Thursday, April 20, 2006

T#23: Hyundai Santa Fe CDX 2.7 V6 Automatic

Shallow be thy name?

The very first thing I want to say about the new Hyundai Santa Fe is this:

It’s much, much better than the old one.

Now, I know someone who owns a previous generation version of this vehicle and they like it just fine. There’s nothing actually wrong with it at all – it’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect a Hyundai-made SUV of that vintage: nothing offensive, nothing too original, built to a price and with value in mind.

The new one, however, is whole postal codes ahead.

The exterior design, for example. It’s hardly going to win any originality contests – looking kind of like a growth hormone fed RAV4, with a little something something of the Mercedes and Lexus about it, add a touch of Honda to garnish – but you can’t say it doesn’t look good. In fact, accusations of badassness might accompany anyone who specs the black with black tints of my test car. But pick any colour and you’re getting a graceful set of lines backed up with more than a hint of muscle; a neatly-executed take on the modern SUV brief. Even the base model gets 17” alloys, while the CDX and above get natty-looking 18s.

Step up to the cabin, and the interior is even more of an improvement than the outside. The plastic quality is far higher than in the old model, and while the lightly coloured ‘Rich Maple’ veneer that dissects the upper and lower portions of the CDX-spec dash won’t be to everybody’s taste, it at least suggests that a designer was involved in the layout rather than just an engineer. It’s also a vast improvement over the ‘Cherry wood’ in the lower-end variants. The instruments are the best bit, though – in white with subtle touches of red and blue, the dials are elegantly scripted, well lit, and easy to read. Aside from the indicator stalk being on the opposite side (meaning idiot me kept signalling to turn with the windscreen wipers), the control layout presents no obvious problems.

Comfort levels are high, too – at least as long as your sat in the first two rows. There’s plenty of leg room behind the front seats, but the optional third row being suitable for adults? You can forget about it. These do fold flat into the floor, but if it wasn’t for the self-levelling suspension you also get for the extra £800 the seven-seater costs, they seem a bit pointless. The driver gets electric adjustment on the CDX, while everyone else has to make do with manual movement; these mechanisms aren’t exactly Honda-like integrity-wise, but seem likely to last well enough.

As with all new Hyundais, the Santa Fe gets a five year unlimited mileage warranty. This is transferable, helping resale value, and added reassurance comes in the form of RAC cover – although strangely this only covers the first three years of ownership. This means that anyone who buys a Hyundai should never be accused of making a mistake, because that is one fabulous aftersales package.

However, there is one slightly jarring aspect to all this good news – and it isn’t the ride quality. They may have upped their game, but Hyundai have also upped their price; the entry-level Santa Fe GSI opens up at over £20k, and the starting price for the CDX is £22,820; the seven-seat CDX petrol V6 automatic tested here rolls of the forecourt at £24,440. While it’s true you are getting a serious chunk of car for the money, that is a serious chunk of change for what many still consider a budget brand. You think that’s irrelevant? If we’re talking Chelseaquite be everything but it takes up a huge amount of almost. tractors, and we are, image may not So what, aside from the derivative – if classy – looks and the improved insides are you actually getting for your money?

This, for me, is where the Santa Fe starts to slide a little. It’s got the 4wd drive, and it looked great nearly getting there, but just when it needs that final push to get it over the top of the hill, it simply doesn’t have the grunt…

See, if you pop the bonnet, fight off the plastic cladding and physically look for it, you’ll find there’s a 2.7 litre V6 petrol propulsion unit. The trouble is, you may actually want to do this after you’ve driven the Santa Fe, coz, boy, does it not feel frisky. The figures are 186bhp (up 16bhp on its predecessor) and 183lb ft – sounds capable enough, but hauling around 1,820kgs of SUV seems to knock the life out of it somewhat. As does the five-speed automatic gearbox; supposed to be smooth and responsive, on the test car it actually proved jerky, reluctant to kick down, and is stuffed full of cogs big enough to allow an indicated 70mph in second. Tuned perhaps for economy instead of performance (official combined figure is 26.6mpg, not exactly ground breaking).

Uninspiring stuff, but on the plus side the V6 is certainly refined; newly fettled for 06, mods include a new balancer shaft, helping with the smoothness. This goes very nicely with the ride, which is impressively tolerant on the motorway, and only unsettled by the harshest of expansion joints. But, if you want more pull, better go with the diesel model; I haven’t driven it, but the new 2.2 litre common rail unit is apparently impressive. Boasting Variable Geometry Turbocharger technology (and you thought that only came on Porsches), this four-cylinder has fewer horses but 247lb ft of torque – a useful 64 more than its petrol-powered sibling. It also costs less – albeit only £20. Still, I suppose a V6 badge on the rump seems much more sexy than CRD…more fool the style-conscious.

On the other hand, perhaps it’s better not to be going too fast. Because sooner or later you’re going to get to a corner. Alright, alright, SUV-stereotyping nearly over, you can predict what I’m going to say: it rolls. A lot. But, then I can’t ever imagine wanting to hustle anything this big with any kind of enthusiasm; spirited cross-country driving will see your stuff sliding it all over the backseat. If you’re stupid enough to leave it there. Ahem. Steering feel is also conspicuous by its absence – I expect you knew I was going to say that.

However, when get up near the limit (on a test track, I’d like to point out. I’m not completely stupid), you might be in for a pleasant surprise. Grip actually is reasonably tenacious; Hyundai says it uses a ‘Torque on Demand’ system in the 4wd, and you can sort of feel this happening as the tires do their best to cling on to the tarmac. Obviously it understeers – but then so does everything; the benefit of it rolling around, though, is that it’s easy to tell when the Santa Fe is approaching the point of thinking about letting go, let alone actually doing it. This in spite of the lifeless steering, so it’s not all bad. Kind of scary, but I expect you’d get used to it if you’re the sort of person who likes driving their SUV like a stolen hot hatch.

Overall, the new Hyundai Santa Fe is a likeable automobile. The looks and the interior quality win over the lacklustre engine and transmission performance, and that warranty package is definitely appealing. The price still takes a bit of getting used to, but my friend who owns the previous version didn’t seem to think it too bad; I know he’d buy another one. So, I suppose the improvements can only mean that more people will come to a similar conclusion. And on balance, I think it’s a car that deserves to do well – just make sure you check out the diesel before deciding on the V6.

Hyundai Santa Fe CDX 2.7 V6 Automatic (Seven Seat): On the road price: £24,440

Hyundai Santa Fe Technical Specifications


2.7 V6


V6 cylinder CVVT

Capacity (cc)




Bore x stroke (mm)

86.7 x 75.0

Compression ratio


Max. power (kW/bhp @ rpm)

139/186 @ 6,000

Max. torque (Nm/lb ft @ rpm)

248/183 @ 4,000



MacPherson struts with coil springs


Multi-link type with anti-roll bar



Power assisted rack and pinion steering. Energy absorbing collapsible steering column.

Turns lock to lock




Dual diagonal split circuit, power assisted with ABS and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution


16 in ventilated discs, floating calliper with pad warning device




Tyre type/size

235/60 R18

Wheel type/size

Alloy 7.0J x 18


Overall length (mm/in)

4,650 (4675 for CDX / CDX+) /183.0

Overall width (mm/in)


Overall height (mm/in)

1,725 (1,795 inc roof rack) /70.6

Wheelbase (mm/in)


Track - front (mm/in)


Track - rear (mm/in)


Turning radius (m/ft)



Luggage capacity, 7 seat models – seats down (SAE l/cu ft)


Gross vehicle weight – 7 seats (kg/lb)

2,495 (5,500)

Max. towing weight – braked (kg/lb)

2,000 (4,409)

Max. towing weight – unbraked (kg/lb)

750 (1,653)

Max. roof weight (kg/lb)

100 (220)

Fuel tank capacity (l/gallons)

75 (16.5)


0-62 mph acceleration (sec)


Max. speed (km/h/mph)



Urban mpg (l/100 km)

19.6 (14.4)

Extra urban mpg (l/100 km)

33.6 (8.4)

Combined mpg (l/100 km)

26.6 (10.6)

CO2 emissions (g/km)


(All specs from Hyundai UK)


T#22: Mk V Volkswagen Golf GTi [internal]

T#21: Honda Jazz 1.4 Sport CVT-7 [internal]

Picture is a Hyundai press photo. Suitably random, I thought.


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