What Car? says...
The Hyundai Santa Fe is aimed at those families who've grown out of five seats and need to fit a couple more people in the boot – or anyone who regularly lugs around lots of clobber.
Indeed, the Santa Fe is one of your best SUV options if it's maximum space you're looking for and you need a seven-seater. It's not much smaller than the Audi Q7 yet costs a lot less to buy, and has some clever practicality tricks up its sleeve to make family life that little bit easier.
Once upon a time, the Santa Fe was available exclusively as a diesel. Times have changed, though, and Hyundai has now part-electrified the Santa Fe with a couple of hybrid petrol engines filling out the range.
There's a regular 'self-charging' hybrid (HEV) and a plug-in hybrid (PHEV). The HEV offers better fuel economy and lower CO2 emissions than a traditional petrol engine would, while the PHEV has a battery pack that can be charged up by plugging it into the mains, allowing pure electric motoring for an official 36 miles.
The Santa Fe's chief rivals include the Kia Sorento – a car that's actually very similar underneath – plus the slightly smaller Land Rover Discovery Sport and Peugeot 5008. You might also be considering the Nissan X-Trail and the Skoda Kodiaq.
So, how does the Hyundai Santa Fe square up against those cars, and other large SUVs that might have caught your eye? We’ll tell you all you need to know over the next few pages of this review, including what it's like to drive, how comfortable the interior is and whether or not it makes financial sense.
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Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
The 'self-charging' hybrid (HEV) version of the Hyundai Santa Fe is quick enough (0-60mph took 8.3sec in our tests) but the power delivery feels a little laboured at times. There's a slight delay between you pressing the accelerator pedal and the car surging forwards – not helped by the system hesitating to switch from electric power to petrol. The Nissan X-Trail e-Power system is much smoother and eager to pick up speed in comparison.
The plug-in hybrid (PHEV) has a more powerful electric motor and a bigger battery to allow it to travel without using its petrol engine. While the official electric range is 36 miles, you're likely to get 20-25 miles in the real world from its 13.8kWh battery. It’s quite a lot heavier than the HEV, but acceleration isn't much slower (0-62mph officially takes 8.8sec). If you want a faster PHEV, consider the Lexus NX or the Land Rover Discovery Sport.
Caravaners will be pleased to know that the 197bhp 2.2-litre diesel pulls well from low revs, with performance that’s on a par with the Peugeot 5008 2.0 HDi 180. The 5008 has a quicker-responding automatic gearbox, though – the Santa Fe’s tends to dither a bit when you ask for a burst of acceleration. The diesel's towing capacity of 2500kg matches that of the Kia Sorento and far exceeds the 1650kg of the HEV and 1350kg of the PHEV version.
Suspension and ride comfort
So far, we’ve tried the Santa Fe with the relatively chunky 19in alloy wheels that come as standard on the HEV’s range-topping Ultimate trim and on both of the PHEV’s trim levels.
On the whole, the ride of both versions is pretty comfortable – broadly comparable with the rival Sorento – but becomes a little busy when you build up to motorway speeds.
If you want the maximum comfort the Santa Fe has to offer, you’ll want to go for the HEV version in Premium trim, which will give you smaller 17in wheels and improve the ride even more.
There are multiple off-road modes, but unless you work in forestry, your Santa Fe will probably spend most of its time on Tarmac, so on-road driving manners are clearly the priority here.
On the whole, the Santa Fe handles tidily enough, with plenty of grip on offer. There is, unsurprisingly, some body lean through tight turns, but despite being a tall, heavy car, it never lurches around in an uncontrolled fashion. The steering doesn't give you a brilliant sense of connection with the road, but it's precise enough to allow you to place the car confidently at all speeds.
All versions come with self-levelling suspension as standard. This helps with stability when towing, which is particularly important with the heavier loads the diesel can pull.
Noise and vibration
At very low speeds, the hybrid version of the Santa Fe isn't quite as hushed as the X-Trail e-Power. That’s because it seems reluctant to drive itself using electric power alone for short distances, even though it can theoretically do so, meaning the engine is running more often than its rivals. The PHEV solves that issue and will happily drive around with zero engine noise when the battery has enough charge.
The petrol engine isn’t too rowdy when it cuts in, but it's noticeably coarser than the X-Trail’s e-Power system. Likewise, the diesel engine is never uncouth – even when you work it quite hard.
There’s a bit more wind noise than in the rival Sorento at motorway speeds and more road noise than in the Highlander, although the margins aren't huge.
The interior layout, fit and finish
Driving position and dashboard
You’re not likely to have trouble getting comfortable behind the wheel of the Hyundai Santa Fe because you get plenty of steering wheel and seat adjustment. All versions come with adjustable lumbar support, and the driver's seat is fully electric, with a memory function if you go for Ultimate trim.
As standard, information is fed to the driver through a 4.2in TFT screen and a couple of analogue dials, but that’s upgraded to a 12.3in fully digital display when you go for the top-tier Ultimate trim – which also adds a head-up display that projects key information clearly on to the windscreen.
The centre console that fences off the driver from the front passenger is festooned with more than 40 buttons of different shapes and sizes. Unsurprisingly, it takes a while to remember which one does what, but it's preferable to having important controls buried in the touchscreen.
Visibility, parking sensors and cameras
In the main, the Santa Fe is easy to see out of. Forward visibility is largely unrestricted and the view out at junctions and roundabouts is good by large SUV standards. Relatively chunky rear pillars do hamper over-the-shoulder visibility a little, but you’re unlikely to have many problems parking because all versions come with a reversing camera, and front and rear parking sensors as standard. Ultimate trim includes a surround-view camera system, which displays a bird’s eye view of the car to make it even easier to avoid obstacles.
An extra trick up the Santa Fe’s sleeve is that you can drive it in and out of car park bays remotely via the key fob. That's handy when dealing with tight spaces in multi-storey car parks. Range-topping Ultimate trim also has a blind-spot view system that uses a camera on each door mirror to feed a live image on the instrument panel as soon as you flick the indicator.
All models come with powerful LED headlights to help you see where you're going at night.
Sat nav and infotainment
All versions of the Santa Fe have a big 10.3in touchscreen, a punchy Krell sound system, wireless phone-charging, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring. Pretty much every gadget you could want, in other words.
The fact that the screen is mounted high up on the dashboard means you don’t need to divert your eyes far from the road to see it. You’ll also find the operating system user-friendly – it's far more intuitive than the one in the Peugeot 5008.
In pure build quality terms, the Santa Fe edges the 5008 and the Nissan X-Trail thanks to an interior that feels even more sturdily assembled.
The finish of the materials used is slightly less impressive, though. You could easily mistake the leather that covers the steering wheel for plastic, for example.
Overall, the Santa Fe is on a par with the Kia Sorento for interior quality, although the design is more conservative.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
As the Hyundai Santa Fe is a large SUV, it probably won’t come as a huge surprise that taller adults will fit absolutely fine in the front. Yes, a Peugeot 5008 offers slightly more leg room, but the margins are small and the Santa Fe’s broader interior helps it to feel really airy.
There’s plenty of storage, too: the door bins are long, if fairly narrow, the glovebox is a decent size and there are two big cup-holders conveniently positioned between the front seats.
Don’t expect the Santa Fe to offer BMW X7 levels of space in the third-row seats, but there’s enough for tall adults as long as the trip isn't too long. Indeed, third-row head and leg room is roughly on a par with the Kia Sorento and far better than in the Land Rover Discovery Sport and Nissan X-Trail.
If you move forward to the second-row seats, you’ll find more leg room than in an X-Trail and roughly the same amount as in a 5008 and Discovery Sport. Head room is compromised a little by the panoramic sunroof that comes as standard on Ultimate models, but a six-footer will still fit just fine – something that isn't the case in versions of the 5008 fitted with a panoramic roof.
Seat folding and flexibility
If you plan to swap seating configurations regularly, the Santa Fe will make your life really easy. Its third-row seats can be raised simply by tugging on a cord and, when folded away again, lie flush with the boot floor so you almost wouldn’t know they were there.
The seat backs in the second row can be folded down electrically using a button in the boot, although you do need to haul the seats back up again manually. There’s also a one-touch button to make the kerbside seat slide and fold forward to ease access.
The second-row seats recline and slide back and forth, which is handy because it allows you to balance leg room in the second and third rows depending on how tall your passengers are. It’s just a slight shame they fold in a less versatile 60/40 split.
With all seven seats raised, the Santa Fe has roughly the same amount of space left over for a couple of suitcases as the Sorento, and more than you get in the 5008, X-Trail and Discovery Sport.
When you fold those rearmost seats away into the floor, luggage capacity (below the load cover) is 571 litres – similar to that in the Sorento but a lot less than the 5008. Indeed, the Santa Fe swallowed an impressive 10 carry-on suitcases in our tests, beating the X-Trail’s space for eight.
If you fold down the second-row seats as well, you’re left with a van-like load bay that’s almost completely flat, with no annoying steps or ridges and barely any lip at the boot entrance.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2
The Hyundai Santa Fe is no longer a budget SUV seven-seater. This latest model is actually more expensive than the Peugeot 5008 and the Nissan X-Trail although it's still priced well below premium-badged alternatives, such as the Audi Q7 and the Volvo XC90. It's also cheaper than the Kia Sorento which is only available in everything-but-the-kitchen-sink Edition trim.
CO2 emissions are respectable in the HEV version of the Santa Fe, but if you're a company car driver looking to save on your monthly benefit-in-kind tax payments, the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) model is a no-brainer.
Equipment, options and extras
There isn't much choice here – you just need to decide if you want your Santa Fe very well equipped or very, very well equipped.
Premium trim makes more sense because even at that level you get adaptive cruise control, dual-zone climate control, heated front leather seats, a heated steering wheel and keyless entry.
The most ardent hedonist might feel over-pampered by the range-topping Ultimate form – it comes with such niceties as ventilated front seats, heated outer middle row seats and a panoramic roof. It's rather pricey too.
The latest Santa Fe was too new to appear in our 2022 What Car? Reliability Survey but Hyundai finished an impressive joint fifth (out of 32 brands) in the overall manufacturer league table. That's above Ford, Honda, Peugeot and Toyota.
There’s reason to be optimistic, then – and even if something does go wrong with your Santa Fe, Hyundai provides a generous five-year warranty (with no mileage cap) as standard.
Safety and security
The Santa Fe was awarded five stars out of five for safety by Euro NCAP. It’s hard to draw comparisons with the closely related Sorento, though, because the Santa Fe was tested under an older, less stringent regime.
All versions come with automatic emergency braking (AEB) that can recognise cyclists, pedestrians and other vehicles and lane-keeping assistance. Ultimate trim adds rear cross-traffic alert and a blind-spot view camera.
There are three Isofix mounting points in the Santa Fe: two on the second row of seats and another one on the front passenger seat.
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Yes. It's 4785mm long, while the Hyundai Tucson measures 4500mm.
|RRP price range||£43,240 - £51,680|
|Number of trims (see all)||2|
|Number of engines (see all)||3|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||hybrid, diesel|
|MPG range across all versions||173.7 - 44.1|
|Available doors options||5|
|Warranty||5 years / No mileage cap|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£1,063 / £3,545|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£2,127 / £7,089|