The Auto Trader expert verdict: ★★★★★ ★★★★★ 3.3
The Hyundai Santa Fe gives buyers the style and the high driving position they want, along with the practicality, comfort and versatility they need. It can’t quite match the very finest seven-seat SUVs on offer because it’s not as affordable and not as polished to drive as some, but it is a very solid all-rounder that’s worthy of any family’s consideration.
Reasons to buy
- Generous standard equipment
- Versatile seating arrangement
- Strong on ergonomics
At a glance
- How good does it look? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- What's the interior like? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How practical is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- What's it like to drive? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How powerful is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How much will it cost me? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How reliable is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How safe is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How much equipment do I get? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- Why buy? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
How good does it look?
While previous Santa Fe models have adopted a smart-yet-conservative approach to design, the latest version looks a lot more daring. Some of the outlandish features found on the smaller Kona can now be found on the Santa Fe, bringing things into line with Hyundai’s other SUVs, and when these outlandish details are present on a car as enormous as the Santa Fe, the effect is amplified. This really is a very eye-catching car, even if the looks will divide opinion. Alloy wheels are standard on all versions, and range between 17 and 19 inches in diameter depending on the version you choose. The only other visual difference between the grades is whether your door handles are body-coloured (SE trim) or silver (Premium and Premium SE trim), so whichever Santa Fe you choose, it’s safe to say that it’ll look as smart as any other.
What's the interior like?
The Santa Fe’s dashboard layout is fairly conventional, meaning most of the switches, buttons and dials sit where you expect to find them. Yes, there are quite a few of them dotted around the place, but everything is clearly marked and all the buttons are big and easy to hit at a glance. The touchscreen that controls the infotainment system measures either 7.0 or 8.0 inches depending which version of the car you go for, and the one we’ve experienced (the bigger one) is reasonably easy to use. It’s a bit of a mixed bag on quality; some of the materials on display are glossier and more lustrous than some might expect from a Hyundai, while some others are of a substantially lower grade, but they don’t do too much harm to the overall feeling of quality. Obviously, you have the high driving position that SUV buyers crave, and there’s lots of electric adjustment for it as well, but your over-the-shoulder visibility could be clearer despite the rearmost side windows being bigger than before.
How practical is it?
The Santa Fe comes only as a seven-seater, but it’s at its best when you use just five of them. The middle row has bags of room, enough for tall adults to stretch out, and the middle seat in that row is more comfy than in most similar cars because it’s wider and there’s plenty of foot space. Utilise the two extra seats that fold up from the boot floor, and those in the middle will have to donate some of their legroom to those in the rearmost seats. But although things become a big snugger, there is enough knee space to go around.
Taller adults will find headroom is a little on the tight side in the third row, but anyone under six feet tall should be able to cram themselves in. Dropping the third-row seats involves pulling a single tape and pushing the back of the chair, while the middle seats drop at the touch of a button, so it’s all very easy and they all sit perfectly flat. Unsurprisingly, the load area is enormous with all the seats folded down, and also a very creditable 547 litres in the more conventional five-seat mode. Obviously, the load area is much smaller when all the seats are in place, but there’s still room for a few 5p carrier bags full of shopping.
What's it like to drive?
As a car designed for carrying families, the dynamic focus of the Santa Fe lies very much on comfort, and it does a decent job on that score. The soft suspension does a good job of filtering out rippled and pock-marked surfaces, especially at low urban speeds, although bigger bumps and potholes can be felt knocking into the cabin, and you’ll also feel the body bouncing around for quite a while afterwards. You’ll also feel a fair bit of body lean in corners, but it’s not too bad considering the car’s soft setup. However, this plus the sheer size and weight of the car, plus the slow steering, does make the Santa Fe feel slightly cumbersome on twisty backroads. We haven’t yet tried a car with front-wheel drive, but four-wheel drive does give the car plenty of on-road grip and traction, and it also has four modes to help maximise traction off it, although this isn’t a 4x4 you’ll want to do any hardcore off-roading in.
How powerful is it?
At launch, the Santa Fe is powered exclusively by a 2.2-litre diesel engine with 200 horsepower. Even in a car this huge, that’s plenty, and although your progress is never that fast, it’s always pretty easy, with plenty of low-rev muscle on hand to get you rolling. It’s not the smoothest or quietest engine of its type, so it will make itself heard whenever you have cause to put your foot down, but it’s nothing that’ll ruin the experience. A six-speed manual gearbox comes as standard, but the version we tried was fitted with an eight-speed automatic instead. It swaps gears pretty smoothly, if not especially quickly, and it doesn’t have much of a negative effect of efficiency, either.
How much will it cost me?
Compare the Santa Fe with its most direct rival – the Kia Sorento – and the pricing is much of a muchness. However, there are other similarly-sized seven-seater SUVs – cars like the Skoda Kodiaq and Peugeot 5008 – that you can pick up for a lot less. That’s partly to do with the fact that you can have them with smaller, less powerful engines, and that also means those rival cars will be more efficient on paper, although the Santa Fe doesn’t compare too badly with more comparable versions.
How reliable is it?
Hyundai is a firm that has a pretty good reputation for reliability, and that’s backed up by the fact that the brand sits safely in the top half of the manufacturer standings on Warranty Direct’s Reliability Index. However, it seems that the Santa Fe might not be quite so dependable when considered as an individual model. The same study gives various versions of the car a very low score, and although the owner reviews on our site are largely pretty positive, you will find a comparatively high number of horror stories. The car does come with Hyundai’s generous five-year unlimited mileage warranty, though.
How safe is it?
All Santa Fe models come with an impressive amount of standard safety kit, and importantly, this includes an automatic emergency braking system which, as the name suggests, automatically applies the anchors if it senses an impending incident. The standard roster also includes lane departure warning, stability control and three Isofix child seat mounting points, but you have to upgrade from the basic SE trim if you want blind spot detection (which warns you when another car is sitting in your blind spot) and rear cross traffic alert (which warns you if a car approaches from the side when you’re reversing out of your parking space). The latest version of the Santa Fe hasn’t been crash tested by Euro NCAP, but the last one achieved the full five-star rating, although that was way back in 2012 when the testing standards were a lot lower.
How much equipment do I get?
Even the entry-level SE-trimmed Santa Fe has a generous slice of luxury equipment supplied as standard, including dual-zone climate control, cruise control, automatic lights and wipers, front and rear parking sensors, a rear camera, and a DAB-equipped stereo with Apple Carplay and Android Auto. Upgrading to Premium trim earns you desirable bits like leather upholstery, heated front and rear seats, a heated steering wheel, a powered tailgate, keyless entry, sat-nav, an upgraded stereo and a wireless phone charging pad. The range-topping Premium SE car, meanwhile, gives you a panoramic sunroof, a head-up display and a 360-degree camera.
Because you want a versatile family car that can do it all, but do it with style. The Santa Fe fits the bill on that score, and you’ll also like the fact that it’s packed with luxury equipment and comes with an excellent warranty. It’s not as cheap as you might think, though, and rivals like the Skoda Kodiaq and Peugeot 5008 are available for a lot less cash, so make sure you also give those a gander before you buy.