Top speed: 118 mph
Acceleration: 0-62 mph in 9.8 seconds
Fuel consumption: 41.5 mpg
CO2 emissions: 176 g/km
Rivals: Chevrolet Captiva, Kia Sorento, Land Rover Freelander, Vauxhall Antara
Hyundai's second-generation Santa Fe marked quite a leap forward compared with its predecessor when it was launched back in 2006. The slightly gargoyly styling of the original model was replaced by clean, smooth Euro-style lines, which gave the new car the appearance of a slightly curvier version of the Volkswagen Touareg. And what was under the skin generally lived up to the promise held out by those smart looks as well; a comfortable, roomy interior, a new diesel engine and surprisingly sharp on-road behaviour. In all, it was a worthy curtain-raiser for the Koreans' real breakthrough car, the Golf-class Hyundai i30 and its sister model, the Kia cee'd, which followed about a year later.
But how does it stack up now? The answer, it turns out, is “pretty well”. Rival models may have made big advances in the last few years, but a round of revisions introduced last year have added to the Santa Fe's basic strengths in order to help it stay competitive.
An updated 2.2-litre diesel engine, matched to a snappy six-speed manual gearbox (a six-speed automatic is also available), gives very strong performance for a car of this type and it doesn't make too much of a racket even when working hard, either, although some rivals probably have an edge in terms of refinement. The Santa Fe's handling is up to the job as well, providing a fairly car-like driving experience given this vehicle's bulk, height and weight.
Inside, the Santa Fe is pretty spacious, and it's one of the few SUVs in this price bracket to offer a convincing seven-seat option. One or two of the quirks that used to be found on old-school Korean models still remain, although they aren't really a problem once you get used to them. A right-hand indicator stalk is one – I lost count of the number of times I ended up signalling to other drivers that I intended to turn left with a quick sweep of the windscreen wipers - a steering column adjustable only for rake but not reach is another. The cabin design, which represented such progress for Hyundai five years ago now feels slightly dull compared with that of some rivals, but it all looks very solid and well screwed together. The Santa Fe's exterior styling is still pretty handsome, although it's nothing like as bold as some of Hyundai's and Kia's more recent radical efforts.
Our test car had the posher “Premium” trim, taking its price to £24,630; at that level, the Santa Fe is no longer notably cheap but it does still represent good value for money, especially when you consider that as well as doing the basics well, it also has a long list of standard equipment, including high-value features such as leather upholstery and self-levelling suspension. So the Santa Fe still has plenty going for it, although it may also be worth taking a look at the more recently introduced Sorento from Hyundai's sister brand Kia, which offers similarly strong value for money but feels a bit fresher.