SEVEN-seat SUVs seem to be weathering the economic and environmental storms better than anyone imagined.
Just a week after Kia launched its impressive Sorento the Hyundai Santa Fe, probably the Kia’s closest rival, rolled in to the car park at Advertiser HQ.
Now boasting more frugal engines, a more honest road-oriented premise and family-sized accommodation, it seems that manufacturers are sticking with the SUV.
Hyundai, with their five year warranty and more than 33,000 scrappage sales in the bag, has recently sharpened up the act of its Santa Fe and this is the latest incarnation.
In range-topping, seven seat, 2.2CRDi Premium spec, the Santa Fe comes in at £25,495.
Just the one choice of engine and two specifications—Style and Premium—make for a straightforward range but the option of five or seven seats and a manual or automatic gearbox offers a few choices.
Prices start at £21,495 for the five-seat Style, with a manual gearbox.
Hyundai have done their utmost to cement the Santa Fe’s emphasis on value through its specification and appearance.
By comparison to Kia’s Sorento it has a smoother, more organic, slightly less butch external design.
Frowning headlights reminiscent of those found on an Audi Q5 and a prominent chrome framed grille dominate the front while a new bumper and fog light set up add to a sporty, head down silhouette.
There’s a coupe-like sleekness to the front end’s relatively low bonnet.
But the rear, formed no doubt, with the accommodation of the rear-most of a possible seven passengers in mind, looks tall and unwieldy by comparison.
Inside is the evidence of why Korean cars are finally reaching the sales success their value-based brief never truly delivered in the past.
The Santa Fe Premium boasts a top spec and dispenses with the hard, uncompromising plastics.
Heated leather seats, chrome bezelled dials, a brushed aluminium-effect centre console and textured plastics bring an air of quality. Even the cool blue backlighting is nicely judged.
Only a swathe of carbon-effect trim could be considered a step too far in the hunt for new, visually appealing materials in the spacious cabin.
The controls for the stereo, dual-zone climate control and cruise control are intuitive to use and I even managed to find my way around the iPod connection, which gives full access to all your music files and is the same system as that used by Kia in the Sorento.
The rearmost of the seats aren’t as short on headroom as most seven-seat SUVs and stowing them in the boot floor liberates a whopping 969 litres of stowage space—438 litres up on the Sorento.
Up front, the driving position is upright and commanding but somewhat let down by head restraints which interfered with the back of my head and a sense that my forehead was unusually close to the top of the windscreen.
The 2.2 CRDi engine delivers 194bhp and 322lb.ft. of torque and offers impressive performance as well as refinement once warmed through.
The six-speed automatic gearbox helps provide ample, toque-rich urge and the Santa Fe feels well up to Hyundai’s claims of a 10.4 second sprint to 62mph, with an impressive turn of pace.
Hyundai claim fuel consumption of 38.2mpg and CO2 emissions of 197g/km (41.5mpg and 176g/km for the manual), the former figure identical top Kia’s Sorento and the latter falling just 3g/km up.
A green ‘ECO’ light beside the speedo illuminates when the Santa Fe is driven economically in an attempt to coach drivers in the art of saving fuel but, I imagine, it only works if you were too dim to realise that mashing the accelerator into the carpet uses more fuel than tickling it with your toes.
Either way, the figures are impressive figures for a big, four-wheel-drive seven-seater.
That size is felt, on the road, in form of roll. Where the powerful diesel engine does a great job of disguising the Santa Fe’s scale, the springs and dampers fall just short.
Though plush, the ride can transmit bigger bumps through the chassis in the form of a sharp jolt and there is a degree of lean through tighter bends.
Hyundai have attempted to create a usable SUV alternative to the people carrier, or MPV, in its Santa Fe and in many ways the project has been a success.
Emissions and fuel consumption are on a par, there’s huge stowage space or room for seven and there’s that adventurous feeling only a premium off-roader can offer out on the road.
But access to those rear most seats is never going to be equal that of a box-on-wheels MPV and the interior quality and general drive of Kia’s new proposition puts it ahead on points in the ‘premium SUV on a budget’ stakes.
So, there are compromises with the Santa Fe, but an array of impressive strengths to boot.
Hyundai Santa Fe
Engine: 2.2-litre, four-cylinder, turbodiesel
Power: 194bhp and 322lb.ft.
Performance: 0 to 62mph in 10.7 seconds and 122mph
Fuel economy: 38.2mpg (combined)
CO2 emissions: 197g/km
Price: £25,495 (as tested)
For: Lots of space, strong performance and solid build quality. That five year warranty
Against: Suspension was ruffled by Rotherham’s pot holes