The Santa Fe's chunky looks were penned by Hyundai's Californian design studio but don't let them fool you into thinking this to be a real mud-plugger.
Step inside and it's rather surprising to find that a car just 205mm shorter than a Land Rover mkII Discovery hasn't got more interior space. Still, since the Koreans pitched this car into the class below, that doesn't really matter. Hyundai said that three adults can be seated in reasonable comfort at the back - though that may be pushing things a little since the bench is a little narrow. Two people should be quite comfortable however, and only those over six feet tall will feel cramped below the standard sunroof. Getting in and out is slightly more difficult for rear seat occupants since the rear wheelarch intrudes into the door aperture. Still, there's a large boot. This can be accessed in the conventional manner through lifting the rear hatch or, if you've just a small item to stow away, by lifting the separately opening rear window - a neat touch, especially useful in crowded supermarket carparks.
The cabin was one of Hyundai's best efforts in its day, with fixtures and fittings that were a good deal more substantial than some of those seen on the company's products in the past. Only the odd detail lets it down - notably the console between the front seats that looks like it has been fashioned from an ice cream container. The quality of the fabrics could be nicer too - but it should prove strong and hardwearing.
The top-spec 2.7-litre V6s come complete with leather, a CD player and all the usual electrical bits and pieces. Plus you get the usual comprehensive three-year warranty - and the company's well-founded reputation for boring reliability. Nice touches include standard height adjustment for the driver's seat and dual power sockets so that the kids' Nintendo games needn't clash with the needs of your mobile 'phone.
Which leaves only that styling. As ever, it's a subjective thing but most will probably feel that the stylists at Hyundai's Californian Design Studio struck a decent balance between style and aggression. Look carefully and you can see touches of Toyota RAV4 and Jeep Grand Cherokee but as role models go, these aren't bad ones to have.
There haven't been any reported issues with the Santa Fe to date. When buying do inspect the underside for evidence of enthusiastic off-roading. The tyres should betray no symptoms of wonky tracking and the wheel arch liners and exhausts should be in tiptop condition. The interiors don't wear as well as some rivals but other than that you should be able to buy with confidence.
(Approx - based on a Santa Fe 2.4) Consumables for the Santa Fe are reasonably priced, an air filter retailing at around £11, a fuel filter costing around £21 and an oil filter £7.50. Spark plugs are £3 each and a new cam belt adds up to approximately £60.
Full time four-wheel drive with a 60/40 split bias front to back is good enough to cope with ploughed fields and rutted roads but without either a tough ladder-framed chassis or a low ratio gearbox, the Santa Fe can't hope to cope on anything much more demanding. It says much for the modest standards of the class that it nonetheless still manages to better most rivals off the beaten track. On the road, that big body and its associated weight (some 1,674kg) count against Santa Fe when it comes to pulling power, meaning that in the 2.4-litre model, frequent use of the rather notchy manual gearbox will be necessary to maintain a rapid pace. In fact, you need to be up around 3,000 revs before much starts to happen on the power front. More enthusiastic drivers and those looking to tow would be well advised to stump up the extra for the 2.7-litre version. Either way, stopping should be no problem - thanks to huge 295mm brake discs that hide behind standard five-spoke 16" alloy wheels shod with 225/70 R16 tyres. The CRTD engine that can be found in post 2003 models is an accomplished unit with good economy but a maximum power output of 115bhp means it feels substantially slower that the petrol options.
Power steering is standard of course - though it's rather vague at speed. Most should feel the ride however, to be excellent, ironing out even nasty potholes on poor roads and making this a relaxed motorway cruiser. Roll is well controlled too: customers used to larger 4x4s will probably notice a change for the better in this respect.
In summary, the Santa Fe wasn't the best car in its class - but, assuming you're not interested in ultimate off roading ability, it's not far off. When it comes to value however, nothing comes close to the Hyundai. A decent used example shouldn't be too hard to find. The only question mark it'll raise is how much of a badge snob you are.