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How does Hyundai's broad-shouldered, seven-seat SUV measure up to the competition?
Hyundai, as well as its sister brand Kia, has made a name for itself when it comes to logically-laid out, clean-cut, well-equipped interiors. And the Santa Fe is a perfect example of why this is. There's just enough buttons on the dash to make life simple, the touchscreen is straightforward to use and the standard equipment list is very generous. But does it feel special inside? Not really. Well, not in the same way an Audi or BMW feels special.
There's a lot to like about the Santa Fe from a quality and luxury perspective. Pretty much every surface to hand is finished in soft-touch, leather-look material, the seats are incredibly comfortable and even some of the plastic inserts feature slick detailing that adds to the overall style of the interior instead of taking away from it. It feels more like a luxury car with a permanent family pack fitted - which for those with a busy, messy, muddy football boots in the back seats kinda lifestyle, will be perfect.
As mentioned, equipment on all Santa Fe's is in abundance. All models get parking sensors, reversing camera, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, a seven-inch touchscreen and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The model we tested was the flagship Premium SE, which with ventilated front seats, a surround view parking system and panoramic glass roof, is great, but perhaps a bit overkill for those after a practical family car. The mid-range Premium model offers the best value for money.
But it's practical.
The Santa Fe may not be able to go toe-to-toe with the Germans in the luxury department, but its practicality is seriously impressive. Mathematically, it's not the most spacious seven-seater out there, but there's tons of head and legroom in the rear seats, along with some useful USB charging ports, to keep everyone from kids to tall adults happy. There's a nice flat floor too, which means your middle passengers won't be fighting for footwell space.
The rearmost seats offer the typical pros and cons of any seven seater. Your knees sit high and headroom is limited, but for kids they're great. The Santa Fe does however have the huge added benefit of having a sliding (and reclining) rear bench, so you should be able to find a compromise for all rear passengers when it comes to legroom.
Fold all the seats down in the Santa Fe and you get a small van's worth of space with up to 1,625 litres. And all five rear seats fold down flat, with the added benefit of a fabric cover to hide them away. The seats are easily folded too, with the rearmost collapsing with the pull of two cords and the middle row folding electronically 60/40, each with the push of a button, which is located in the boot. With all the seats in place, there's still enough space for a few soft shopping bags and rucksacks.
The Santa Fe's drive doesn't defy expectations. It drives very much like you'd expect a large, seven-seater to drive. It leans if you corner at speed and feel through the steering wheel is a little vague, but sharp enough for casual driving. Where the Santa Fe does excel however is in its comfort.
The cushy suspension defeats uneven road surfaces with ease and wind and tyre roar is kept in check thanks to a well-insulated cabin. If comfort is paramount, then you're better going for the smaller 17 or 18-inch wheels. Even the eight-speed automatic gearbox we tested in the Santa Fe adds to kits calm and collected character, handling spurts of acceleration effortlessly. We tested this gearbox along with the 2.2-litre 200hp diesel, which offers plenty of power on tap and achievable fuel economy of between 35-40mpg.