When it comes to choosing a seven-seater car, most people don't look any further than MPVs. But there is another category – with its own three letter abbreviation – that fits the bill. SUVs. There's a variety to choose from that blend the practicality of an MPV with the go-anywhere ability of an SUV.
We're going to be putting one of our favourite seven-seat SUVs, the Hyundai Santa Fe, to the test. I'll be running it so it will pile on the mileage as it travels across the country for photoshoots. It will also undoubtedly be borrowed by anyone needing to lug loads or people around.
The Santa Fe offers a great mix of practicality, value and style, making it an easy choice for us. It's considerably cheaper than Land Rover's Discovery, more stylish than the aging XC90 and in a different league to the disappointing Chevrolet Captiva.
Once we'd decided on the Santa Fe, the next decision was what specification we wanted to run. There's just one engine available, a 2.2-litre diesel, so that was simple. But we still had to decide on two- or four-wheel drive, five or seven seats and manual or automatic and that was before we even thought about trim.
We've opted for the four-wheel-drive model as it doesn't drastically impact on fuel economy. We've also gone for seven seats because when they're not in use they fold flat into the floor taking up hardly any space.The automatic gearbox was also an easy choice because it's smooth and suits the nature of the car well.
Finally, we had to choose the specification. Eventually we went for top-of-the-range Premium SE trim because it comes with practically everything you could want, and as I'll be spending a lot of time in the car, I wanted it to be as comfortable as possible. Most buyers would probably be very happy with Style trim, as it comes with all the essentials and sneaks in under £30,000.
Premium SE trim adds dual-zone climate control, heated leather seats, reversing camera and touch-screen sat-nav, a panoramic sunroof and larger alloy wheels so there aren't many options to choose from. I chose two. The first was metallic silver paint, which I think really suits the Hyundai. The second was a luggage cover for the boot. Strangely, the five-seater car comes with one as standard but if you go for the two rearmost seats you have to spend an extra £129.
Families looking at seven seaters need something that's practical, good value for money and reasonably cheap to run. How does the Santa Fe stack up?
Practicality-wise, it's pretty impressive. It's got room for seven and, with the rear seats folded, it boasts a roomy 516-litre boot. Some MPVs are easier to get in and out of, and if you carry seven on a regular basis you'd probably choose one of those, but some buyers will be drawn to the raised driving position and the added confidence that the four-wheel-drive system offers.
On the value for money front, there are few cars that offer quite so much for your hard-earned cash. This is a big car and even in top-of-the-range Premium SE trim, the price is a little more than £33,000. That's still a lot of money but seems more reasonable when you consider that a similarly specced Discovery costs at least £10k more than that. Plus, you shouldn't pay full price. Our Target Price mystery shoppers have found dealers offering discounts of 6% and all cars come with Hyundai's five-year unlimited warranty.
What about those all important running costs? The claimed figures are impressive making the Santa Fe cheaper to run than most of its rivals. Claimed fuel economy is 41.5mpg, with the automatic gearbox and four-wheel-drive, and CO2 emissions are rated at 178g/km – neither the Discovery nor the XC90 can get anywhere near that. Our True MPG techs achieved 37.6mpg which is a bit off the official reading but is still impressive.
So, on paper, the Santa Fe appears to offer everything that a family could want. But, how does it actually perform in the real world? First impressions are a mixed bag. On the plus side, it looks great, inside and out, it's very spacious with plenty of room for all my camera gear and it feels very refined. But on the downside, the steering is completely lacking in feel which is disappointing and doesn't inspire confidence.
I'll keep you posted on whether that's enough to dampen the joy of living with a Santa Fe.
Hyundai Santa Fe
2.2 CRDi Premium SE 4WD 7-seats
List price £33,170
Target Price £31,268
Automatic gearbox (£1705); Sleek Silver metallic paint (£545); load cover (£129)