Tow car test: Hyundai Santa Fe

Model tested 2.2 CRDI 200PS AWD Premium SE Auto Price £43,295 Kerb­weight 1895kg

Practical Caravan - - Contents -

Hyundai’s new Santa Fe is a thor­oughly im­pres­sive and prac­ti­cal tow car

What’s new?

The Santa Fe is Hyundai’s new flag­ship seven-seat SUV. Big­ger than the old car, it has a roomy, prac­ti­cal in­te­rior. Tow­ing-friendly fea­tures such as self-lev­el­ling sus­pen­sion and Trailer Sta­bil­ity As­sist are stan­dard. There’s just one en­gine, a de­vel­op­ment of the 2.2-litre diesel that pow­ered the old model. It has 197bhp and 325lb ft of torque, so it should have enough poke to han­dle any sen­si­bly matched car­a­van. Buy­ers can choose two- or four-wheel drive, and man­ual or au­to­matic. We’re test­ing the 4x4 au­to­matic in high-spec Premium SE trim.

What are we look­ing for?

The Santa Fe is now pricier, vy­ing with up­mar­ket ri­vals. Will its spa­cious cabin, driver aids and tow­ing abil­ity jus­tify its premium price tag? Tow­ing abil­ity Hyundai quotes a range of kerb­weights for the Santa Fe, de­pend­ing on the gear­box, whether the car is two- or four-wheel drive, and the spec. For a 4x4 auto, the stated kerb­weight is 1895-2020kg. Work­ing from the lower weight gives an 85% match fig­ure of 1611kg, well within the le­gal max­i­mum of 2000kg (2500kg for man­ual cars). We matched the big Santa Fe to a Swift Ex­pres­sion 635 with a MIRO of 1485kg and headed out for an ex­tended tow on a va­ri­ety of roads. Some cars im­me­di­ately feel well suited to tow­ing, and the Hyundai is one of them. The en­gine feels un­trou­bled pulling up to speed, and is set­tled and com­fort­able at the le­gal limit. There’s hardly any move­ment from the car or car­a­van while tow­ing, even in cross­winds or over­tak­ing lor­ries and coaches. Pull off the mo­tor­way and drive onto coun­try roads and the Hyundai con­tin­ues to feel at home. Lumpy sur­faces fail to put it off its stride, with well­judged sus­pen­sion pre­vent­ing too much float or wal­low. The en­gine is also well suited to heavy-duty tow­ing. With so much pulling power, the Santa Fe con­fi­dently pulls a big tourer up to speed. It can ac­cel­er­ate up slopes steep enough to have many tow cars strug­gling. This would be bet­ter still if the gear­box were quicker to re­spond: it’s some­times a lit­tle slow to choose a lower gear when over­tak­ing. Pull away briskly from a stand­ing start and there’s a slight hes­i­ta­tion. But hill starts are a dod­dle, thanks to an elec­tronic park­ing brake that holds car and car­a­van still on steep slopes and re­leases smoothly. In dry con­di­tions, it towed eas­ily on a 1-in-10 gra­di­ent and, thanks to four-wheel drive, would have lit­tle trou­ble in the wet. Ar­rive at your des­ti­na­tion and the Santa Fe is easy to ma­noeu­vre. The gear­box creeps smoothly and there’s no dif­fi­culty re­vers­ing up a shal­low slope. Thick rear pil­lars com­pro­mise over-shoul­der vis­i­bil­ity, but the rear-view cam­era min­imises that. Premium SE mod­els go one bet­ter with a sur­round-view sys­tem us­ing sev­eral cam­eras to com­pose a 360˚ plan view of the car and its sur­round­ings. There’s plenty of clear­ance around the de­tach­able tow­ball. The 13-pin electrics stow out of sight be­hind the bumper and fold down by hand when needed. How­ever, they still sit very close to the bumper, which gets in the way slightly when at­tach­ing the electrics. A more re­spon­sive auto ’box and more knuckle-friendly in­stal­la­tion of the electrics would im­prove the Sante Fe’s tow­ing cre­den­tials. But these re­ally are mi­nor com­plaints.

Solo driv­ing Leave the car­a­van on its pitch and you’ll find the Santa Fe en­joy­able to drive. It’s not as sharp as a BMW X3, but han­dles tidily on coun­try roads and feels set­tled on the mo­tor­way. The Hyundai is fit­ted with a Drive Mode Se­lect sys­tem that varies the car’s re­sponses. ‘Sport’ adds weight to the steer­ing, but there’s no more feel or feed­back, so we tended to use ‘Com­fort’ most of the time. The ‘Smart’ set­ting varies the set-up, de­pend­ing on how the car is driven. Chang­ing modes also al­ters the way the four-wheel drive be­haves. In ‘Sport’, more power goes to the rear wheels, for more dy­namic han­dling. ‘Com­fort’ sends most power to the front wheels, while ‘Eco’ can send up to 100% of the power to them, to min­imise fric­tional losses and im­prove fuel econ­omy. In any mode, sen­sors mon­i­tor which of the wheels have grip, to avoid spin­ning power away if a wheel lacks trac­tion. The car han­dles ac­cu­rately and body lean when cor­ner­ing is within rea­son­able bounds. You can drive en­thu­si­as­ti­cally down a B-road with­out the car be­com­ing un­ruly. Keep­ing a two-tonne SUV con­trolled and com­fort­able is a bal­anc­ing act, but the sus­pen­sion is sup­ple enough to cope with poor sur­faces, only thump­ing on the big­gest bumps. This is most no­tice­able in town – at higher speeds, it rides firmly, but with fi­nesse. At speed, the car feels ev­ery bit as se­cure as its sta­bil­ity while tow­ing would sug­gest. There’s some road noise, es­pe­cially when driv­ing over coarse Tar­mac, but en­gine and wind noise stay in the back­ground. Around town, there’s no es­cap­ing the car’s size, but the sur­round-view cam­era is a plus when park­ing. Space and prac­ti­cal­ity Hyundai has made good use of the di­men­sions in­side. The driver and front seat pas­sen­ger sit up high, even with the seat on its low­est set­ting. There’s plenty of ad­just­ment, so short and tall driv­ers alike can en­joy a com­mand­ing view. In terms of in­te­rior qual­ity, Hyundai has made con­sid­er­able strides. There’s a solid feel to the con­trols and the top half of the dash is well fin­ished. How­ever, the lower parts of the dash and doors are made of hard, shiny plas­tics, which don’t live up to those you’d find in an Audi or Mercedes-benz. An Audi or Mercedes-benz SUV at this price wouldn’t be as spa­cious as the Hyundai, how­ever. In the mid­dle row, there’s lots of legroom and head­room is ac­cept­able. There are air vents be­tween the front seats, so those in the mid­dle can be kept at a com­fort­able tem­per­a­ture, and two USB sock­ets to keep their phones and tablets charged. The near­side mid­dle seat tilts and slides away to give ac­cess to the third row. Pas­sen­gers sit low to the floor and don’t have much legroom, but the mid­dle seats are on run­ners and can slide for­ward to give those in the back more space. It’s good to see air vents here, too. With all seats up­right, boot space is tight. How­ever, with seats six and seven folded flat, there’s lots of lug­gage room. The Santa Fe can’t match the ca­pac­ity of the Škoda Ko­diaq, but we can’t see too many own­ers com­plain­ing. Top-spec mod­els fea­ture pow­ered push-but­ton fold­ing for the mid­dle row and, with these seats low­ered, the floor is al­most flat, giv­ing a large space. Buy­ing and own­ing The new Santa Fe isn’t cheap. Even the most af­ford­able model costs over £3000 more than the en­try-level Kia Sorento. How­ever, you do get a lot of kit for your money. Premium SE cars have a head-up dis­play, 8in touch­screen, sat nav, adap­tive cruise con­trol, Ap­ple Carplay and An­droid Auto, a stereo with 10 speak­ers and a host of driver aids. The Santa Fe is not go­ing to be es­pe­cially cheap to fuel, re­turn­ing 45.6mpg on the com­bined cy­cle. That com­pares with 49.6mpg for the equiv­a­lent Škoda Ko­diaq. How­ever, we saw a rea­son­able 24.5mpg while tow­ing with this ve­hi­cle. The Santa Fe also comes with the re­as­sur­ance of a fiveyear/100,000-mile war­ranty.

Hyundai’s new Santa Fe feels well suited to tow­ing and of­fers rea­son­able fuel econ­omy

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