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No Rudolph but Santa Fe sleighs the opposition.

Byline: ENDA MULLEN enda.mullen@reachplc.com

HYUNDAI has been on quite a journey since I first got behind the wheel of one more than 15 years ago.

Back then it was seen very much as a budget brand, offering cheap and cheerful cars, with most buyers choosing the Korean marque because of the value for money it offered.

For a long time this was the USP which saw Hyundai really take off in Europe.

But Hyundai was intent on not remaining a budget brand forever and for some time now has had European and Japanese mainstream rivals firmly in its sights.

Those early Noughties cars had their shortcomings it's fair to say - they lacked refinement and could be a little rough around the edges. But thanks to a sustained process of evolutionary improvement the car maker is now right up there with those afore-mentioned rivals.

The only question now is whether buyers will warm to the badge, given that pricewise Hyundai is no longer that budget brand.

The latest Santa Fe exudes quality from every pore.

Launched in September this year it is a very classy looking SUV, which manages to combine versatility and practicality with a profile that blends the svelte and the muscular to great effect.

Bigger than its predecessor, it is now comes only as a sevenseat version.

Another addition is the availability Fast Facts Hyundai Santa Fe Premium SE 2.2 CRDi 4WD 8-speed Auto Price: PS43,985 Mechanical: 200ps, 2,198cc, 4cyl diesel engine driving four wheels via 8-speed automatic gearbox Max speed: 127mph 0-62mph: 9.3 seconds Combined mpg: 44.8 Insurance group: 28 CO2 emissions: 164g/km BiK rating: 37% Warranty: 5yrs/unlimited miles of an eight-speed automatic transmission. The Santa Fe's interior has undergone a major upgrade and it really shows.

While acknowledging this was a range-topping Premium SE model, it's aptly labelled, as you have a feel and sense of the premium as soon as you sit in the cabin.

While it's unlikely to tempt Audi, BMW, Mercedes and Volvo buyers away from their upmarket SUVs of choice, it's certainly a match for cars like the Honda CR-V, Mazda CX5, Nissan X-Trail, Skoda Kodiaq and Peugeot 5008.

Arguably its upmarket interior even gives it something of an edge - certainly over some of those competitors.

Pretty much everything in the cabin has a solid and sturdy look and feel, giving the impression that few, if any, corners have been cut.

There are eight models to choose from, with just one 2.2-litre diesel engine available. Prices start at PS33,425, which will get you a manual twowheel drive model.

The Premium SE four-wheel drive automatic I drove, which also had a few add-ons, would set you back PS43,985.

Another new Santa Fe feature is that four-wheel drive versions are equipped with an all-new four-wheel-drive system with a multi-mode drive pattern.

Called HTRAC, it allows drivers to choose between sport, comfort and eco settings.

To drive the Santa Fe is noticeably better than its predecessor and you feel suitably cosseted from the rumbles of the road beneath you.

The engine is refined and, while performance from a standing start feels a little sluggish in eco mode, you can alter that if you're happy to sacrifice fuel economy into the bargain.

It's a relatively big beast, so as you would expect its handling prowess has the inevitable limitations.

It rides wonderfully well, though, and is an exceptionally comfortable car to travel in.

Equipment levels are fairly generous throughout the range but this high-end version felt lavish and luxurious, with leather upholstery, an eight-inch touchscreen with sat nav and full connectivity, panoramic sunroof, ventilated and heated front seats and a head-up display.

There are also a raft of hi-tech safety features, including automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection systems, lane keeping technology and blind spot and rear traffic alerts.
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Publication:Solihull News (Solihull, Birmingham, England)
Date:Dec 21, 2018
Words:645
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