Call them what you will, small sport utility vehicles have carved out a real niche in the UK car market.
And although drivers of larger off-roaders may derogatively look at the Mitsubishi Outlander and Hyundai Santa Fe as “soft-roaders”, the general public has found a lot to like in these vehicles, which offer a lot of space on the inside while keeping exterior dimensions sensible. Both the Outlander and the Santa Fe have been criticised in the past for being cheap, and not just in price. That was then, and this is now. Both vehicles feature fresh styling on the outside and engineering throughout. It is time to put them through their paces and see which emerges victorious.
Mitsubishis can be a bit of an acquired taste, and that remains the case with the Outlander. The lines are, for the most part, clean and smooth, with little to object about in profile. The grill, however, is a bit busy and the fog lights look like they were tacked on as an afterthought. The Outlander has a low-slung look that screams on-road, not off. There is nothing wrong with that, but compared to the Sante Fe, the Mitsubishi comes off as lacking in the “utility” department.
Not that the Sante Fe looks tough. It doesn’t. But tough or not, the Hyundai is a good-looking ride. The front, especially, is very attractive, and reveals a level of detailed design that seems lacking on the Mitsubishi. Indeed, many in the motoring press have praised the stylish looks of the Santa Fe. If there is one area to nit-pick about, it’s the high beltline. Some people go for that look, but some don’t. But that is just a small quibble about an otherwise very attractive automobile. The Hyundai edges it.
Interior and practicality
The Sante Fe’s interior has taken a major jump up in class over the cheapness that prevailed in the previous generation. The materials in this Hyundai are much better, so much so that too many buttons on the dashboard is the only real complaint levelled against the Santa Fe. There is room inside for seven passengers and space is generally good for all, although things can get a little tight in the third row. Cargo space, practicality, and styling are all good.
The Outlander interior (above) is much bigger than the previous generation was. Like the Santa Fe, the Outlander seats seven. However, rear seat legroom is less generous in the Mitsubishi, and moving and adjusting the rear seats can be a bit tricky. With the back seats folded flat, the Outlander will swallow 1,000-plus litres of your kit. The driving position is higher than most in this class and quality seems to be on par. Still, the Sante Fe emerges the winner in this category.
Nothing improves agility quite like going a diet. Such is the case for the Outlander, which has shed more than a little weight compared to its predecessor. Combined with the slightly firm spring rates, the Outlander proves to be a decent, though far from spectacular, handler. Tyre noise can be an issue, but overall the Mitsubishi is predictable and easy to drive. The brakes are strong, but the steering is numb, which isn’t unusual for a large vehicle like this. When you add it all up, the Outlander provides a fairly average driving experience – if a unique one, in the plug-in hybrid model.
You’ll not confuse the Santa Fe with a Formula 1 car anytime soon, but it acquits itself respectably on the road. It handles the imperfections of UK roads well and does a good job of keeping the tyres planted and tracking smoothly. Like the Outlander, lack of steering feel is a common criticism. The Santa Fe is a capable driver that manages to run even with the Outlander, but nothing more.
Hyundai’s 2.2 litre CRDi four-cylinder diesel engine is a solid performer, all the better because it is the only available engine in the Santa Fe. With 194 horsepower and 322 pound-feet of torque, the engine easily has the power to move the Santa Fe. Acceleration is brisk for a vehicle of this size, and fuel economy, at 46.3 mpg in 4×4 guise, is very good. Buyers can choose between two six-speed transmissions – one automatic, the other manual. Both are quite good and have received positive reviews.
The Outlander offers one diesel engine with the choice of an automatic or manual transmission. Four-wheel drive comes standard and Outlanders so equipped get better fuel economy than the 4×4 version of the Santa Fe. The two-wheel-drive Mitsubishis also get better fuel economy. On the downside, the Mitsubishi engine thrashes and runs rougher than the Hyundai engine. So, while the raw numbers look favourable, the real life feel is much less impressive. What the Hyundai can’t offer, that Mitsubishi does, is a plug-in hybrid option. Priced around £28,000 it won’t cost you much more than a high-end diesel, but offers almost 150mpg combined. Well, that’s the claim. In reality, your mpg will depend entirely on how often you plug it in, and how long your journeys are. But it does turn the Outlander from a so-so car into something quite special.
Value for money and running costs
Value is where the Outlander really shines. Cheaper than many of its rivals, the Santa Fe included, the Outlander also rings up a lighter tax bill than most comparable vehicles. The advantage evaporates some when you tick off all the option boxes and the price rises, but as long you take your options in moderation, the Mitsubishi proves a good value. Then there’s that PHEV option. Run it entirely on electricity and it’s far cheaper to run than the Hyundai. There’s zero-rate VED, incredibly low company car tax and to buy it’s not much more than a high-spec diesel. For company drivers it’s a no-brainer.
The Santa Fe (above) is clearly the more expensive of the two, but it also rates better in most measurable areas. Looking beyond the initial price, Santa Fe owners will save with the tax man and on insurance. Fuel will cost marginally more than the Outlander, but Hyundai’s five-year warranty more than makes up for that. Both vehicles are a good value, and since there is quite a gap between the numbers listed on their respective price tags, the true value will be determined by individual buyers based on their economic situations. For the purposes of this comparison, the Outlander gets the edge in this category, but not by much.
Each car fares well here, though the Hyundai probably has the edge in most categories. As a car, it’s the better option. The current Outlander, while a step in the right direction, is outclassed in several areas by the Santa Fe, and that point is made clear as day in the wowscores of the two. The Outlander nets a 6.3 in comparison to the Santa Fe’s 7.9. That is the difference between just above average and very good. Where the Outlander really scores is in offering a plug-in hybrid model, the PHEV. It’s not just the best Outlander available (and barely the most expensive) but it’s also one of the better plug-in vehicles on the market full stop. And in general, both vehicles are much better in their current generation than they were in the past.