2012 Hyundai Santa Fe review

* All-new Hyundai Santa Fe SUV driven * Front- and four-wheel-drive versions * On sale October, priced from 25,495...

2012 Hyundai Santa Fe review

The Hyundai Santa Fe has been a huge hit with SUV buyers. So much so that the company has decided to retain the name for this replacement rather than give it an i badge to bring it into line with most other models in the Hyundai range.

Dont think that youre just getting a restyled version of the previous car, though. This is the first Santa Fe that will be offered with both two- and four-wheel drive, and Hyundai is promising big improvements in refinement, interior quality and technology to compensate for a 1740 hike in the starting price.

Efficiency has certainly taken a step forward. The new Santa Fe uses an updated version of its predecessors 194bhp 2.2-litre diesel engine, and this averages 46.3mpg and 159g/km of CO2 when combined with a manual gearbox and four-wheel drive improvements of 5.9mpg and 17g/km.

The new two-wheel drive model is only slightly more efficient, managing 47.9mpg and 155g/km, while the four-wheel drive auto delivers 41.5mpg and 178g/km.

A 148bhp 2.0-litre engine might be added to the range later.

Whats the 2012 Hyundai Santa Fe like to drive?
The engine feels strong, as long as you keep the revs above 1500rpm, but it does transmit a bit of vibration through the pedals, and the standard manual gearbox is notchy. The optional auto is far more likeable, as long as you can live with its higher running costs.

Front-wheel-drive Santa Fe models will be available for the first time

UK-bound Santa Fe models will get a stiffer suspension set-up than the one on European cars, which seems like an odd decision given that our roads are generally worse.

Hopefully, Hyundai isnt planning to change things too dramatically; we tried four-wheel-drive cars with the European set-up, and this strikes a good balance.

Updated 2.2-litre diesel engine has lower CO2 emissions

The ride is on the acceptable side of firm at all speeds. It remains impressively settled over patched-up surfaces, too, and body roll is pretty well controlled in bends.

Grip and traction are also good, despite the fact all the power goes to the front wheels until they start to slip.

Instead its the steering that lets the side down, because its inconsistently weighted, although you can at least make it effortlessly light for parking at the touch of a button.

Good to drive, although the steering lets the side down

Wind noise builds up around the windscreen at motorway speeds, but theres little else to disturb the peace.

Whats the 2012 Hyundai Santa Fe like inside?
Perceived quality has traditionally been a Hyundai weakness, but the new Santa Fe features smart cabin plastics and slick switchgear.

True, the heavily styled dashboard can look a little confusing at first glance, but most of the controls are clearly labelled, and simple enough to use.

Smarter cabin; five or seven seats, as before

The new Santa Fe also offers an elevated driving position and lots of adjustment. Unfortunately, the front head restraints compromise comfort, because they jut forward a long way, leaving your neck at an awkward angle.

Both five- and seven-seat versions of the Santa Fe will be available (the latter carries a 1200 premium) and all the rear seats fold down pretty much flat.

As a bonus, the second-row seats slide back and forth on runners so you can change the balance between legroom and luggage space or give people in the optional third row a little more room.

Six-footers will still want to avoid the third row due to the limited headroom, but small adults and kids can fit without too much discomfort, and theres loads of space in the first two rows.

Whats more irritating is the fact that the central seat in the second row is hard and narrow, and that you can get into and out of the third row only from the passengers side of the car.

The boot is tiny when all seven seats are up, but theres a huge, rectangular load space when you use the Santa Fe as a five-seater.

Even entry-level Style models will come with alloys, reversing sensors, air-conditioning, Bluetooth, seven airbags and Trailer Stability Assist.

Should I buy one?
The Santa Fe will start at 25,495 for a front-wheel-drive five-seater, while the cheapest four-wheel-drive seven-seater will cost 28,095 3340 more than the equivalent version of the current car.

Such a big rise is particularly disappointing when low pricing has always been such a key part of the Santa Fes appeal. However, buyers of the new model will be getting a car thats classier, more efficient, better equipped, and better to drive as long as the firmer UK suspension set-up doesnt ruin the ride.

The new Santa Fe might look expensive compared with rivals such as the Chevrolet Captiva, but its a significantly better car.

Read the full Hyundai Santa Fe review >>

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What Car? says

Steve Huntingford