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|Hyundai Santa Fe
Wins Norman Baker Memorial SUV Humbug Trophy
Handsome, Versatile, Terrific Value, Best Guarantee
New Hyundai SUV Reaches Up To Luxury Segment
Glory Be, It’s A Diesel Automatic
***** out of 5
VALENCIA, Spain It’s taken a few years, but finally I can declare a winner. The Hyundai Santa Fe fulfils my long quest for the title of the perfect SUV for £20,000. Many have vied for this title. None has come close until Hyundai unveiled its latest iteration of the Santa Fe this month. In fact my search has gone on so long, I’m forced to change one of the ground rules, because the longer, wider, higher Santa Fe’s prices start at £20,995 (€30,566), and the version I’d recommend costs around £25,000 (€36,400), for the Santa Fe 2.2 VGT CDX+ automatic.
But for £25,000, Hyundai will arguably deliver to you the kind of value that would cost upwards of £40,000 if you opted for the heights of a Land Rover Discovery, Volvo XC-90, or Lexus RX330.
My search has involved a class below this and I’ve driven the Nissan X-Trail, the Honda CR-V, the Jeep Cherokee, the Kia Sorento, the Mitsubishi Outlander and the Toyota RAV-4, to name but a few. Fine vehicles all but excepting the Jeep, none had that required combination of diesel and automatic gearbox.
Finally, the Santa Fe has answered my prayers, and wins the Norman Baker Memorial SUV Humbug trophy for best Sport Utility Vehicle priced close to £20,000.
Where does the prig live?
Baker has urged that SUVs be banned from city centres, and cast aspersions on the characters of SUV drivers as anti-social, arrogant beasts. When I inaugurated the search for the perfect SUV I determined to drive the winning vehicle up and down outside Baker’s house. Does anyone out there know where he lives in Lewes?
People love their SUVs, and sales are growing exponentially. True, they guzzle a bit more gas, are often over-engineered and heavy. But they also have terrific qualities which make these vehicles hard to resist. They are high, and allow women in particular to have a commanding view of the road ahead.
And so to the winning qualities of the Santa Fe. It wasn’t just the combination of diesel and automatic that forced me to finally award the prize.
The Santa Fe is an awesome vehicle. Bigger and better than its predecessor, it impresses in all kinds of ways. It looks good. Gone are the faintly ludicrous, obviously first-generation Korean, second rate Tonka toy looks of the original.
The body is now more all of a piece, elegant, aerodynamic, purposeful looking. Inside, the quality is terrific, marred only by some manky looking “wood” veneer which stretches right across the dash board and swoops under the main, central dashboard. My advice to Hyundai would be to dump this, toute-suite, and replace it with some kind of metallic finish.
Standard kit is impressive. This is a Korean car after all, and they are famous for offering a copious amount of content in the price. All Santa Fes have roof rails with crossbars, plus of course the full acronymphomaniac’s range of ABS brakes and electronic aids to safety.
Two engine choices are available a 2.7 litre 186 bhp V6 petrol and a 2.2 litre 148 bhp diesel, with that priceless 5-speed automatic transmission option. All things being equal, the petrol and diesel engined versions cost the same. The petrol is only available with a 4-speed automatic.
Handling was comfortable, accurate and adequate. The new suspension provided an improved ride, less bouncy than the old model and smoothed out what bumps you could find even on the smooth Spanish, E.U. financed B roads. The seven-seat versions feature a new self-levelling suspension
Off-road, the new Santa Fe has a more sophisticated system than the old one, with “torque on demand” similar to its smaller sibling, the Tucson. Normally the car is powered by the front wheels only, and electronic sensors automatically engage all-wheel drive when required. If you venture off-road and want to engage 4-wheel drive, just press a button on the dashboard. The test drive took in some off-road moments, and the car was able to smooth out the bumps, potholes and ruts quite remarkably.
Weak residual values have been a reason for buyers to shun less fashionable manufacturers like Hyundai. The Korean company quoted Glass’s Guide saying that because, among other things, of the 5-year guarantee, the Santa Fe “should achieve residual values that compete with the best in the market sector”. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement.
The Hyundai Santa Fe is the kind of vehicle I like. Good cars should be flexible, reliable, attractive, well-priced and well-made. The Santa Fe, it seems to me, scores maximum points on all these scores.
Then, of course, there is the chance to freak out the likes of Norman Baker. I can’t wait to get mine.
Neil Winton March 6, 2006
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