Motoring with Tony Conlon: A little homework pays off in Santa Fe

Hyundai and its cousin Kia have truly cemented their places as leading contenders in the large SUV family carrier sector with two new quality offerings.

Having already reported on the Kia Sorento diesel, this week I’m concentrating on the Hyundai Santa Fe plug-in hybrid.

With both companies offering diesel and PHEV versions, the choice between either brand could come down to whichever salesperson comes across as the most generous and most pleasant to deal with.

Sitting on pretty 19” alloy wheels, the beautifully designed and built Santa Fe is the type of seven-seater that can easily take the fight to more prestigious makes – and even embarrass many premium brands.

It certainly oozes style with its large grille and lighting signatures reminiscent of the futuristic look of its smaller stablemate, the Tucson.

Featuring a rear spoiler and roof rails, this substantial SUV offers a road presence that showcases its excellent build quality. While it’s a family carrier with a very appealing exterior design, it’s upon opening the doors and sitting into the Santa Fe that the spell is really cast.

The richly designed interior and equipment levels are bound to win over many motorists.

Its Nappa leather-clad seven seats with suede headliners are the focal point of a cabin that bristles with up-to-date equipment. Drivers can keep track of the powertrain’s status via the 12.3 inch fully digital instrument cluster, they can also locate nearby charging points on the go via the 10.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system.

Featuring a navigation system, wireless phone charger, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the Hyundai is laden with very useful standard safety equipment such as safe exit assist, lane keep assist, lane follow assist, autonomous emergency braking (car/pedestrian/bicycle), driver attention warning, around view monitor, blind spot view monitor, front, side and curtain airbags and smart cruise control.

The Santa Fe offers any amount of storage spaces; boot space can vary from 187 litres with all the seating upright to 821 litres up to the second row and just over 2,000 litres with both passenger rows folded.

Complete with parking sensors front and rear, the car also features a rear camera and guidance system - because of its size, both are very beneficial. The Hyundai plug-in is comfortable and reassuring on the road, though it differs from the diesel derivative insofar as it comes with a four-wheel drive layout.

The Santa Fe offers all-terrain capability thanks to a new terrain mode. Controlled using the mode select dial on the centre console, drivers can choose from ‘Mud, Snow and Sand’ modes. The system automatically optimises the drivetrain to best suit each scenario, adjusting engine torque output and distribution, as well as stability characteristics.

Powered by a very capable 1.6 litre turbo-charged petrol engine, I thought at first the Hyundai had a larger capacity unit under its bonnet such was the feeling of power. On its own, the engine produces 177bhp and 265Nm of torque - combined with the electric motor, the Santa Fe plug-in has a combined power output of 261bhp.

The engine and electric motor are paired with a high capacity 13.8kWh lithium-ion polymer battery enabling the SUV to have an all-electric range of approximately 50 kilometres.

Getting the best out of the Santa Fe plug-in reminded me of my schooldays. The night you did your homework thoroughly, the next day at school always proved a cinch. Unlike school, only a little bit of homework pays dividends for this Hyundai.

This car will do what it says on the tin if you apply a bit of discipline every day. Select Eco and choose the power mode best suitable. For town driving, electric mode works well. I drove in hybrid and automatic mode where the car itself chooses the optimum setting.

I found I was able to regenerate electricity easily when I got used to finding the best settings and I managed to achieve 6.1 l/100km (46mpg). The Santa Fe offers a means so that the driver can monitor the flow of electric and engine power - this in itself shows when to ease up on a heavy right foot.

It’s a wonderful family carrier whose passengers will feel privileged to be driven around in it.

Price: €53,445