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Click for pictures“Who needs a hefty
  off-roader when you
  can have a Terracan?”

Hyundai is marketing its Terracan SUV as an 'out-and-out off-roader'. It is, says the blurb, a 'no-nonsense four-wheel drive car for people who want a go-anywhere vehicle'. Well, sorry chaps, but we think you're seriously underrating the beast. Having just covered several hundred miles in the Terracan, we think it's more than good enough to appeal to a far wider audience than just farmers or landowners — and for a start, it looks too well-groomed to get dirty.

Finished in an eye-catching two-tone metallic — silver top over steel grey to mid-door height — and with tough-looking light-coloured alloy wheels, our test car veered more towards lifestyle estate than chunky off-roader. Smartly-finished and smartly tapered wheel arches, blatantly good exterior build quality and fine paintwork add to the Terracan's dapper appearance, as do shapely clear lens headlamp units, distinctive colour-coded door handles, roof rails with cross-over bars and a neatly thrusting nose and grille. All-in-all, it's classy enough for most owners not to want to take off-road.

Two other things help the imposing Terracan stand out from the crowd. In common with all Hyundais, the Terracan comes with an industry-leading five-year transferable unlimited mileage warranty — in fact, it's the only four-wheel drive vehicle available in the UK with this level of warranty cover.

It is also one of the cheapest large 4x4s. Not only does the amazingly affordable Terracan — 18,495 on-the-road — leave the factory as standard with a generous helping of kit for the money, but there is just the one model. Five doors are also standard so the only decision you need make, apart from the colour, is whether you want the automatic or the five-speed manual, as tested here.

Introduced into the UK in mid-2003, the Terracan 2.9 CRTD is powered exclusively by Hyundai's biggest diesel unit. The 2,902cc common-rail four-cylinder DOHC 16-valve turbodiesel engine packs a respectable punch: 160bhp and a more than adequate 254lb ft of torque at just 2,000rpm. Despite the Terracan's rugged construction and roomy proportions, the 2.9-litre powerplant gets it off the line to 62mph in 13 seconds and on to a top speed of 104mph.

Yet surprisingly it still manages to return a combined consumption figure of 32.4mpg and 25.9mpg around town, while cruising motorways should see 38.1mpg. And with a 16.5-gallon tank you can rely on a safe 550 miles between refuelling stops on long runs. Our overall test figure came out to a healthy 30mpg.

On the road the Terracan feels brisker than the paper figures suggest and we found no problem keeping up with traffic in the outside lane
of the motorway, where it's quite happy to sit all day. At 80mph in fifth gear, the willing 2.9-litre unit is turning over at an untroubled 3,000 revs. At motorway speeds, even in top, there's enough torque in reserve to recover easily if you have to lift off.

And all that torque comes in jolly handy if you need to tow — the Terracan will cheerfully manage 2.8 tonnes. Part of our motorway test route takes in a long hill that rises relentlessly for almost four miles. An excellent test for measuring a car's stamina. The Terracan met it in top gear and romped on up to the top in the outside lane, with no hint of a need to change down to fourth. Tellingly, a harder shove on the accelerator as it neared the crest saw it add another 15mph with no trouble.

Off-road work holds no fears for the Terracan. Thanks to a separate chassis construction, substantial 216mm ground clearance, high and low ratio four-wheel transfer box and limited-slip rear differential, it performs admirably when the going gets tough. Having had the opportunity recently to put one through its paces on a 'black run' off-road course, we can confirm that the Terracan takes even the roughest, slipperiest and muckiest off-road conditions in its stride — including some pretty deep wading!

The Terracan features a part-time 4WD system that lets the driver change between two- and all-wheel drive on the move, switching between rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive at speeds of up to 50mph. It's as self-evident to use as it is simple, with selection made via a central 'dial-a-drive' knob near the handbrake. All you need to know is that it's foolproof and works well. Anti-lock brakes add extra confidence to the sense of security that four-wheel drive always brings. These incorporate electronic brake force distribution and use ventilated discs all round, and they work fine with good feel, pulling the Terracan up four-square.

On byways and highways it can, despite its size and 'soft' ride, be hustled along quite enjoyably. Being an authentic off-roader the Terracan's light power steering is not, by design, as sharp as that of a hot-hatch — that's to reduce the possibility of sudden kickback, which could easily break a finger should your front wheels hit something immovable off-road. But it's not a problem, given the steering does provide some decent road feel.

And for such a large vehicle the turning circle is not bad. We had no trouble executing three-point turns in normal-sized country lanes and neither was there a problem reversing into parking bays. Meaty B F Goodrich Macadam tyres — 255/65s riding on sturdy 16-inch alloys — provide a good mix of grip and comfort. Together, the gutsy engine, smooth clutch and slick manual gearchange all help make the Terracan pleasant to drive, as do its reassuring handling and a suspension set-up that soaks up road irregularities.

Swing open the large doors and you'll find an airy, spacious cabin that's fitted out with all the usual goodies such as climate control air-con, six-speaker radio/CD unit, electric door mirrors, auto-dipping rear view mirror, wood effect central console and embossed, polished alloy scuff plates. Entry is easy thanks to handy and practical side steps — also standard kit — which are fitted with ribbed rubber inserts for year-round grip.

There's also plenty of stowage space in rigid door pockets and various cubbies dotted around the interior, including a useful and very sturdy pull-out drawer beneath the front passenger seat. The velour-trimmed seats are large and comfy, offering good lateral location as well as good thigh support from their long seat cushions.

Drivers will quickly find a comfortable position. Although the pleasant-to-use, four-spoke wood-and-leather steering wheel only adjusts
for height, the driver's seat, which has lumbar support, also adjusts for height both at the back and the front edges of the cushion. The commanding view from behind the wheel is made even better by the wide, tall windscreen, deep side windows and generous door mirrors. Well-spaced pedals and a proper left-foot rest are a boon. The driver's door houses the master central locking button, along with the electric window switches (one-shot down for driver) and a rear window lock-out.

A clear-cut dash layout is always welcome, although we'd change the stereo. Not that there's anything wrong with the quality, but it has small, fiddly controls — a problem still found on a surprising number of modern cars. Instruments are logically laid-out, with the two large dials for the speedometer and rev-counter (red-lined at 4,500rpm) flanked by two smaller dials for the fuel and temperature. Satisfyingly large air-vents that stay where you set them deliver a steady stream of cooled or warmed air. The large gearlever knob fits snugly into your palm and is conveniently to hand, while the driving position is comfortably upright.

There's more than enough room for five in the enormous and well assembled interior, but four will travel happily and in genuine comfort with bags of space and good views out, courtesy of the rear bench that sits several inches higher than the fronts. Rear seat passengers share a well-padded central armrest incorporating a lined cubby and twin cup-holders. And if you do have to take three in the back, each of them has a proper three-point belt. Also worth mentioning is that both rear seat backrests can be adjusted for rake — making long journeys even more relaxing. Overall the spacious cabin provides masses of room and is well-equipped with efficient climate control so that, sitting in traffic or on the move, the Terracan is a pleasing experience.

And there's no awkward lip when the lift-up tailgate is raised. The large regular-shaped boot — 41.3 cubic feet with the seats upright — is big enough to easily swallow four people's luggage. Adding load flexibility is the 60/40 split rear seatback: fold the back seats (you can leave the headrests in place) and you'll have 69 cubic feet of cargo space to play with, measuring approximately 4' 7" long by 3' 5" to 4' 4" wide and 3' high. A full-size spare wheel lives in a well under the boot floor.

Despite the Terracan's sizeable external dimensions, the good visibility and high driving position means you quickly adapt to its bulk. In fact, after just a few hours behind the wheel we were rather surprised when people remarked on its size. From behind the wheel, it feels most manageable.

Road noise isn't a problem and neither is the engine. Soundproofing is effective, although you can hear the turbodiesel working under hard acceleration, but for most of the time it's nothing more than a distant but reassuring background hum.

Build quality is good throughout, with a noticeable absence of squeaks or rattles. Finally, should you need to sound the horn you'll be pleased to know it has a strident note that's more executive express than heavy-duty mud-plugger!

Because the level of standard equipment is so comprehensive, the options list is unusually short: just an automatic gearbox, leather upholstery, satellite-navigation, privacy glass and metallic paint.

If you're in the market for an eye-catching 4WD that's easy to drive and offers exceptionally good value for money then the Terracan should definitely be on your shopping list. Combine its five-year un-limited mileage warranty with the generous helping of standard equipment, the ability to go anywhere while making easy work of school runs and supermarket visits, and the Terracan makes even more sense than a sou'wester in a monsoon.

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Hyundai Terracan 2.9 CRTD
| £18,495
Maximum speed: 104mph | 0-62mph: 13 seconds
Overall test MPG: 30mpg | Power: 160bhp | Torque: 254lb ft
Visit Hyundai's website Click to go there now

---------------------------------------------------------------- Hyundai Terracan