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Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2 VGT Auto CDX+ Car Review | June 9, 2006

Driven June 2006

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Oh, to debunk motoring expectations and myths. Just like it's good fun to leave a maxed-out Nova diver at the lights in your über-understated Jag XJR, it's always pleasantly surprising when a car that you were expecting to be a bit rough proves to be decent.

Take Hyundai's all-new Santa Fe. The Korean firm is one of the fastest-improving car manufacturers at the moment and wants its mid-sized SUV to maintain this momentum. So often with the new products of Korean car makers you're left feeling short-changed out of the experience.

They up their prices a bit, you expect the equivalent of truffles and champagne, and then it turns out that what you're really getting is cheap chocolate from a supermarket 'value' range, wrapped in some none-too-convincing packaging.

In parts, the Santa Fe is quite different. It's missing the coarse, rattly diesel you may have been expecting. The new 2.2-litre oil burner is smooth and surprisingly quiet, even when cold.

Its 247lb ft of torque does a reasonable job of pushing the car at motorway speeds - it's not quick, but it's better than you might have hoped for. Try not to opt for the auto, though; this drains power and leaves you with a 12.9 second 0-62mph time rather than the 11.6 seconds of the manual.

The chassis doesn't come as quite so much of a happy surprise. It's comfortable, but any preconceptions you could have had about body roll and vague steering still stand. Also, the four-wheel-drive system has been altered on this Santa Fe. The old car had a permanent set-up, but the new one uses 'torque on demand'.

This means it runs in two-wheel drive most of the time and only sends torque to the rear wheels when electronic sensors detect wheel slip. It won't get you out of serious mud, but trips to the gymkhana should be dealt with easily enough.

The most useful addition is to the interior. It's still got some cheap and nasty details, such as the awful fake wood, but you can now get a very practical seven-seat Santa Fe for just £600 more than a five-seater.

Room is tight in the last row, but kids would be fine, and all the seats fold easily into the floor. With all of them down, you have an enormous, flat load bay; with all of them up, the boot is non-existent, though.

You just have to wish the last part of that statement could have been applied to the lame 'wood' trim too.

Piers Ward

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