Hyundai Santa Fe Premium SE pictures and hands-on

The new Santa Fe is a new car on a new platform, Hyundai tell us, taking this four-by-four SUV beyond the facelifted 2010 model that's done surprisingly well in the UK.

The SUV market has exploded in recent years, with larger platform cars coming from all angles. The Santa Fe Premium SE is a proper all-wheel drive vehicle, however, offering more than just off-roader looks.

But the new generation of Santa Fe will also offer a two-wheel drive option for those who want to take advantage of the size of the vehicle, with no intention of showing it more difficult driving conditions - a large saloon, if you will.

At the top of the line, the Santa Fe Premium SE, featured here, will also appeal to those looking at the MPV market, thanks to the two folding seats in the rear. They fold flat into the base of the boot, so you don't get the feeling that you've lost space for having them, and they deploy quickly and easily with a quick pull on the handle.

Design: inside and out

Hyundai has redesigned much of the Santa Fe, refining the styling to help it compete with some of the head-turning premium SUV models on the road from the likes of BMW or Audi. The new exterior design is more distinct, with angular headlights and a larger grill.

Designers love fancy terms, and for Hyundai it's apparently "Storm Edge". The Santa Fe's contemporary styling delivers that premium look and status, but without sending the cost sky-high. The new Santa Fe is longer and wider and 45mm lower too, so it's hunkered down and more aggressive in looks.

That story continues with the interior. Hyundai told us that one of the biggest requests from Santa Fe owners was to improve the "perceived quality" of the interior. The new interior is more refined, but hasn't sacrificed space. There is plenty of legroom in the back and the cabin feels light and spacious at the front with amble headroom.

Our test model had "privacy glass" in the rear so it didn't feel quite as open as it might, but it adds a touch of luxury and keeps the sun out of the eyes of the kids in the back.

We were in the Premium SE model, the highest level of specification that Hyundai has for the Santa Fe. It's comfortable and feels well put together. Switches and buttons felt nice and solid and we'd say it has the edge over the Veloster Turbo we drove on the same day, especially with things like the interior door handles.

The layout of the cabin is pretty good, although there's a fair number of controls for things like the climate control system. The symmetrical layout of the central console means some are a bit of a reach for the driver, but once you know your way around, it's all easy enough.

It's comfortable too, with the large leather seats cosseting you as you sit in front of the new instrument panel, which is clean and easy to read at a glance. Hyundai has also redesigned the stalk controls to increase the feeling of quality. It's worked too, as the cabin is a very nice place to be.

We're not totally sold on the two-tone beige/black interior of the model we drove, but given that the exterior paint colour was Mocha, we can't complain too much.

The technology

The new Santa Fe brings with it a great deal of technology, both inside and out. You get the normal ABS, ESP and so on, but for tackling hills you also get descent control and hill start assist. If you are towing, then there is a trailer stability system that will help bring your trailer back under control automatically should you start snaking down the road.

Like the Veloster Turbo we drove on the same day, there is a 7-inch touchscreen display, which is the hub for entertainment, as well as providing the display for the rear camera when reversing. There is an additional 4.3-inch display for information in the driver's panel, with controls for major functions on the steering wheel.

The entertainment system is intuitive enough and we had no problem finding our way around the satnav or media system. It's perhaps not as refined or as visually exciting as systems found elsewhere, such as on the new Audi A3 we tested recently, but it covers all bases.

Bluetooth is in place to hook up your mobile phone and we had no problem connecting the Motorola RAZR i so we could stream music to the 10-speaker system. There is a USB port which will accept your iPod or other media player.

There is plenty of volume on offer, although we found that the satnav instructions were a little harsh. You can change the volumes of music and guidance independently, but the system works by cutting music from the front speakers to relay driving instructions to you, so any music you're listening to can become a little patchy.

On and off the road

We drove the 2.2CRDi 4WD automatic version of the Santa Fe. It's an easy drive, with nice light steering, but you can change steering modes at the press of a button for a different feel if you'd like something firmer. The drive is relatively smooth because the Santa Fe doesn't wallow around too much on the road and in the corners.

We found the automatic gearbox to be a little temperamental; sometimes the delivery of power wasn't smooth and predictable, feeling jumpy at times on the road, especially coming off roundabouts when you put your foot down. But even though this is a big beast, there's plenty of power to get you moving. As the speed picks up you'll notice there is some wind noise, but not excessive road noise. Once we'd nudged up the radio, it wasn't anything to cause concern.

Taking the new Santa Fe off-road, we were impressed by just how easily it handled the route that Hyundai had prepared. Sure, it wasn't taxing, but after a quick press of the differential lock and downhill control, we found that the Santa Fe conveyed us with confidence off the beaten track.

It's great fun too as, this being an automatic gearbox, there's very little to do other than keep the speed at a level where you feel in control and comfortable. It's a smooth ride over the bumps and of course the high driving position gives you great visibility both on and off the road so you can see what's coming.

Lasting impressions

The Hyundai Santa Fe might not be the first model that springs to mind when looking for a capable SUV, but the price and specification makes it an attractive prospect. It's a more efficient car now, so running costs will be lower than previously and you get a lot packed in for your money.

The top spec model we drove starts at £32,695. That's for the automatic with seven seats and Hyundai tells us that 70 per cent of existing customers opted for this model in the previous Santa Fe, so it's likely to be the top seller again.

The impressive thing is that you get everything for that price: 19-inch alloy wheels, electric driver's seat adjustment, Xenon headlights, rear aircon, panoramic sunroof, keyless entry and stop/start button, premium sound system, satnav, cruise control, tyre pressure monitoring, the list goes on. The only options are no-cost options and that's for the colour of the leather and the paint.



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