The South Korean manufacture’s latest SUV offers a smooth and relaxing ride, finds Charlie Flindt, once you’ve decided who’s steering


The new Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2 CRDi shows how far the Korean manufacturer has come in 20 years, says Charlie Flindt. Though there is some trouble deciding who is responsible for steering…

For more, the Hyundai i30 Fastback N may not win any points among eco warriors, but it is great fun to drive.


How the Santa Fe has changed over its 20-year life. The gawky original, with its Leslie Ash pout and charming simplicity (and price) is now a proper, full-sized beast, up there in the ‘D’ segment of the SUV class. Mind you, I’m not sure such classifications even existed 20 years ago.

What that means is that the interior is big – big enough for three rows of seats, although the third is only for short-term use by adults. Youngsters will be far better at working out which buttons to press to get the seats to fold up and down without having to dive into the gargantuan handbook. The inside has a quality feel to it, with plush leather and some superior-feeling plastics. The only let down is Hyundai’s obsession with featuring its odd ‘squashed oval with pointy ends’ shape as often as possible. It’s on the steering wheel, round the vents, round the now-compulsory touchscreen – it ends up as a bit of a mess.

Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2 CRDi

The seats fold down at the press of a button.

The outside is a bit tidier, with a cliff-face front festooned with a curious assortment of lights. At the back we see that odd shape again, surrounding the tailgate number plate and lights. It’s a bit Kuga-ish but not ugly.

Our Santa Fe had a good, old-fashioned, four-cylinder diesel engine in it, which suited its bulk, and the ubiquitous eight-speed automatic gearbox, perfectly. Not too rough, not too loud and capable of some surprising pace. No one would ever say it’s lively – in fact, everything feels very calm, relaxed and comfortable. The wind noise is low and it makes for a great long-distance machine. On the winding lanes, the bulk is a bit of an issue when meeting lockdown hoons, but it copes with the lumps and bumps nicely.

On my first test drive, we spent a lot of time in the lay-by. Within a couple of miles, I pulled over and checked the front wheels. Were the wheel nuts loose? They certainly felt like it. The steering felt all over the place. No, they were fine.

Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2 CRDi

A plush leather interior – though the icon features a little too often.

A couple of miles later, I realised what was going on: the Santa Fe does a bit of steering for you, using white lines as guidance. Just to check, I headed for a deserted bit of dual carriageway and carefully let go of the wheel – and, yes, it was self-steering. Of course, alarms went off and angry warning signs flashed up on the dashboard. “Put hands back on wheel!” it shouted. “Make your flippin’ mind up about who’s steering!” I shouted back. Good thing the road was deserted. Another lay-by beckoned, followed by 10 minutes in the book (once I’d found my reading glasses) and I got rid of that driving ‘aid’. I could get back to enjoying the Santa Fe.

In fact, it reflects perfectly Hyundai’s progress over two decades, from cheap’n’cheerful Korean novelty name with a less-than-glamorous image to a manufacturer really mixing it with bigger and more established names. But in a way, I miss the old models; they may have been quirky and basic but you never had to shout at them.

Hyundai Santa Fe Premium SE 2.2 CRDi

♦ Engine: 2,199cc turbo diesel
♦ Power: 200PS
♦ Max speed: 127mph
♦ Performance, 0 to 62: 9.4 seconds
♦ Combined fuel economy: 38.7mpg
♦ Insurance group: 40E
♦ Price: £42,560