings; cruise control with speed limiter (on steering wheel); glove box cooler; LED day time running lights; 40/20/40 split folding rear seats; leather steering wheel and gear-knob; 17 Inch alloy wheels

EMISSIONS

149g/km (4WD version with manual transmission)

RIVALS

Mitsubishi Outlander 4WD, €36, 950; Toyota Rav-4 4WD 2.2 D-4D Soll, €36,445; Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0 TDi 140bhp 4motion Spot, €35,490

PRICE

€41,995