Stylish if you don't mind getting noticed, road-biased, great cabin, good value
Less of a full-on 4x4 than it looks
What is it?
The Hyundai Santa Fe is a family SUV, about as big as you could possibly want for British streets and car parks. It's got seven seats with cargo space beyond that, and it's a solid tow car. There's something about the 2004 Discovery going on its looks, as boxy as a box of Lego.
But actually it's a slightly different proposition from an old Land Rover, quite apart from two decades of added electronic sophistication. It's only optionally 4WD, and doesn't have a low-ratio transmission or diff-locks. The Santa Fe might be all about lifestyle, but it isn't designed for extreme off-roading. For most people it's better off without that weight and complication.
Gotcha. Main rivals?
If you need a seven-seater, most obviously the not wholly unrelated Kia Sorento, and the Nissan X-Trail, Skoda Kodiaq, VW Tiguan Allspace, Peugeot 5008 and Mercedes GLB. Land Rover has two sizes of Discovery.
There are various different powertrains among all the above, and they don't all have enough space for grown-ups in the third row, or luggage behind that. The Santa Fe does.
The Santa Fe is all-electrified in this generation, with a four-cylinder hybrid in FWD or 4WD, or a PHEV version of the same engine, with 4WD only. Our first test was the non-plug hybrid with all its wheels driven.
Looks big enough to block out the sun…
The square shape stems from an attempt to enclose a cathedral of space in the back. And it's worked. The middle-row seats are a big sofa, and they slide to give extra room behind. That done, there's definitely room for seven full-size adults. Behind seats six and seven, seven airline bags fit. Just. Plenty more if you're just six-up and fold one seat.
Other cabin choices are a five-seater with huge boot, or six-seater with middle-row individual chairs. Even so, the Santa Fe isn't absurdly fat – a manageable 1.90m wide, and 4.83m long, which is a useful 12cm shorter and a bit slimmer than an XC90 or full-fat Discovery.
Some of those rivals are pretty premium. Can it stand up?
Frankly, the Santa Fe undermines your badge snobbery. The inside, as well as the outside, is interesting in design and well-detailed and made. Ingeniously practical too. Neither does it want for useable, high-tech equipment. More details in the Interior tab of this review.
How does it go?
It is, shall we say, leisurely. That's not an insult. The performance metrics are like an old-school four-cylinder diesel SUV, but this petrol hybrid is far quieter. Its got 235bhp from the combination of engine and motor, which impels it from 0-62 in 9.5 seconds. No rush then.
The suspension is set up for comfort, with a softish ride. But that doesn't mean the Santa Fe is a galleon. Its steering is reasonably accurate and pitch and roll are buttoned down decently. Provided you guide it smoothly it'll bowl down a B-road with its dignity intact.
Likely of more concern to Santa Fe buyers is the allowable mass of a braked trailer: two and a quarter tonnes.
Our choice from the range
What's the verdict?
This was a test drive in South Korea, and UK equipment hasn't been announced yet, let alone prices. So you'll excuse this for being provisional in places. More when we have it, which will be early 2024.
What's clear is that it's roomy and useful. End to end, the cabin is full of practical touches to make a journey better. It's also stylish and well-made in there, and the ride is comfortable and quiet.
It's no sports car, but the consistency of the go-stop-steer responses is nicely considered, so it's not unsatisfying to drive if you're in no mad hurry.
The Santa Fe is a striking machine, not for people who want to keep a low profile. But it's not been done just to make a statement. It backs it up with well-crafted utility.