Buyers looking for a seven-seat SUV are spoilt for choice nowadays. From Spain to Japan, there are brands rolling out various models claiming to offer MPV practicality in a more desirable body shape, priced from £25,000 to £100,000.
Somewhere in the middle of that, physically and financially if not geographically, is the Hyundai Santa Fe, priced from £33,450 and slotting in size-wise above the Skoda Kodiaq/Seat Tarraco but beneath the Land Rover Discovery/Audi Q7.
The Santa Fe is Hyundai’s flagship car and the press material talks about its premium look and feel. Nowadays everything claims to be premium and compared to a “true” premium marque it’s stretching the boast but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with how it looks or how it’s put together.
The exterior is standard SUV styling, lots of details to emphasises its size, especially the width, and an overall style that’s aiming for bold but not intimidating. The gigantic light clusters flanking the grille are certainly eye-catching but apart from that it’s hardly a head-turner.
Likewise, the interior hits all the right beats for layout and equipment but it’s not in the same league as the true premium players like the Volvo XC90 or Audi Q7. Where they are all about knurled metal and driftwood inserts, the Santa Fe is more about solid feeling, nicely damped but faintly dull plastics. That’s not to do it down, it’s still a thoroughly pleasant car to drive or be driven in thanks to plenty of leather upholstery and loads of space, plus good insulation from outside noise and poor road surfaces. And bear in mind, it’s about half the price of a well-specced XC90 or Q7.
As with most seven-seat SUVs, the back row can’t match a true MPV for practicality but the two rear-most seats are still spacious enough for kids or flexible adults on shorter journeys. And with them folded into the boot floor, there’s 547 litres of luggage space, making it a great family wagon.
Hyundai keeps things simple with the Santa Fe line-up. You have a choice of just three trim levels and a handful of drivetrain options. A 2.2-litre diesel is the only engine, with your decision being whether you want two-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive and manual or auto transmission.
Our top-spec Premium SE car came with all-wheel-drive and the eight-speed auto. With 197bhp and 325lb/ft it has plenty of grunt to move the Santa Fe along smoothly and there’s not much in the way of noise intrusion from the big diesel unit. The four-wheel-drive system will largely take care of itself, adjusting torque distribution to offer the best traction for the circumstances but three drive modes allow a degree of control. The ambitiously named “sport” mode gives a 50/50 front/rear split while the eco setting effectively runs in front-wheel-drive until it detects a loss of traction.
As you’d expect from a large SUV designed to carry seven passengers, its strengths are in long, easy cruising where it slips along smoothly and quietly, aided by pleasingly absorbent suspension, standard adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist.
Those driver aids are just the starting point of the Santa Fe’s comprehensive specification. In top-spec Premium SE virtually every gadget you can imagine is standard. While it might not match the premium brands for ambience, the Hyundai embarasses them in the equipment stakes offering as standard items they charge hundreds of pounds for as options. Everything from auto dimming LED headlights and a 360-degree parking camera to wireless phone charging, a 10-speaker sound system and heated rear seats are standard. All models also get Hyundai’s Smartsense safety pack with rear cross traffic alert, blind spot alert, AEB with pedestrian detection and rear occupant alert, which warns you if you’ve walked off and accidentally left your child in the car.
Priced at £43,000, that makes the Hyundai a far better value prospect than the blinged-up models from Sweden, Japan and Germany. Its pricing puts it more in line with top-end Skoda Kodiaqs, Seat Tarracos and Peugeot 5008s, but the Santa Fe is larger and more spacious than any of them.
To look at and drive the Santa Fe is faintly unremarkable but it’s perfectly competent and practical. If you’ve need for seven seats but don’t want an MPV and your budget doesn’t stretch to the massive prices of the XC90, RX L or Q7, it is a spacious, comfortable and generously equipped option that offers more room than similarly priced mainstream rivals.
Hyundai Santa Fe Premium SE
Engine: 2.2-litre, four-cylinder, diesel
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, four-wheel-drive
Top speed: 127mph
0-62mph: 9.4 seconds
CO2 emissions: 161g/km (NEDC)