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Hyundai Santa Fe

Date: 26 August 2006

Category: Large 4x4
Prices: £20,995-£25,195

As soon as Hyundai's MD, Tony Whitehorn, began citing the X5, XC90 and Touareg as the new Santa Fe's natural competitors, we began to suspect it would carry a serious financial sting in its tail.

Whitehorn confirmed our fears; the new base car, on sale April, costs £1800 more than the dearest version of the outgoing car. Suddenly, there's the prospect of a £25,000 Hyundai, posing the question, can such a historically budget brand support such a hefty price tag?

Hyundai says the similarly sized Tucson, introduced in 2004, confused customers and dented Santa Fe sales. The new car is considerably bigger than the model it replaces, and offers a seven-seat option (£600) that helps to distance it from its smaller brother.

Hyundai Sante Fe spec

Luckily, the all-new car breaks with the old's awkward bulbous looks. From some angles, it could pass as a Touareg doppelganger, which is no bad thing.

On the engine front, there's the choice of a 148PS 2.2 diesel, or a smooth 189PS 2.7 V6 petrol. The latter is best avoided, as even Santa Fe engineers quietly admit the four-speed auto (the only 'box available with this engine) doesn't transfer well from US to European conditions, constantly hunting for gears. The diesel's auto gearbox, however, has an extra cog, helping it to average 34.9mpg without feeling appreciably slower than the petrol, and there's also a five-speed manual. Tax-wise the diesel attracts good BIK of 32% as an auto, 28% as a manual.

The new Santa Fe's cabin is a surprisingly pleasant place, so long as you veto the plum leather piping, something you can't do for the less than convincing 'wood'. Bar those gripes, interior quality is on the up and the Santa Fe is the first Hyundai to have an integrated stereo.

Refinement levels have also been raised and the cabin remains quiet, with engine noise well suppressed, and only an annoying wind whistle intrudes at motorway speeds.

The new, larger Santa Fe is a considerable improvement over the old car, but away from the straights and into the corners, it trails others for handling, especially compared to what Hyundai thinks are its natural competitors. Up the pace and there's substantial body roll and pitching, which passengers won't appreciate. However, there's impressive grip, while ESP (standard with CDX trim and above), prevents unintended off-roading.

But is the Santa Fe's new price tag an ask too far? The lack of a prestige badge will make sales a serious uphill struggle, but the combination of good looks and, hopefully, great costs could see the Santa Fe appeal on a user-chooser list near you.