The biggest Hyundai SUV, the Santa Fe, is a flagship car for the brand that has, in recent years, filled in its lower ranges with the likes of the Ioniq and the Kona, bringing progressive powertrain options to a wide range of vehicles, from compact to crossover.

The Santa Fe survives as a seven-seat SUV, but there's no option for a hybrid or electric here (there is the promise of mild hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions in the future though). For now, then, it's diesel only; and in the UK, that's the company's 200PS 2.2-litre diesel.

That might cause some to pause for thought: the Santa Fe is a great school run car - as those back seats are ideal for surplus children - but at the same time you're going to be pumping out more pollutants at the school gate than those hybrid alternatives, which the brand seems so heavily invested in. Does it make sense?

Size matters

The Hyundai Santa Fe is very much about the size and the space. It's one of the more affordable 7-seat SUVs on the road, starting at £32k, undercut slightly by its sister model the Kia Sorento but still a healthy chunk more expensive than the Skoda Kodiaq's £26k starting point (with seven seats).

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What all these models have in common is space. From the driver to the boot, the sense of airiness and space is one of the attractions of driving a bigger SUV and an advantage over the cutesy Hyundai Tucson and similar models. Yes, those mid-sized SUVs will do for many people, but when you're trying to stuff all the camping gear in the boot, you'll be glad you got the bigger model. 

The Santa Fe's rearmost seats are pretty small - few SUVs have a capacious third row, with the full-size Discovery being the major exception. To accommodate legs in this third row you can slide the second row forward a touch to find a nice interior balance between the two, which is pretty common on these types of cars.

The Santa Fe also pulls off something rather remarkable: it actually looks pretty good. Hyundai - probably more than any other brand of late - has really turned its design around, and we think this SUV manages to avoid looking too predictable. It's rugged and offroady, but it's not crude.

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There are three trim levels available - SE, Premium and Premium SE - and the options list runs to paint options and seat trim colour. So you don't have to run down a list adding options adding heaps to the asking price. Instead, you make a simple choice between the three.

Hitting the open road and the closed road

For those with no ambition to go offroad the SE might suit you fine. If you want to cut through more than rain on road surface then to get the all-wheel drive (AWD) option you'll have to select the Premium trim - but that comes in at closer to £38k, by which point it's more expensive than a Discovery Sport with AWD and seven-seats. That's something to note about the Santa Fe: the price escalates in pretty big steps. 

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We've only driven the automatic model - which has become a little more responsive than Hyundai's of a few years ago (even if it doesn't skip around as adroitly as the auto gearbox in the Skoda Kodiaq) - but it's the manual that takes the prize for the lowest emissions. Not that there's a lot in it. Becoming a mild hybrid in future would bring this figure down again. Emissions isn't the Santa Fe's big play really, at least not yet, with ours returning 38mpg from mixed country road usage.

Whichever model you choose, on the road it's a nice place to be sat. Great visibility comes with something of a soft ride; this SUV soaks away the undulations of the road and there's a general sense of tranquillity. Sure, you'll hear that 2.2-litre diesel burbling away at higher revs, but otherwise things are well insulated. There is some roll - to be expected given the size - but for the sort of sedate driving that most normal people do, you're likely to slow down before hitting those hairy bends. 

The Santa Fe also reserves some offroad skills. While it won't claim to be much more than a road going car, it can cope with the sort of rough stuff you might encounter - and more than just a muddy carpark. There's hill descent control that will control downhill speed in tricky conditions, avoiding the need to stamp on the brakes.

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There's also an AWD lock button. This is used to even out the power heading the wheels and overrides the front and rear split that happens in normal driving. On the road it will usually be an 80/20 front/rear split, but once you hit that lock button you'll get 50/50 - so when offroad you'll have traction on all the wheels. 

We've taken the Santa Fe on a mild offroad course and it will handle some rougher stuff, so if you find yourself off the beaten track, there's enough to keep you moving in relative comfort. 

Interior tech and finish 

The Santa Fe also feels and looks a little better than some other models in the Hyundai family. At this top Premium SE trim you basically get everything that's on offer - ventilated seats, heated rear seats, automatic everything, privacy glass, panoramic sunroof, heads-up display (HUD), wireless phone charging, and more. 

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Like the Tucson, there's a display that sits a the top of the dash. It's 8-inches (7-inches on the SE) and flanked by buttons. The user interface is a little basic in its appearance so it hasn't really kept up with the smartphone revolution, but it's easy enough to use. The satnav system is effective enough, with a HUD to bring that information into your eyeline.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both available at all trim levels, which adds plenty of convenience, meaning you can bypass the default system if you want. Yes, you'll be able to pipe Waze straight onto that display and take advantage of apps like Spotify to play music through the great Krell sound system (standard on the Standard and Standard SE).

You also get the bells and whistles, with features like the adaptive cruise control being ideal for those motorway cruisers, where you'll likely get the best out of this diesel engine. There are full 360-degree parking cameras, too, which is perfect for helping squeeze such a big SUV into tighter spaces.

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Simply put, this is one of Hyundai's strong points: you're getting all that tech that others either don't offer (BMW would charge you for Apple CarPlay and won't offer you Android Auto at all), or would cost a lot more from the extras list. The key thing about buying a Hyundai is checking that you have everything you want in the trim grade you're looking at - because if you don't, you can't just tag something on.

Verdict

There's a lot to like about the Santa Fe. It's a nice car to drive, it feels controlled and there's enough power, efficiently delivered with enough purpose to keep it pulling up hills. There's enough offroad skill to without it being overkill, while there's plenty of boot space and the option to fold up the third row to cart a couple more bodies around. 

Where it really wins is with simple trim levels and a slathering of tech goodness as standard. Even on the most affordable model you get plenty of connectivity and safety tech bundled in, which will be enough to keep many happy - without escalating the price to astronomical levels.

For those with a big family, the Santa Fe is definitely worth considering. Some rivals might have greater desirability, but Hyundai certainly comes with the advantage of practicality. However, it does start to get expensive in its all-wheel drive form.

Alternatives to consider

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Skoda Kodiaq

The Skoda Kodiaq is one of the best value big SUVs on the market and it's only a small price step to AWD and seven seats. VW's quality pours into the Kodiaq and even if you don't opt for the range-topping VRS pictured above, you still get a great car.

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Land Rover Discovery Sport 

The Disco Sport is often the top choice for seven seaters, while remaining a little more compact than the full-sized Discovery. At its entry-level it's front-wheel drive with five seats, but can be specced up. While the Sport offers super offroad skills, it's driver-facing tech isn't as sophisticated as the Hyundai - but there is a hybrid coming later in 2019.