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One of the best on the road.

Byline: By Jonathan Smith

THE designer given the task of penning a new 4WD has to face up to a few basic decisions. Not least of these is whether to follow the full-on macho route.

A few years ago, the recipe was "the more butch the better". But with growing emphasis on green issues, a greater number of women buyers and drivers, and more awareness of road safety, the balance has shifted. But those strong lines, and squared off angles favoured by Jeep and Land Rover also help them achieve certain practicalities such as generous interior dimensions.

One of the best thought-out and successful recent designs in my view is the latest Hyundai Santa Fe, which manages to combine individual stylishness with seven-seat accommodation without it looking like something from a John Wayne movie or a posh bread van.

With the option of the two extra full-sized seats (pounds 1,025 extra) in the back which neatly flip up or fold away, it spans the divide between people carrier and sport SUV. There is a choice between 2.7-litre V6 petrol or 2.2-litre turbo diesel, where the smart money lies. The petrol version might have an extra 39bhp but this does not translate into stronger road performance - in fact acceleration and top speed of both models are almost identical. And the 153bhp common rail diesel squeezes 38 miles out of every gallon on average - 12mpg better than its unleaded brother.

With permanently available four-wheel drive, the Santa Fe is driven by its front wheels in normal conditions. Electronic sensors monitor the road surface below and all-wheel drive is engaged whenever any lack of adhesion is anticipated. If you are aware you are approaching a rough track or going off-road, a 4WD button on the front console can be pressed, locking all four wheels into permanent drive.

The Santa Fe ranks as one of the best SUVs to drive on normal roads, which is where according to statistics it will spend 99% of its time. The high torque (247lb/ft) smooth-running diesel engine plays a big part in making progress silent and easy, as does the firm damping which reduces cornering roll - a frequent irritation in off-roaders. Top speed of 111mph and acceleration to 62mph in about 11 seconds put it on a par with an average sized 1.8-litre saloon.

Hyundai has tried hard to lift the cabin quality into the territory occupied by Land Rover and BMW, its new-found rivals. Generally the efforts have paid off and the dual-tone, heavy duty plastic facia and blue instrument lighting help give the interior a light, contemporary feel. The CDX+ I drove, which costs pounds 25,977, gets as standard duel zone air conditioning, cruise control, full leather seating and full multimedia package.

With a luggage capacity of up to 2,213-litres with the seats folded, the Santa Fe is one of the best appointed all-purpose SUVs on the road, anywhere near the price. And you get a five-year warranty.

facts

Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2 CTRD CDX+ (7 seat) 5dr

Price: pounds 25,977

Mechanical: 153bhp, 2,188cc, 4cyl diesel engine driving all wheels via 5spd manual gearbox

Max speed: 111mph

0-62mph: 11.6

Combined mpg: 38.7

Insurance group: 14

CO2 emissions: 191g/km

BiK rating: 28%

Warranty: 5yr s/unlimited mileage, 6yrs paint, 6yrs anti-rust

CAPTION(S):

Successful design: The Hyundai Santa Fe.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Sep 8, 2007
Words:565
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