New Nissan X-Trail vs Hyundai Santa Fe

With hybrid power and seating for seven, these family-friendly SUVs both marry practicality and efficiency. But which of them does it better?...

Nissan X-Trail vs Hyundai Santa Fe fronts

The contenders

NEW Nissan X-Trail 1.5 e-Power 213 e-4orce Tekna 7 Seat

List price £45,485
Target Price £43,629

Latest version of Nissan’s biggest SUV takes a fresh slant on hybrid power with fuel economy in mind

Hyundai Santa Fe 1.6 T-GDi HEV 4WD Ultimate

List price £47,760
Target Price £45,665

Our current favourite seven-seat SUV combines serious practicality with sensible running costs and a long list of standard kit

The high-energy sport of Ultimate Frisbee involves two teams of seven players and is officially a non-contact sport – although accidents do happen. These two seven-seat SUVs, then, should be ideal for transporting a team of players without them coming together.

Alternatively – and, let's be honest, far more likely – they'll be asked to cope with everything large families can throw at them. So, it's fortunate that they're both equipped with four-wheel drive to try and ensure rain doesn't stop play.

Nissan X-Trail rear

This all-new Nissan X-Trail also offers a clever variation of hybrid technology. Named e-Power, it uses electric motors to drive the wheels, calling on its petrol engine solely to generate electricity. Improved fuel economy is the aim, and you never need to plug the X-Trail in, unlike with plug-in hybrids.

Today, it goes up against the Hyundai Santa Fe, which is our current favourite seven-seater, because it combines practicality with a long list of standard equipment and a decent feeling of plushness for a sensible price. It, too, is a hybrid that you never need to plug in, but a more conventional one in which both the petrol engine and electric motor can drive the wheels, depending on the situation at hand.

This top-spec Ultimate model is neck and neck with the X-Trail in Tekna trim in terms of price, so will the X-Trail’s different take on hybridisation help it edge ahead? It’ll certainly give it a throw.

Hyundai Santa Fe rear


Performance, ride, handling, refinement

By the standards of seven-seat SUVs of old, the Santa Fe’s 1.6-litre petrol engine is pretty small, but the X-Trail’s is even smaller. Nevertheless, that car’s 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine generates enough electricity for the motors to take it from 0-60mph in just 6.9sec, comfortably beating the Santa Fe’s 8.3sec. The X-Trail’s accelerator is much more responsive, too, and it’s more eager to pick up speed from stationary.

The Santa Fe’s regular hybrid system’s power delivery feels like a two-stage process; it hesitates as electric power hands over to petrol when you accelerate hard, making the same journey seem busier and rather clunky in comparison. This feeling is exacerbated as the automatic gearbox shifts through its six gears during longer periods of acceleration; the X-Trail’s single-gear set-up is altogether smoother.

Nissan X-trail side

As a result, the X-Trail is a calmer machine to travel in. The chink in its armour is that there’s a bit more road noise than in the Santa Fe, but a relative lack of engine and gearbox activity makes the X-Trail more serene and relaxing to sit in – like a halfway house between a petrol car and an electric car. True, the X-Trail’s petrol engine does drone a fair bit in the background, but the Santa Fe’s engine is noticeably coarser and more vocal. Both cars otherwise isolate against wind noise well, though.

Both of our contenders ride comfortably and soak up bumps effectively at all speeds. If we’re really nitpicking, the Santa Fe’s ride is a little busier on the motorway, but it remains soft enough to avoid feeling harsh on broken surfaces.

The Santa Fe’s brakes are much smoother and more reassuring, though. They also perform better; the Santa Fe stopped from 70mph in a distance almost two car lengths less than its rival and was more stable when doing so.

Hyundai Santa Fe right driving

Both cars have regenerative braking to recover electricity when you lift off the accelerator pedal and use it to top up the battery, but while the braking effect it brings is quite gentle in both cars, the X-Trail offers an E-pedal mode that is much stronger in response, enabling you to drive around town without having to touch the brake pedal. This works well, without being too jerky or jarring.

Neither of these SUVs will enthral you with their cornering prowess, but they handle tidily enough. The X-Trail’s tighter body control helps it feel more agile, but the Santa Fe grips harder and has meatier, more precise steering that helps make it easier to place.

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