I don't think I've mentioned this before, but I suffer from a condition known as tinnitus. It varies from person to person but, for me, it's a constant, annoying and high-pitched frequency in both my ears. Compared with some people, though, my case is mild. It will never go away and is something I have had to learn to live with, although, normally, when there are background noises, such as in a street or busy restaurant, I don't tend to notice it. When I drive my own car, there's enough going on for me not to be conscious of it but, when a test car is really quiet and refined, it makes itself known. And the new Hyundai Santa Fe is, surprisingly, one of those vehicles.
It's just one of the measures of how far Hyundai has come over the past decade and, as the world's fourth-largest carmaker, the buying public has also sat up and paid attention. The company's top brass bullishly state that they don't view the Japanese as competitors any more. Oh no, they're gunning for customers who buy German and, on the basis of my experiences with this mid-size SUV, I can't see any reason why someone with an open mind might not sign a cheque for one of these instead of a competing Volkswagen. And those are words I never thought would sprout from my keyboard.
Launched 13 years ago, the Santa Fe is now in its third generation and, if you saw this one parked next to the original, you'd have no idea they were related apart from sharing the same badge on the radiator grille. Sensibly, what Hyundai has done is listen to its customers and take heed by what the press had to say. The result is a car that retains all the hallmarks of practicality, generous equipment levels and good build quality that made it a hit in the first place (it's been the company's biggest seller for years now) but combines those attributes with striking exterior design and even better finish. And it's still a bargain, even in this top-spec V6 GLS guise.
For your Dh123,900 you get the following:
Actually, forget that. I could fill this entire page with all the goodies that this thing is equipped with (including undoubtedly the finest items ever fitted inside cars on sale in the GCC: cooled seats), so let's rather look at how it performs as a family vehicle, as that's its raison d'Ítre.
For starters, it can seat seven people, although I wouldn't fancy putting my nearest and dearest in the third row as it's a bit too close to the tailgate for comfort. But without that rear row in place there's still plenty of room and the boot itself is a decent size. With the two rear rows folded out of the way, the load space, as you can see in the photograph, is cavernous and offers almost two metres of flatpack furniture-friendly storage capacity.
The exterior looks speak for themselves, bringing together Hyundai's preposterously-named "fluidic sculpture" design language to form a shape that, while unlikely to get kids frothing at the mouth, at least manages to set the Santa Fe apart from the identikit Japanese crowd. And the interior's redesign has been well played out, too, with a look that's both modern and inviting. The perceived quality has come on leaps and bounds, with improved soft-touch plastics (at least to the upper sections of the cabin) and a use of materials that's pleasing to the eye, although there might actually be too many different materials for some tastes. Nobody, though, could accuse Hyundai of not trying to up its game.
On the move, apart from the aforementioned quietness, the Santa Fe delivers a torquey drive that makes its V6 engine sound and feel totally unstressed. Its smooth power delivery, while not exactly transforming the Santa Fe into a performance car, gives an impression of urgency when it's called for, and the engine does get more vocal when you put the power down. But it's never anything other than extremely civilised.
Throw it into a tight corner, however and, despite it having a four-wheel drive transmission, the car does easily become unstuck, with noticeable tyre squeal and plenty of pitching about, belying its two-tonne bulk. Far better to plan your cornering in advance, bringing it down to a more steady pace, lest your fellow passengers start feeling seasick.
So would I buy one? If I was in the market for a crossover, SUV-type vehicle, then it would definitely be on the list. The only thing I would have to do, if it were mine, is disable the excruciatingly annoying "tune" that emits whenever you turn the car on or switch it off. It grates on my nerves almost as much as that tinnitus, but at least there's a possibility of silencing it. Otherwise the Santa Fe is a deeply impressive family car on almost every level.
Price, base / as tested Dh97,900 / Dh123,900
Engine 3.3L V6
Gearbox Six-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Power 270hp @ 6,400rpm
Torque 318Nm @ 5,300rpm
Fuel economy, combined 7.12L / 100km
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