Hyundai Santa Fe Long Term Update

$36,990 Mrlp
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The Santa Fe Elite CRDi has been with us for over four months now, and apart from the suspension issue reported last update, there is nothing to fault. So far, we've racked up 6485 kilometres, and I just checked the oil again. It hasn't dropped at all.

Tyre wear is both even and minimal (as you'd expect), with the refill pressures from last time's off road expedition unchanged. I pulled the wheels off it to have a look at the brake pads, and there's hardly anything used at all. Still plenty of meat, and we haven't experienced any fade, despite repeated hard stops to try to get it hot. It does take a bit of pressure to get the best out of them, but once you're used to the slightly wooden feel, you're fine.

The drivetrain is absolutely faultless. We've come to love the easy, relaxed, torquey nature of the 2.2-litre diesel, along with the fuel consumption which canes any of the other seven seat oil burning all-wheel-drives out there. Really, when you think about it, what other seven seat diesel SUV offers the same price/ability package?

When Honda handed us its Odyssey, we thought it might be an idea to compare the two. Sure, it's not an SUV but after all, it's sitting alongside the Santa Fe in my garage. Both are seven seats, and there's only $2000 difference in price between them (Odyssey $43,990, Santa Fe Elite $45,990). The difference is, of course, that one can go off road, and one can't.

Is the $2000 difference worth the price of admission to be able to explore the wilderness, or is the Odyssey just that much better value in all other areas to warrant excluding the Hyundai? And is the extra fuel saved then wasted because the Santa Fe uses diesel?

This is a long term update, by the way, and not a full blown comparison piece. In saying that, there are some telling juxtapositions.

For starters, the Honda uses a 2.4-litre petrol four cylinder, compared with the Santa Fe's 2.2-litre diesel. The Odyssey's mill is quiet and smooth, no doubt, but doesn't generate anywhere near the torque that Hyundai's diesel will. At only 218Nm, the Odyssey pales in comparison with the Santa Fe, which makes 343Nm. As a result, when loaded up with seven people, the poor Honda struggles, and revs its lungs out, making for a very strained sounding drive experience.

On that note, if you're going out to buy a seven seat car, and are planning to use all pews, do yourself a favour and take six other people with you. You'd be surprised how much difference 125Nm makes.

Not only that, but getting into the last row of the low slung Odyssey is a painful contorsion. Arms and legs flailing, it takes almost a leap to get into the back, unlike the taller Santa Fe which can be stepped into from the side, or even the boot, if you're agile enough.

Certainly the materials used in the Honda are nicer - the dash plastics in particular, however the fake wood grain really does tarnish what could have been a nice finish. That said, the features in the Santa Fe will leave you wondering why it costs so much more for the same spec in the Odyssey Luxury.

Leather seats, electric adjustment, sunroof, auto headlights, fog lamps, six stack CD with MP3 - it's all available on the Elite, which is the top of the line Santa Fe. To get these toys, you'd have to choose the top of the line Odyssey, the Luxury, which costs around $5000 more for the same features, but - and this is the kicker - it won't go off road.

For me and my family, this means the Odyssey misses out. With a three year old who's incessantly begging to "go driving in the sand Daddy", and trips out bush with friends, we have to have something that's a little higher and tougher than a tarmac dweller.

Fuel consumption isn't the deal breaker, either, as the Odyssey uses slightly more fuel, yet diesel is slightly more expensive. Working out the figures, you're at the same end result. Which means we're happy that Hyundai has given us the Santa Fe to stick in our garage for a while.

Yes, the Santa Fe has its issues - the scratches around the window switches (see above) are annoying, and the suspension clunking from the Trek'N'Tow kit, which we're still waiting to have looked at - but which car doesn't? For the price, I'm slowly beginning to realise that there's not much that can top it. It's roomy, the seats are ultra comfortable, it's got a myriad of storage options, the third row is split so you can stack gear next to a sixth person if need be, it's economical and it's a good looking chariot, too.

We're also very impressed with how quickly the auto-recirculation function works. Switch on the right-hand button, and it immediately senses the fumes coming from surrounding traffic. Brilliant.

After hauling around the city and off the beaten track, the next thing to do is to give it a nice long run and stretch its legs. Watch this space.