Long-term test, month one: Hyundai Santa Fe

The Hyundai Santa Fe delivers seven seats and four-wheel drive  in a handsome package
The Hyundai Santa Fe delivers seven seats and four-wheel drive in a handsome package
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SNOW fair, so it’s no’. In the time it’s taken me to power up my PC and type this opening sentence, the scene of whirling drift outside my office window has been and gone, taking my hopes of an Arctic apocalypse with it. Curse you, Scottish so-called winter.

It’s not like I’m some sort of Narnian Ice Queen or anything (although I’ve been called worse), it’s just that the latest long-term addition to our fleet is a Hyundai Santa Fe with – get this – four-wheel drive and seven seats. I’m desperate to put it to the test, and for that I’ll need a blizzard.

Being able to distribute power to all four wheels should, in theory at least, allow the Santa Fe to plough on where lesser vehicles slide to a standstill, and seven seats means I can offer sanctuary to any stranded motorists I encounter along the way.

I’m sure the souls saved will appreciate the Santa Fe’s leather upholstery and the vents that deliver a welcome shot of warm air to the middle and rearmost row of seats. They can sit back, relax, and watch the snowflakes dance across the glass roof as my SUV with people-carrier potential ferries them far from harm’s way.

Once they’ve thawed out a bit, they’re sure to be impressed by other luxuries in our range-topping Premium SE model, including heated front seats, touchscreen satnav, 19-inch alloy wheels, a rear parking camera, front parking sensors and a “smart parking assist” function that takes care of the wheel-twirling for you as you try to squeeze all 15 and a bit feet of the Santa Fe into a space.

Good, since you wouldn’t want to biff that finely-sculpted bodywork. This is the third generation of the Santa Fe and who would dispute that it grows more handsome with every relaunch? It’s a big car, but well-proportioned, and some well-placed creases and bulges in the metal help the Santa Fe disguise its bulk well.

Lift the bonnet and you’ll find a 194bhp, 2.2-litre diesel engine. In our car’s case, it’s paired to a six-speed automatic gearbox. Hyundai says it’ll propel the Santa Fe to 62mph in a whisker over ten seconds, and return 41.5mpg. It’s worth noting that the six-speed manual car’s corresponding figures are 9.8 seconds and, more significantly, 46.3mpg.

Most of the time, the Santa Fe operates in front-wheel drive mode but, as soon as sensors detect a loss of traction, power can be sent to the rear wheels. For really nasty conditions, the front and rear axles can be locked at the press of a button to force a 50/50 torque split. There’s even a hill-descent control function to add an extra degree of surefootedness on slippery slopes.

Hyundai says it has tuned the Santa Fe’s suspension to suit the UK’s rough-as-toast roads. Firmer dampers should stop the car wallowing over potholes, but at what cost to ride comfort? We’ll find out in the coming months. Hyundai’s three-stage Flex-Steer feature lets the driver adjust the firmness of the steering wheel.

Still no sign of snow, so let’s turn our attention to practicality, which promises to be another Santa Fe strong suit. True, there’s not much boot to speak of when you’re travelling seven-up but, with the third-row seats stowed away, the Hyundai will swallow 534 litres of stuff. Yank a lever in the boot and the second row of seats tumbles away, freeing up 1,615 litres of space. A cursory glance at the third row of seats suggests they might not accommodate taller passengers, but I promise to fold myself into them at the earliest opportunity (once I’ve bought loose-fitting clothes and a hoist) and report back.

Since I plan to charge around in the as-yet-unfalling snow, now’s perhaps a good time to talk about the Santa Fe’s safety features. Seven airbags are standard, as is anti-lock braking and two types of vehicle stability control I can’t fathom the difference between. Still, two is better than none, and the Santa Fe is also fitted with sensors to help avoid “snaking” when towing. (2,000kg braked trailer maximum for the auto, 2,500kg for manual cars).

Anyway, more of that later. It’s just started snowing again, and duty calls.

VITAL STATS

Car Hyundai Santa Fe Premium SE CRDi Auto

Price £34,875

Engine 2.2 l, 4cyl, turbodiesel, 194bhp, 311 lb ft

Transmission 6spd automatic, 4WD

Performance Top speed 118mph; 0-62mph 10.1sec

Economy 41.5mpg

CO2 emissions 178g/km