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Hyundai Santa Fe Premium SE: long-term test review

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Hyundai Santa Fe - long-term first report header

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26 May, 2019 11:00am Steve Walker

First report: the Hyundai Santa Fe SUV joins our fleet, and we’re going to test its build quality to the limit

Mileage: 1,276
Economy: 38.5mpg

How far has Hyundai come? The company’s products have never been more competitive than they are today, able to go toe to toe with big names in the mainstream car market, but can they really outclass those top-sellers on quality?

Its new flagship SUV, the Santa Fe, has just joined our fleet and we’re going to find out if it’s classy enough to beat the best.

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Hyundai has been selling cars in the UK since 1982, but if the Mk2 Pony with which it tried to woo buyers back then has bolted from your memory, that’s no great loss.

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Hyundai Santa Fe - long-term first report rear static

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Through the nineties and into the noughties, the Korean brand battled away at the budget end of the market. Less-than-illustrious models like the Atoz, Elantra, Getz, XG30 and Matrix sold largely on their sticker price and equipment. Then, around a decade ago, things started to change.

Hyundai began a concerted quest for the more profitable mainstream; and when you look at today’s i30, Ioniq, Tucson and Kona, it’s hard not to arrive at the conclusion that the firm has reached that promised land. Of course, standing still is not an option in the cut-throat modern car market and, by redesigning the seven-seat Santa Fe SUV, the brand is looking to kick on again, particularly in terms of that quality feel that’s so tricky, and costly, to achieve.

What’s immediately noticeable about the Santa Fe is that it isn’t cheap. If we look for seven-seat family SUVs to rival the car, the likes of the Skoda Kodiaq, Peugeot 5008 and Nissan X-Trail jump out, yet the Hyundai, at more than £43,000 in this Premium SE spec, is the most expensive of the lot.

In a move that underlines the confidence Hyundai now has in its products, the brand is asking buyers to look past the price tag. Instead, it’s factors like the bumper haul of safety kit, the powerful 197bhp 2.2-litre CRDi engine with eight-speed auto gearbox, the five-year warranty and the high-quality overtones in the design and construction that Hyundai thinks will sell the Santa Fe.

And what you notice soon after the confident pricing is that Hyundai’s faith in the Santa Fe seems well founded; this feels like a very premium product.

Although the exterior styling isn’t in any way groundbreaking, the squinty headlights and bold grille make for a distinctive front end. Elsewhere, the look is chunkily handsome, while inside, the abundance of elephant-grey plastic that greeted Hyundai buyers in the nineties has melted away in favour of leather, classy textures and solidity. Again, it’s not the most exciting treatment, but customers are going to feel as though they’re getting their money’s worth.

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Hyundai Santa Fe - long-term first report dash

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The front seats deserve special mention. They’re multi-adjustable, supportive, wide and extremely comfortable. We’re already appreciating the buttons on the driver’s side of the front passenger seat that let you slide it forward to boost rear legroom when the kids in the back kick up a fuss. You just have to stop them playing with the buttons.

Not that legroom is a major issue because the other thing you can say about the Santa Fe is that it’s big. Generous headroom and legroom are laid on for rear seat occupants and the boot is huge, until you fold the two rearmost seats out of the floor.

As usual, these seats are only child-sized, but they’re far from the pokiest you’ll come across in this class. With the feeling of space amplified by the full-length glass sunroof that opens to just behind the front seats, the Santa Fe never feels anything less than substantial when you’re inside it.

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Hyundai Santa Fe - long-term first report sunroof

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It feels substantial on the road, too. That’s in the positive way that it sails serenely over bumps and in the negative way the heavy steering and body roll remind you of its size.

The Santa Fe isn’t the sharpest car to drive in the class, even with Sport mode engaged and the shift paddles in action (yes, it has both), but few prospective buyers are going to be unduly concerned. Its engine feels strong and, in automatic mode, the eight-speed gearbox is smooth and quick-witted.

Even with no options besides the £690 Stormy Sea metallic paint (because Hyundai doesn’t offer any), our Premium SE car is fully loaded. The front seats are heated and ventilated, the rear seats are heated and it has a heated steering wheel and phone-charging mat. In addition, the premium sound system – with 10 speakers, external amplifier and subwoofer – is fettled by US hi-fi brand Krell.

*Insurance quote from AA (0800 107 0680) for a 42-year-old in Banbury, Oxon, with three points.

4 The Hyundai Santa Fe is a big SUV that has made a great first impression thanks to its upmarket interior and long list of standard kit. We look forward to seeing how it will cope with the demands of life as part of our fleet.

  • Model: Hyundai Santa Fe Premium SE 2.2 Auto
  • On fleet since: April 2019
  • Price new: £43,320
  • Engine: 2.2-litre 4cyl diesel, 197bhp
  • CO2/tax: 164g/km/£450
  • Options: Metallic paint (£690)
  • Insurance*: Group: 40/Quote: £488
  • Mileage: 1,276
  • Economy: 38.5mpg
  • Any problems?: None so far

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