First Drive

Hyundai Santa Fe vs Mitsubishi Outlander vs Nissan X-Trail

Versatility, comfort and value. These SUVs need to seat seven on occasion, but be the ultimate family car the rest of the time.

Words ByVicky Parrott

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Seven-seat SUVs are increasingly the go-to option for those after a big family car. So it’s no surprise that the latest models put the emphasis on comfort, practicality and running costs, rather than how easily they can traverse a field.

The new Nissan X-Trail appears to be the most urbanised of our trio. It’s the most fuel-efficient (all three have diesel engines, four-wheel drive and manual gearboxes) and it gets the interior luxuries of the Qashqai, with which it shares its dashboard and core oily bits.

It faces the Hyundai Santa Fe, our favourite seven-seat SUV at this price for some time. It’s looking a little thirsty compared with newer rivals, though, one of which is the new Mitsubishi Outlander, which brings off-road heritage and the lowest discounted price here.

What are they like to drive?

It might have a comparatively small, 1.6-litre engine, but the 129bhp X-Trail easily keeps up with fast-moving traffic. You have to change gear a little more often than in the more powerful 2.2-litre Hyundai, though, because the Nissan doesn’t pull as eagerly at low revs.

The 148bhp Outlander has a little more low-down urgency than the Nissan, but it’s very short-geared and has a narrow power band, so you have to change gear regularly in town to keep the engine on the boil.

All these cars have on-demand four-wheel drive, so send power only to the front wheels unless extra traction is needed. In this default setting they offer stable, planted cornering ability, although all three lean in bends.

The differences become more apparent in hard driving, when the Outlander washes wide through fast corners sooner than the others, and its slow steering feels disconcertingly light. The Hyundai’s steering isn’t perfect, either, because it offers little feedback. The Nissan’s steering is precise, albeit light, and the X-Trail is keener to turn in.

If comfort is your top priority you should pick the Santa Fe. It sponges up the worst ruts and bumps with a distant thunk from the suspension, where the Nissan and Mitsubishi can be jarring over sharp-edged potholes, and both shudder over scarred town roads. Even so, none is uncomfortable.

What lets down the Mitsubishi is refinement. The reluctant, notchy-feeling shift makes it easy to pick the wrong gear, and the guttural engine sends plenty of vibration through the pedals. The Santa Fe is the quietest around town, but at higher speeds the engine drones and there’s lots of wind noise.

The Nissan is the best at isolating you from vibrations, and although the engine is still grumbly, it’s just as quiet as the other two around town. Overall it’s the quietest because there’s less intrusive wind and engine noise at high speeds.

What are they like inside?

All of these seven seaters are laid out with a middle bench that slides and folds in a 60/40 split, with two rear seats that are easy to raise or collapse and fold flat into the boot floor.

All three cars also display many of the same foibles: push the middle row forwards and there’s a big gap between the boot floor and the back of the seats; and even short adults in the rear two seats will have
to sit with their knees unnaturally high.

The X-Trail is even worse – foot space in the back is so narrow that, once seated, you feel almost pinned in place. Headroom is adequate, but you have to sacrifice middle-row legroom to free up enough knee space in the back.

The Santa Fe has more comfortable third-row seats, but they are short of headroom and only the nearside middle-row seat tilts and slides forward to allow access. The Outlander is best for rear-seat occupants; tall adults will be fine for short trips.

However, the Outlander is the only car here that is short of headroom in the middle row, so six-footers could find their heads brushing the ceiling.

Space up front is plentiful in all three cars. It’s a shame that the Nissan misses out on the electric driver’s seat adjustment of the other two, but it’s still easier to get comfortable than in the Mitsubishi. The Santa Fe, with its padded seat and broad adjustability, is the most comfortable for the driver.

The Nissan has the highest-quality cabin, thanks to lots of soft-touch materials and well-damped switches. Its dashboard feels much plusher than the Outlander’s, which has flimsy plastics in key areas and feels cheaper than the other two, despite a gloss finish around the centrally mounted touch-screen. The Santa Fe has some nice touches, including cushioned armrests and a more logical
dash layout than in the Outlander, but the silver highlights look a touch tacky.

What will they cost?

The X-Trail is already available with discounts, which means it’ll cost you just Β£221 more than the Outlander – the cheapest of the three after discounts. That leaves the Santa Fe, which is the most expensive to buy and also the dearest to lease.

Things look brighter for the Hyundai in terms of its resale values, which are better than those of the Outlander. This is the main reason the Santa Fe will actually cost you less than the Mitsubishi if you sell on after three years. That said, many buyers may hold on to it for longer, considering its five-year, unlimited-mile warranty betters the three-year, 60,000 mileage warranties available on the
X-Trail and Outlander.

Even so, it’s the X-Trail that costs the least over three years, thanks to its strong resale values and best real-world economy.

If finance deals are a priority, it’s the Nissan that comes out on top again. With a Β£5000 deposit on a three-year PCP contract with 12,000-mile annual allowance, you’ll be paying Β£392 per month for the X-Trail, where the Outlander will cost Β£459 per month and the Santa Fe Β£490.

All have fixed servicing plans available, with Hyundai offering three years for Β£499, Nissan Β£399 (Β£299 if you take out finance), while Mitsubishi charges Β£700.

All three have climate and cruise controls, colour screens, sat-nav, reversing cameras, Bluetooth and USB sockets. The Nissan is the only one without leather upholstery, while the Santa Fe is the only
one not to get a sunroof. All these cars have only one standard solid paint option: white on the Hyundai and Mitsubishi, and red on the Nissan.

Our verdict

The simple truth is that if you routinely carry seven people, a conventional seven-seat MPV will be more appropriate to your needs than any of these SUVs.

However, the trio tested here avoid the dowdy image of big people carriers, will seat seven for short journeys and enjoy hard-to-fault practicality the rest of the time. They also all offer decent towing ability, while their four-wheel-drive systems and decent ground clearances mean they will cope easily with light off-roading and harsh weather.

So, the appeal is clear, and while the Nissan is the least comfortable for those in the third row, it’s adequate for children or smallish adults on short journeys. In most other areas it betters its rivals – it has the best middle-row space, the highest quality interior, the most secure handling and is the cheapest for both private buyers and company car drivers alike. So, while there are some niggling irritations, the X-Trail promises to be best of our trio to live with.

Our previous champion in this class, the Santa Fe, isn’t far behind. The Hyundai has lots going for it, including a decent ride and marginally the biggest boot in its five-seat layout. However, it’s not particularly efficient and interior quality isn’t as good as the X-Trail’s.

The Outlander is let down by gruff refinement, ungainly handling, a surprising shortage of headroom for middle-row passengers and poor resale values. That leaves little to recommend it over its rivals.

1st

Nissan X-Trail 1.6 dCi 130 N-tec 4WD 7st

For Cheap to run as private or business buy; interior feel high-quality; best refinement

Against Cramped in third row; leather unavailabl

Verdict Great value, practical enough and good to drive


2nd

Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2 CRDi Premium 4WD 7st

For Comfortable ride and driving position; strong engine

Against Poor emissions and economy; numb steerin

Verdict Still recommendable, but the X-Trail is better value


3rd

Mitsubishi Outlander 2.3 DI-D GX4

For Decent space and comfort in third row; lots of equipment

Against Feels cheap; poor refinement; cramped middle row

Verdict Cheaper Outlanders make far more sense