The American-styled Santa Fe is aimed squarely at drivers of the Land Rover Freelander and Toyota RAV4, in the hope of offering more metal for the money. Initially available with a 2.4- litre or 2.7 V6 engine, although a 2.0 common rail turbodiesel will follow, the Santa Fe is larger than its main rivals, but undercuts them on price. Hyundai claims the 2.7 V6 is the most powerful in its class, just pipping the new Freelander V6, although I did point out that the Vauxhall Frontera V6 has more grunt, Hyundai claims the Frontera is more of a proper off-roader than an SUV.
Like the Freelander and RAV4, the Santa Fe has permanent four-wheel drive, but conscious that most Santa Fes will not go any further off road than on a gravel drive, there is no low ratio gear selector or differential locks. The car is bigger than a Freelander, but it also feels it. While the Land Rover is relatively happy to nip around tight bends or roundabouts with controlled body roll, the Santa Fe did feel more like an old school off-roader with more exaggerated leaning.
However, once you put in some miles behind the wheel, you get used to its size and make allowances. The Santa Fe dealt with scores of tight hairpin bends across the northern part of Mallorca without drama. Part of the route also included a five-mile wet/muddy/steep gravel track which would have caused its fair share of problems for the average saloon, but the Santa Fe never gave any cause for concern. Hyundai believes its badge will not be an issue with buyers of the Santa Fe, and the car is as capable as the fashionable 'soft-roaders' in the SUV market place. Whether it will be successful in the UK remains to be seen, however it has been popular in the US.
Hyundai will build 100,000 Santa Fes a year and expects to sell 1,500 in the UK in 2001. The Santa Fe is good value - especially compared with rivals like the Freelander, but it is unlikely to represent a good investment over three years as a company car.