Tuesday 20 November 2018

Tales of the unexpected with new Santa Fe 7-seater SUV

Diesel comes with top-end price, writes EDDIE CUNNINGHAM

Hyundai Santa Fe: high level of demand
Hyundai Santa Fe: high level of demand

I love how we are enthralled by the coincidence, chance, providence - call it what you will - that marks our lives. Our tales of the unexpected are the lifeblood of so many conversations and memories. Just think how many times you've heard someone say they were just about to call you, or the chance meeting with a home-town acquaintance on a foreign shore.

In a strange way, my time in this week's review car coincided, remarkably I think, with a massive increase in the number of people looking for advice about buying a large seven-seater SUV.

People didn't stop me in the new Hyundai Santa Fe to ask; the queries came separately. Telepathic? Call it what you like, it was more than timely.

So what is the big deal? Essentially, the high level of demand for the likes of the Santa Fe seven-seater is a blend of practical necessity and aesthetic fashion following.

People with larger families need more space (school runs) frequently, or infrequently (taking their own and neighbours' children to parties, sports, etc).

At the same time, they love the high-driving position, distinctive nature and versatility of, the SUV layout. Some need a four-wheel-drive (4WD) but many go for the two-wheel-drive (2WD) on their urban motors.

The Santa Fe has long been a favourite. It now gains renewed impetus as new models recently arrived climb ever higher towards the premium ballpark.

That is borne out by a cabin I found to be smart, roomy and comfortable: three critical dimensions for a motor starting at €42,000. With the emphasis on posh, I noticed my top-of-range 4WD version had especially good quality materials.

I also liked the comprehensive simplicity of the instrumentation; the clarity of the central interactive infotainment screen (phone, nav, etc) and the large circular TFT instrument display (speed, MPG, etc). It worked so well because it was simple to operate. That's as it should be, whether the car is a Hyundai, Dacia or Mercedes.

Seating is such an important consideration. My seat was firm but comfortable and electric adjustment got me quickly to my best position. Passengers professed themselves well looked after, too.

The second row took three adults; the middle seat wasn't expansive but my occupant was young, fit and chivalrous. The two third-row seats are for smaller people and handy to have. When prone, they opened up boot space. I mostly kept them folded flat. As third-row seats go, however, they were a good size. With the second row sliding and tilting, access was reasonable - thanks to a helpful grip handle.

So the test car ticked essentials boxes: comfort, room, spec (standard trim is particularly strong on comfort and safety) and good accessibility. Now, the only engine in the Santa Fe range is the revised, powerful, diesel 2.2-litre. Diesel isn't to everyone's taste, as we know, and I think Hyundai needs a petrol option given that several rivals in the loosely descriptive 'large seven-seat SUV' segment have them: Skoda Kodiaq, Peugeot 5008SUV, Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace, etc.

A lot of my enquirers used the word "dilemma" about having only a diesel option.

Attitudes are changing fast out there.

Hyundai would argue its car is larger than the rivals mentioned and claim its diesel is as clean as anything on the market. Still...

Yes, it is large (4,770mm long, 1,890mm wide, 2,765mm wheelbase) and tall (ground clearance 185mm) yet I found it easy to park. The bird's-eye-view parking system was brilliant, showing usual guidelines as well as overview. I wish every car had one.

The power of the diesel was palpable everywhere, with loads of grunt and pull that made it so good for longer, tougher treks. Against that, I discerned poor enough repression of both engine and road-noise intrusion. Immediacy of response via the 8spd automatic transmission in tighter traffic was a tad slow, too. All fared better on the open, smoother highways. Which raised another dilemma for some as many live in urban areas and put up relatively small mileage. They don't need a big diesel. That's why they were/are looking for smaller petrols.

The weird thing about all this is that there are plenty of seven-seater people carriers (MPVs) on sale, but not many families seem to want them. No, instead they have their hearts set on an SUV come what may, even though, as was the case with the test car, you lose a bit of refined handling and drive. But that is the price we're prepared to pay for a seven-seater SUV such as this mostly impressive Santa Fe.

It is today's coincidence, confluence, call it what you will, of perceived necessity and motoring fashion.

Facts & figures

Hyundai Santa Fe seven-seat SUV; 2.2-litre diesel (197PS), €390-€570 road tax.

Standard spec includes 17ins alloys, auto air con, cruise control, Drive Mode Select, AEB, lane-keep assist, auto wipers/lights, rear-parking sensors, radio/RDS/mono 5ins screen, roof rails, electric windows, 3.5ins TFT cluster, cloth seats. Active safety/driving assists included: rear occupant alert, safety exit, blind-spot collision warning, rear cross-traffic/forward collision-avoidance. Trim/spec increases appreciably up the grades (leather, large infotainment screens, etc).

Price: €41,995 (2WD Comfort Plus) to €57,495 (4WD Premium Plus auto tested).

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