On wheels: Hyundai Santa Fe

Another 4x4? Well, says Michael Booth, it is a jungle out there...
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Would suit Yummy mummies on a budget
Price £20,995-25,420
Maximum speed 111mph
Performance 0-60 in 11.6 secs
Combined fuel economy 38.7mpg
Further information 0800 981 981

Sports utility vehicles, off-roaders, Fulham Tractors, call them what you like, the British public has a peculiarly ambivalent attitude towards them. We have a similar relationship to mobile phones, or public schools - I would be quite happy to see people who use mobiles in restaurants or on trains forced to eat them by a team of special police armed with cattle prods, but at the same time I am pathologically incapable of resisting the ringtone of my own phone in both situations. You see, my call might be really important. Meanwhile, public schools are clearly responsible for many of the inequalities of society, but I already send my eldest son to a fee-paying school because the alternative state school is a kind of borstal as far as I can make out.

We all claim to hate SUVs, so who the hell is buying them all? Because buying them we surely are. Sometimes it seems as if every other car round my way is a four-by-four of some kind. They can't all be farmers, unless they've made it legal to farm toddlers without telling me. And the farmers have taken to wearing Dior sunglasses. And here comes another one, the new, built-in-Korea Hyundai Santa Fe. Now, many of you will be rolling your eyes in exasperation at this. Not another one! Aren't all the RAV4s, CR-Vs, Freelanders, Land Cruisers, Discoveries, Touaregs, Mitsubishi whatevers and Subaru whatsits enough already?

Well, actually, if we can set aside our distaste for the breed for a moment, the Santa Fe has an awful lot to commend it. None of its rivals quite offers the power, space and equipment for the price. The 2.2-litre diesel I tried only costs £20 more than the V6 petrol version but it's definitely the one to go for - it is far more frugal and smoother than many diesels. It comes with climate control, heated leather seats and side airbags as standard. You've got your four-wheel drive but most of the time power is sent to the front wheels to maximise fuel efficiency; the rears only come into play when the system senses slip. For an extra £600 you can have your Santa Fe with seven seats, two extra ones in the back that can fold flat into the boot floor. They are for kids only and a bother to clamber into, but they're there when you need them, which is more than can be said for the RAV4 or Nissan X-Trail.

But no one is buying these cars for their traction (loads of conventional saloons come with four-wheel drive) or even their seven seats (after all, the Zafira or Ford S-Max seat seven). I don't even believe that people are buying off-roaders out of some arrogant urge to look down on everyone else. Car buying has been an arms race - I date the start of it all to the launch of the original Discovery - and the real reason people buy large four-by-fours is the supposed protection they afford in the event of a crash. And, in a way, they are right.

Those star ratings for crash worthiness are based on the vehicle crashing into something of a similar mass, so a VW Fox, say, might have a decent rating, but only if it crashes into another VW Fox or, even better, a Smart. But if a Range Rover hits you, you're a human flapjack. Never mind that a lighter, smaller car will accelerate, brake and, crucially, steer better than an off-roader, the perception that scale equals safety is hard to erase. And as with any arms race, I'm afraid there may be no way back.

It's a classic: Aston Martin DB7

Confident you aren't going to crash? Feel no need to sit in your car as high as if you were on a horse? Then maybe you could consider something a little more glamorous. For the same money as a new, top-of-the-range Santa Fe you could pick up a 10-year-old Aston Martin.

Prices of older DB7s are now in the realms of reality for anyone shopping for a new Hyundai. The DB7 was the first Aston made under the ownership of Ford - some maintain it is the most beautiful Aston ever made. Though it was based on a Jaguar and had Ford switches inside, the DB7 is every inch a real Aston. The engines have a plaque with the builder's name on and, of course, Bond drove one.

These days, £25k will just about buy you an early V6-engined version; they were plenty fast enough and some say the best-looking of the lot, but that will be a car with lots of miles and a patchy history.

A few thousand more should bag you the crucial full service history which will be worth every penny when you come to sell.

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