The 3rd generation Hyundai Santa Fe was recently launched in India and in comparison with its predecessor, it's longer, wider and feature packed. More importantly, it is now being locally assembled for the first time. Yet, the Santa Fe falls in a price segment, which is one of the most fiercely fought and offers choices ranging from large SUVs to premium compact SUVs from Europe.
The Santa Fe in its earlier avatar was sold as a CBU and hence never went on to compete with the segment leaders. Hyundai, however, watched this space keenly and saw an opportunity to add more numbers and possibly a flagship, which relates to its mass models through mediums such as design. Is the new Santa Fe then capable of doing what Hyundai has struggled to do till now in India – deliver a sales hit in the premium segment? We found out on the roads around Kochi if that's the case.
Design & Construction
The new Santa Fe expectedly is based on Hyundai's fluidic design language but is unique since it's the first vehicle to portray its own interpretation of the fluidic theme. The vehicle is claimed to have drawn inspiration from the shapes created during a storm. The result is that, in our opinion, the Santa Fe is the best looking vehicle in Hyundai's line-up in India and also the most elegant despite being sharp and edgy. The lines are straight and edges are so sharp, that almost all of them end up in the form of a pointed edge.
The front section is dominated by the teardrop head lamps and the chrome grille. The rear also imparts a sharp look, courtesy the tail lamps and tail gate lines. The side profile derives its beauty primarily from the upswept lines of the glass area on both sides of the D pillar, creating an effect of erosion due to wind. The large 18-inch wheels with a smart design further aid the side profile. Overall, the Santa Fe does manage to look better than most of its competitors, both from lower and higher price segments.
The new platform has resulted in the Santa Fe being longer by 40 mm, lower by 45 mm and wider by 5 mm, while retaining the 2,700 mm wheelbase of its predecessor. The vehicle now uses lightweight, ultra-high tensile steel and an aluminium structure, leading to lower weight, better safety and higher rigidity.
The Santa Fe uses the same 2.2 l R series engine from the previous model but has undergone a raft of changes to improve operational efficiency. Power output for the four-cylinder engine stands at about 194 hp while torque is rated at about 445 Nm between 1,800 and 2,500 rpm. A key change is the inclusion of the third-generation common rail technology, which along with an electronic variable geometry turbocharger (eVGT) allows for a wider spread of power torque. As a result, movement off the line and in gears is lag-free from the engine's perspective.
In a conventional VGT, a set of adjustable vanes direct air into the turbocharger turbine, thereby creating a suitable angle of contact for the exhaust gases as per the engine requirements. In case of an eVGT, the vanes are controlled by an electronic actuator, which in turn is controlled by the engine ECU. As a result, engine performance is improved due to better control of exhaust gases across the rev band.
The Piezo injectors in the new common rail system are lighter than solenoid injectors and offer more precise fuel injection control, leading to higher power and higher fuel and emission efficiency. Helping matters further is the high 1,800 bar injection pressure of these injectors. During the drive, we found the engine to be responsive in all gears with good throttle response. Power is adequate to propel the Santa Fe out of tricky situations. The acceleration is linear and goes well with the vehicle's character and purpose.
Changes have also been made to the unit to reduce emissions significantly and the exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) system has now been endowed with electronic control and a by-pass system. The electronic control of EGR lowers emissions, while the by-pass system improves the EGR's efficiency. Inclusion of liquid cooling for the unit adds further to its efficiency. Even the intake manifold has been designed to accommodate a swirling motion of air, which helps lower NOx emissions and improve performance.
Our test vehicle was equipped with a six-speed automatic transmission but customers will also have the option of a six-speed manual transmission. The automatic unit offers good drivability and the ratios seem appropriate. The unit, however, hesitates slightly to downshift but engaging the sports mode and taking manual control of the gears sorts that out. We were also informed that the unit doesn't require change of transmission oil throughout the vehicle's lifetime, translating into lower maintenance cost.
The overall refinement is of top order and the sound and vibrations from the powertrain are well-insulated. Refinement levels are in fact better than some of the imported vehicles in the same price bracket or higher.We couldn't check performance and efficiency figures during the drive but Hyundai claims a fuel-efficiency of 14.74 km/l for the manual variant and 13.01 km/l for the AT.
The interior, just like the exterior, highlights the significant progress Hyundai has made in improving perceptible quality. The hourglass design of the centre console and transmission console lends an attractive and futuristic look to the cabin. The air vents styled around the border of the console accentuates the premium look. Material quality has improved drastically over the last generation but still isn't the best in its segment.
The instrument console too is well designed and offers clear readings. The multifunction steering wheel offers good grip and the overall control layout rates well on the ergonomic front. Seats at the front and middle row are comfortable and offer good support and the reclining middle-seats increase the comfort significantly. The third row is best suited for adults only on short trips but with a 40:20:40 split for the middle-row and a 50:50 split for the third row, the Santa Fe can accommodate cargo of various shapes and sizes.
Other convenience features include a 12 way driver's seat, central touch screen with MP3/USB/AUX and Bluetooth connectivity, automatic climate control, cruise control, sunroof, rear manual curtains and the list goes on. Hyundai has always been good at packaging their cars with features from a segment above in many cases and the trend continues with Santa Fe. Even the third row gets its own 12 v power socket, adding to the convenience throughout the cabin.
The Santa Fe is possibly the best equipped vehicle in its price segment in terms of interior and convenience features. For customers walking into the showroom, the feature list would surely be an enticer.A minor shortcoming we found was the music system, since at high decibels, the sound quality sounded a bit compromised.
The earlier Santa Fe had average dynamics and one would expect the new model to have improvements, and it doesn't disappoint. However, what's surprising is the vast level of improvement achieved in the new model. The stiffer suspension set-up comprising of McPherson Struts upfront and multilink at the rear offers an appreciable ride quality at low and high speeds.
The vehicle owing to the stiffer chassis and the improved suspension now feels more composed through the corners. At slow speeds, most road undulations are dealt with in a settled manner, aiding occupant comfort. The all disc brake set-up too does a god job of bringing the Santa Fe to a halt in a confident and composed manner.
Even though the improvement has been appreciable, there are still areas of improvement. The steering for instance feels disconnected from the wheels. Although its lightness makes it easy to operate in traffic and parking, the lack of any true feedback at high speeds doesn't instil confidence. Also, the unit isn't particularly quick, taking away from the driving connect with the machine that a driver may look for. A key inclusion here is the FlexSteer system, which offers three modes to alter the steering weight – Normal, Sport and Comfort. The Sport mode adds significant weight to the steering, most of which is artificial but still better than the Normal.
The Santa Fe offers an electronic 4 Wheel Drive System, which sends 100 % of the power to the front wheels during normal operation with the ability to send up to 50 % to the rear wheels if required. During our test, we put the vehicle through some gradients, wet surface and completely broken surfaces with significantly large craters. The vehicle performed well in all conditions, with the system responding quickly to offer maximum possible traction. The Santa Fe, however, is still not a thorough off-roader but will easily manage most of the hardships that Indian roads will throw at it.
This is another area where Hyundai has scored over its competitors in the recent past and the Santa Fe doesn't change anything. The vehicle offers one of the best available safety packages in its price segment. Key safety features include six airbags, ABS, Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Vehicle Stability Management (VSM), Hillstart assist and DownHill brake control. The ultrahigh-tensile steel and aluminium used in the body structure add further to the safety of the occupants in the event of a crash.
The new Santa Fe is a well-packaged vehicle with some outstanding qualities, which make it one of the most value-for-money SUVs in the premium segment. The striking design along with the attractive interiors should find good appreciation among potential consumers. The feature list is one area where the Santa Fe sets new benchmarks in its segment. Higher refinement levels along with a significantly improved suspension and chassis set-up put the new Santa Fe a long way ahead of its predecessor and most competitors. The build quality too has improved significantly, highlighting Hyundai's focus on using the best production technologies in order to offer higher visible quality.
All of the positives bring us to one thing, which Hyundai can improve upon in the coming times – the steering. Like it has been with the Sonata, Elantra and even its smaller cars, the steering units have somewhat lacked feedback, making it hard to enjoy a sprightly drive at times. The good thing is that Hyundai keenly listens to its customers and makes changes quicker than many other companies. The Verna recently underwent some updates to improve handling and in the Santa Fe too the FlexSteer system makes things better. As an overall package, the Santa Fe seems well equipped and well-priced to take on the established competition.
The all-new Santa Fe is available in five colours and three variants priced as follows: 2WD M/T – Rs 26.3 lakh, 2WD AT – Rs 27.15 lakh and 4WD AT – Rs 29.25 lakh, all prices being ex-showroom, Delhi.
Text & Photo: Arpit Mahendra/Deepangshu Dev Sarmah