Motoring review: The Hyundai Santa Fe

I HAVE been to Santa Fe. I stayed in a ranch-like hotel known to the rich and famous – but I was driving a Vauxhall – a V6 Vectra estate in fact.

Make a list of cars and motorbikes named after places. Here’s a starter, the Hyundai Santa Fe – named to appeal to the cowboy in all of us.

It is by European standards a large all-terrain 4x4, known as an SUV (sports utility vehicle), or even a truck, in the Americas.

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The latest now in showrooms has bolder styling – they call it Storm Edge – more space and higher grade furnishings. There is a front-wheel-drive version (from £25,495 with five seats) which is £1,400 cheaper than the 4x4 version.

On test was the Premium 4WD, 7-seat, 2.2 CRDi with manual gears. It has a 194bhp, 2199cc, four-cylinder diesel engine with 311 lb ft of torque. It is a big car, so the 0-62mph time is 9.8 seconds. Top speed is 118mph. The fuel economy figures are 37.7mpg urban, 54.3 extra urban and 46.3mpg overall. CO2 is 159g/km.

The Premium costs £30,195, and like most of the range runs on 18-inch alloys with sensibly deep 235/60 tyres (Hankook Venus Prime2 on the demo car).

There are skid plates front and back in case you do go into the rough, uphill brake hold, downhill brake assistance, trailer stability control, self-levelling suspension, and a safety bonnet which reduces injury if you collide with a pedestrian. There are rear parking sensors with a camera and guide lines, easy fold centre seats, an electric parking brake, heated leather seats with perforations, roof rails touchscreen navigation – and a fair amount of kit which looks tremendous value against European rivals. It is made in South Korea, by the way.

Once upon a time I would not have considered a Santa Fe, but these days I may.

As The Legal Eagle quipped over a glass of faux Tetley’s in the Smallbore Bar, it is a value for money alternative to a Discovery. Too true. While it is a few inches shorter than Land Rover’s magnificent Discovery 4 and not even Hyundai would pitch it against the Disco in severe terrain, it undercuts it so much on price that its appeal becomes immediate.

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There is a £9,000 gap between the cheapest Discovery V6 diesel automatic and the equivalent Santa Fe. The Discovery is half a ton heavier, thirstier, less economical, has higher CO2 and is more expensive to tax, but has a much larger load capacity and will tow an extra 1,000kg – which many owners need.

The Discovery, moreover, has a roomier cabin, has a much more bespoke design and social profile, and is as much an icon as the Range Rover or Defender. It also looks dashed handsome.

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Simply, if you can afford a Discovery you will drive a Discovery. However, I know of one family which could afford a dozen Land Rovers and chose the Santa Fe instead – and that was a previous, uglier version.

The latest looks smart in that contemporary international style of SUVs that look like exploded hatchbacks. You could never say that about any Land Rover product, except perhaps the Evoque.

The Hyundai comes with an inclusive five-year warranty, whereas with a Land Rover you get three years.

On the move there was nothing to provoke severe criticism. The manual gear change is smooth enough and the steering (with a choice of three levels of feel) gave confidence. The ride comfort, too, is good. In fact there was nothing I didn’t like about this vehicle. It is smart and efficient and economical. A 40-mile commuting trip, mostly urban and suburban, plenty of traffic lights, some open dual carriageway, showed 38 miles a gallon on the computer. Another drive in the country, at higher average speed, showed 43 miles a gallon. At 70mph it cruises quietly at 2,000rpm. Unusually, the Santa Fe does not have automatic stop-start on the ignition to save fuel and emissions in town driving.

Verdict: Nothing to frighten the horses, as Hyundai moves confidently upmarket.