Mobile Despite the rising costs of fuel and the alarmingly wonky weather, Europe’s appetite for SUVs is as insatiable as ever. People seem to be of the opinion that all they need is an off-roader parked in the drive and the local curtain twitches will think they’ve won the Lotto. Perhaps that is what people think. What else could explain the irrational desire people have to drag two tonnes of SUV around when they are, for the most part, all alone in there?
The latest technique for placating the naysayers is to have seven seats. That makes everything all right, it seems. Drivers of 7-seat four-by-fours argue that at least they’re keeping another car off the road at school run time and that all the little brats in the back are kept super safe in the back of their big SUV. It’s a flawed argument, though, given that SUVs are more likely to be involved in accidents and more prone to rolling over than cars.
Not that they’re ever used in 7-seat mode. Of course, I’m not one to preach. My dream garage would be filled with equally pointless, crash-prone and polluting supercars and sportsters. The two you see here are the best kind of off-roaders, built on car-like monocoque platforms and available with 2WD for those who know in their heart and soul they’re never going to go off-road. Which is everyone. They’re diesel-powered, for improved economy and lower emissions, and are cheap to buy, too, compared to the other 7-seat off-roaders out there: the Volvo XC90, Jeep Commander and Land Rover Discovery. These are the aspirational off-roaders, vehicles designed for people with ideas that are, perhaps, a little bigger than their bank balance. But hey, I’m not judging. We’ve all got to dream... Mitsubishi’s Outlander is all-new but comprises quite a few familiar components.
The basic chassis was co-developed with DaimlerChrysler and underpins the Dodge Caliber and Avenger as well as the Jeep Compass and Patriot pair, although the two companies tweaked their versions of the platform extensively for their own use after falling out of love in 2005. The Outlander will soon be lightly reskinned by PSA for recycling as the Citroën C-Crosser and Peugeot 4007 (See? Very eco-friendly!) so you’d better get used to the basic shape, fast. The Santa Fe shares its platform with the Sonata and upcoming Veracruz (Terracan replacement) but hasn’t been used in any vehicles of its sister company, Kia, just yet. Like the Outlander, it has a MacPherson front strut and multi-link rear suspension setup and is thoroughly grown up in the way it rides over all kinds of surfaces.
Blessed with a sharper and more communicative steering than the Outlander, it’s actually a more engaging machine to drive despite being larger and more than 170kg heavier, though to be fair to the Outlander it’s not a bad drive in its own right. Both of these cars can be hustled along at a surprising lick thanks to superb body control, responsive brakes and their fine diesel engines. There are many smaller cars in both these company’s respective ranges that would well do to have their chassis as well-honed as these two. The Mitsubishi’s engine is well known to us, too.
The 140bhp 2.0-litre common-rail diesel is actually a VW/Audi unit, a by-product of complicated deal that sees VW share its diesel engines with DaimlerChrysler in return for Chrysler re-badging its new Voyager as a Volkswagen in the U.S. It’s a top motor, this, blessed with plenty of torque and reasonable smoothness and capable of coping surprisingly well with the Outlander’s bulk. 0-100 km/h in just 10.8 seconds is mighty impressive for such a big machine and on the move there’s nothing to suggest these figures are inflated. It’s just as punchy on the motorway, too, once you factor in the slight pause between asking for power and the turbo waking up. It’s also as lifeless as an Irish talk show until 2,000rpm arrives, so it takes a little bit of adapting to drive it smoothly. The Santa Fe’s 2.2-litre common-rail turbo diesel has more power and torque than the Outlander, but is a bit slower because of its big-boned bodywork.
Despite its huskiness, its 0-100 km/h time of 11.6 seconds isn’t slow by any means, and on the open road it arguably feels faster, with a more responsive throttle and a deeper reserve of shove when it’s required. The engine sounds better than the Outlander’s too, though neither would have you reaching for the electric window switch to take in the noise. The only complaint I really have about the Santa Fe’s drivetrain is the full-power torque steer, which is obviously more pronounced in the front-drive Hyundai we tested than the all-wheel-drive Outlander. In every other respect, though, it’s a surprisingly painless and relaxing machine to drive. As off-roaders, both the Outlander and the Santa Fe are moderately adept and more than capable enough for the typical buyer, and although we couldn’t test our 2WD Hyundai as extensively as the Mitsubishi, it still coped reasonably well over rough terrain. We were able to put both cars properly through their paces as people carriers, however, and although neither can match a Discovery or even a Ford S-Max for interior accommodation, the Hyundai, again, proved to be the better option here.
The Outlander’s rearmost seats require a Bachelor of Science degree to operate, although they do maximise boot space and save weight as well. They’re not very comfortable, though, even for kids, and there’s not much boot space once they’re erected either, so any parents planning to take their five kids on a voyage to the south of France in the Outlander had better think again. It will end in mutiny. The Santa Fe’s rearmost row is a doddle to operate and feel like proper seats compared to the Mitsubishi’s. Leg and headroom isn’t vast but at least you can sit a couple of children back there for a few hours, and there’s a wee bit of boot space to play with as well, so all seven passengers will have clean underpants and sparkly teeth for the duration of your trip. Accessing the rearmost row is much easier in the Santa Fe, too, while its second row seats boast more room and are more comfy than the Mitsubishi’s. The front seats in both cars are a match for each other in terms of comfort and adjustability, though the reach-adjustable steering in the Outlander is a bonus for taller drivers. The Hyundai counters with better equipment levels, offering dual-zone climate control and 17” alloy wheels (our test car had optional 18” alloys as well as few other embellishments) compared to the Outlander’s single-zone climate and stingy 16” alloys.
The Mitsubishi’s cabin is much brighter and more inviting than the solitary confinement of the Hyundai’s oppressive cockpit, however, and at night the Hyundai’s dash glows a horrific shade of luminous blue, only adding to the misery. Laser-light dials aside; we still have to give the nod to the Hyundai Santa Fe. It isn’t quite as nippy as the Outlander but it is more fun to drive, it’s roomier, it rides and accommodates with more maturity and it looks fantastic, too.
That the Outlander is runner-up here doesn’t imply that it’s a bad car – far from it. It’s just not as complete an all-rounder as the Hyundai and, crucially, isn’t as likely to convince your neighbours of your tremendous wealth as the big, black, blingin’ Santa Fe. PLUS: CHUNKY LOOKS, WELL MADE, CLASSY FEEL MINUS: DRAB CABIN, SHALLOW BOOT, BLUE DIALS
Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2 CRDi 2WD
Engine: 2,188cc, 148bhp, 335Nm torque
Transmission: 6-speed manual, four-wheel drive
Acceleration: 0-100 km/h in 11.6 seconds
Top Speed: 180 km/h
Economy: 7.3 litres/100km
CO2: 193g/100 km
Boot Capacity: (5-seats): 969 litres