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Hyundai and Toyota follow Ford

They are like ballet dancers, Toyota and Hyundai, so perfectly in step, dancing to the same tune. One puts a bigger V6 engine in its mid-range SUV, with optional seven-seat capacity, plus two-wheel-drive in place of all-wheel-drive to reduce the cost, weight and thirst. So does the other.

That's the story of this month's changes to the Hyundai Santa Fe and Toyota Kluger ranges. However, it is not really a case of one copying the other. Rather both are trying to find the magic formula that has made the Ford Territory such a success.

They have noticed that most Territory buyers opt for the cheaper two-wheel-drive versions. And where Hyundai offers 2WD and AWD versions of the smaller Santa Fe wagon, four in five buyers take 2WD.

No wonder both companies have introduced 2WD versions of their mid-sized wagons while increasing engine power. The Hyundai's largest petrol engine was 2.7 litres, so is joined by a 3.3 litre stablemate, while the Toyota's engine, previously 3.3 litres, goes up to 3.5 litres.

So maybe it's leapfrog they're doing, not ballet.

In the Kluger's case, an entirely new vehicle is being introduced, considerably bigger and roomier than its predecessor, so seven-seat versions become available. There is only one engine choice, but three trim levels, and 2WD or AWD. In both Kluger and Santa Fe, most drivers in most conditions are going to feel at ease with the new two-wheel-drive versions. They're stable and surefooted, refined and well-balanced.

When it comes to all-wheel-drive, Hyundai and Toyota take different paths. The Santa Fe AWD continues to be available with a smaller petrol engine, or a diesel, while the Kluger AWD uses the same petrol engine as the 2WD model, but costs $4500 extra.

The much more distinctive new Kluger has stability control, reversing camera, seven airbags and alloy wheels as standard.

The all-wheel-drive version, with a host of super-smart aids, proves very competent off road, even when the going gets muddy and slippery and steep and rutted.

First impression of the Kluger is that the steering is now excellent.

At Hyundai, the Santa Fe's new engine (borrowed from the Sonata sedan) and 2WD system team well.


 Key points

Toyota Kluger

Details: V6 engine, 3.5litre capacity, power 201kW, torque 337Nm, five-speed automatic, economy 11litres/100km.

Price: From $39,990.

For: Well equipped, powerful, economical, roomier.

Against: Ride can get bouncy.

Summing Up: Another Toyota success.

Rate: 4 stars

Hyundai Santa Fe 3.3

Details: V6 engine, 3.3litre capacity, power 180kW, torque 309Nm, five-speed automatic, economy 10.7litres/100km.

Price: From $37,990.

For: Convenient, capable, affordable.

Against: Previous cut-price image.

Summing up:  Impressive package.

Rate: 4 stars