2-litre diesel engine, it offers a choice between five or seven seats and two or four-wheel drive. 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. In short, a car that promises to surprise you.
in recent years, we've seen the pendulum swing towards 'sporty' 4x4s that cornered well but ultimately, it rides and handles exactly as most will want a big family vehicle to do, not an easy balance to achieve in something this big, tall and heavy.
You can even tweak the steering to suit your mood, thanks to the FLEXSTEER set-up we first saw on Hyundai’s i30 family hatch. It’s a system that varies the steering weight between a light ‘comfort’ mode, a heavier ‘sport’ setting and ‘normal’, a balance between the two you’ll probably end up choosing. Like most of these types of things, it’s fun to play with for the first few miles, then you end up never using it.
Hardly less frequent will be the typical Santa Fe user’s need for 4WD capability, one reason why front-driven 2WD variants are offered at the foot of the range for the very first time. Don't dismiss this option out of hand. In this form, this Hyundai’s excellent value, gets good economy and with a set of winter tyres will probably be able to handle anything the British weather can throw at it.
If however, rather understandably, you can see little point in choosing an SUV-style car without SUV-style traction, you’ll find 4x4 Santa Fe variants equipped with an all-wheel drive system that's a little more complex than the norm. Like many vehicles of its type, this one runs in front wheel drive most of the time, but when sensors detect slippage, up to 50 per cent of drive can be diverted to the rear wheels. So far, so predictable. Unlike many 'part time' four-wheel drives though, this Hyundai can be locked into 4x4 mode at the touch of a button -which is perfect for especially slippery conditions, such as muddy off-roading or driving on snow or ice. What's more you can do this on the fly at speeds up to 25mph.
The refinement at speed is very good with little wind or engine noise, with damped engine mounts helping to reduce vibration in the cabin. As a result, you really could consider this as an alternative to more exalted premium-badged SUV models. A mark of just how far Hyundai has come.
This third generation car hits all the right notes. The front end features a big grille and a high pedestrian-friendly bonnet line, with all of the lights and intakes a stylised trapezoidal shape that offers up an agreeably expensive look. Wider aesthetics are apparently influenced by Hyundai’s so-called ‘Fluidic Sculpture’ design language, developed in this car with what the company calls a ‘Storm Edge’ concept supposed to capture the ‘strong and dynamic images created by nature during the formation of a storm’.
Inside and the good news continues. We're getting used to some very smart Hyundai interiors these days and the Santa Fe doesn't deviate from that script one iota. There seem to be quite a variety of materials used on the fascia but the overall look and feel is attractive, the dash being dominated by a central screen flanked on either side by these big air vents. Then you've got stereo and ventilation controls below, with quite a few of these functions replicated on the steering wheel. The four-wheel drive running gear controls are mounted just to the right of the steering wheel.
A marginal increase in overall length has enabled the designers to conjure up extra middle seat knee-room. It also helps that this three-berth bench can slide backwards and forward to prioritise either space for legs or luggage behind.
On the plus side, the rearmost seats do fold very neatly away into the floor, which means a decent amount of space in the boot when you're travelling in five-seater mode. Seven-seater models get standard self-levelling suspension to deal with heavier loads.
The Hyundai Santa Fe has improved and improved fast. It looks classy, it's really well built, it rides and handles exactly as it should and it's cleverly thought through inside. As a result, it's almost impossible to dislike, even if SUVs really aren't your thing.