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The new Hyundai Santa Fe arrives offering excellent interior room and practicality

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On unveiling the new Hyundai Santa Fe, its chief designer SangYup Lee talked about how much of a "big change" the model was over its predecessor, and how "outdoors culture" had become more mainstream, which he wanted the Santa Fe to reflect.

There’s even apparently a trend in Korea for campers to just kip in their cars rather than pitch a tent. Since Hyundai started out down this chunky, square-edged pathwith the new Santa Fe, the new Defender and Ford Bronco have arrived too. Practicality, squareness and ruggedness in these kinds of cars is very much in.

The new car should arrive in the UK about a quarter of the way into next year, with two petrol hybrid variants offered (one plug-in) although it is already on sale in South Korea.

Existing model prices start at around £43,000; no word on the new one, but no reason to expect anything other than a modest increase.

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DESIGN & STYLING

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hyundai santa fe review 2023 02 tracking rear

Not a lot is more practical than the new Santa Fe, whose squared edges make it look bigger to my eyes than its 4.8m length suggests, particularly compared with its rounder, softer predecessor.

A broad petrol-engine line-up includes some big four-cylinder units for the US, but in the UK we’ll get two 1.6-litre hybrids, one of which is a plug-in. Total unit power is to be confirmed, but both are developments of the engines, along with the eight-speed automatic gearboxes, used in the existing Santa Fe line-up. 

INTERIOR

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hyundai santa fe review 2023 09 interior

The Santa Fe comes with up to three rows of seats and all occupants get a large amount of room, which you can divvy it out further by sliding the middle row. Every passenger gets their own USB socket and two cupholders too.In the very back there’s a mains- voltage socket, plus air vents with their own flow control. There’s even a moderate space behind the third-row – not a shed-load, but the seats aren’t butted up to the back window. The boot opening is exceptionally wide, too – so wide that Hyundai leads with the fact in its promo material. It’s the first time I can recall a car maker playing its new model’s most prominent asset as the width of its tailgate.

But that’s the pitch here: the Santa Fe is so useful you may not even need to put up a tent. On the outside upper flank behind the rear door there’s a panel not unlike the one on the Defender, only here it pops open as a grab handle so you can reach stuff on the roof rack.

There is some class and ambience to match the practicality. Perceived material quality is mostly good.

Some brushed metals don’t look like the metal they aren’t, but others do, and there’s a nice bamboo-like trim option and a gently curved instrument binnacle and touchscreen that places controls in reach of the driver. And there are separate buttons for the key driving controls and climate.

There is stacks of storage space up front, including a deep central cubby, although the centre armrest may be a touch too far back for some elbows searching for the ultimate chilled driving position.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

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hyundai santa fe review 2023 20 motor

Our test car was an non-plug-in hybrid system, combining a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine with an electric motor. It's a development of the combo that makes 226bhp in the existing Santa Fe, but here with 178bhp from the engine alone, and a to-be- confirmed output for the electric motor. It was front-drive only, though 4wd will be an option on some derivatives.

The engine tone is a bit gruff but at least well muted, and for an unplugged hybrid there’s a surprising amoun of time running on motor power alone around town. Gearshifts are so smooth as to be imperceptible most of the time.

Accelerative performance is good enough. There's a 9.5sec 0-62mph time and a top speed of 118mph, but this isn't the sort of car you'd aim to go quickly in, anyway.

In mixed driving we saw 36mpg, which is the sort of figure that is all at once: not too bad for a car of this size but neither too good when you consider what a diesel might have returned. A plug-in, depending on use case, might suit it, or you, perfectly.

RIDE & HANDLING

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hyundai santa fe review 2023 21 tracking front

The Santa Fe has relatively heavy steering with strong self centring and on 18in wheels with 235/60 tyres gives a respectable trade-off between rolling comfort and handling.

Some woodenness over speed humps and general clunkiness suggest you wouldn’t want to go too big on the wheels: 20s are the biggest we’ll get in the UK, with 21s an option overseas. But generally the car gives a decent, refined account of itself.

And while I’m rather pleased that Hyundai takes dynamics more seriously than most and makes sure there’s testing and tuning in different regions, here it plays a secondary role to the practicality and versatility of the cabin.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

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hyundai santa fe review 2023 01 tracking front

Most of the detail here is still to come, but the current Santa Fe hybrid gets mid-40s mpg on the combined cycle and it seems unlikely the new model will be worse - though our mid- to high-30s is perhaps more likely in daily driving.

VERDICT

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hyundai santa fe review 2023 23 static

This is one of life’s more thoughtful cars: a family wagon that knows who it’s for and what they need, so it has loads of storage space, a relaxed interior ambience, and enough interior roominess and power outlets to stop fights and boredom breaking out wherever it goes. 

Prices and specs are still to come, but if recent history from Hyundai is anything to go by, they're bound to be competitive, and one suspects that this will be one of the easiest family wagons to recommend.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes.