Feature

Used test – affordable SUVs: Hyundai Santa Fe vs Land Rover Freelander and rivals

All four of these bargain SUVs are big enough to take the whole family away this Christmas, and with 4x4, all will get you there, too. We find out which is best

Words ByWhat Car? team

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What are they like inside?

Land Rover Freelander drivers sit high, with a long, flat bonnet ahead of them, while the deep dashboard adds to the impression of being in a larger 4x4. Forward visibility is excellent, and that flat bonnet makes the car easy to place on the road. However, the rear window is small and the wiper restricts the view out even further.

There’s a wide range of seat and steering adjustment and plenty of space. The dash looks smart, too, but many of the switches are small and made from black plastic on a black background, so it can be difficult to find what you want at a glance.

The Hyundai Santa Fe, like the Nissan X-Trail, is lower than the Freelander, but it still feels tall and substantial to sit in, and has large, well placed controls that are intuitive to use. It’s a shame, though, that they’re housed in dashboard built from cheap-feeling plastics and, in higher-specification models like the one tested here, some of the least convincing fake wood around.

That said, most folk should be able to find a good driving position because there’s loads of adjustment for the steering wheel and seat, and plenty of room for legs, tums and bums.

While the X-Trail’s seats are supportive, if a little restrictive, some drivers may struggle to get comfy. A single wheel alters the seat height, but it merely tilts the angle and the Nissan is the only one with a steering wheel that doesn’t adjust for reach.

Leg space is fine, however, and visibility is excellent thanks to the car’s tall, square windows. Most of the controls are simple, too, but some – such as those for the door mirrors – are tucked away out of view. The central instrument display is unconventional, but it does allow a clear view of the road ahead.

The Toyota RAV4 is the lowest car here, making it easy to slip into the driver’s seat. The view ahead is clear, but the small side windows and a spare wheel that juts above ther ear window line compromise things a little.

The area around the driver’s seat feels quite cramped, too, and the manual seat adjustment could be better; more height travel would be a bonus and adjusting the seat back is awkward because it doesn’t spring into place as you’d expect. Even so, the dashboard’s styling is appealing and the large buttons and dials are easy to use.

All of these cars have decent head and leg room for rear-seat passengers. The Santa Fe is particularly generous, with the RAV4 next up, thanks partly to its sliding rear seats.

The X-Trail and Freelander have less space, but each is big enough for most families’ needs and, as with the others, large door openings make it easy to load small children – and car seats – in and out.

If you have a bigger brood – or want to take Gran and Grandad out with you on Christmas Day – the Santa Fe is your best bet, because it has seven seats. When you need them, the extra chairs fold out neatly from the boot floor and are easy to get into and out of. There’s enough leg- and head room for adults to sit in reasonable comfort.

Fold the Santa Fe’s rear seats away and you’re left with a huge, well shaped boot; its by far the biggest here. The RAV4’s boot is wide and deep, and its low floor helps when loading heavy items. The side-hinged rear door doesn’t open wide enough, though, and if the rear seat is set for maximum legroom, the boot is the shortest.

The Freelander’s and X-Trail’s boots both have wheelarches that intrude into the load space. The Freelander’s boot is shortest and doesn’t have the Nissan’s wipe-clean floor covering, either, while its high floor means you might strain to lift large items in. Even so, it’s practical enough to pile in all the family’s paraphernalia.

You can fold away the rear seats of each car to create more space, although you need to flip the Freelander and X-Trail’s seat bases up first. In all four, the load bay is usefully flat.

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