Hyundai India’s flagship product, the Santa Fe SUV is extremely important for the brand. And that’s not because they want this specific model to contribute to their business in monetary terms, but because it showcases to us Indians what the Korean carmaker is capable of. It demonstrates the brand’s ability to develop products which reside at the higher end of the food pyramid. Producing a big, well styled, well finished, feature rich and powerfully propelled machine helps Hyundai instill more faith in its customers about its competence as a full spectrum carmaker. So does it succeed in its endeavor of establishing Hyundai as a carmaker capable of dishing out a near INR 3 million rupee product to the Indian customers? We’ll find the answer to that question in our exhaustive Santa Fe review conducted around the scenic but hot surroundings of Kochi in Kerala.
Design and Styling
In its new generation avatar, to look sharp, modern and trendy is Santa Fe’s central brief. Unlike the box-shape that you typically get to witness on most seven-seater SUVs the Santa Fe attempts to look sporty and compact. Even with the vast volume that it encapsulated within, it does succeed a fair bit in looking cohesive and compact – and that’s quite a feat for such a big car.
Up at the front, the familiar hexagonal Hyundai family grille takes center stage. All the sides of the hexagonal grille, save for the top side are drenched in dazzling, high quality chrome. The radiator grille is a triple slat design with the slats featuring more width on the ends than in the center. The top slat proudly bears the Hyundai logo.
The inwards tapering, sharply styled headlamps feature Xenon tech along with LED positioning lights. The complex-design bumper comprises of several element. The body coloured bumper has a huge inlay of a black colored mesh in its central part. This element features a slender shape on the central part and gets wider towards the ends to house the inwards tapering fog-lamps. The fog-lamps are lined with LEDs and have the ability to swivel with the steering to boost visibility in inclement weather.
Further below the mesh, there is flat-crest shaped plastic cladding with nicely finished aluminium skid plates beneath – to add to the premium look, as well as to offer protection to the car’s underbody. The addition of the plastic cladding all around the vehicle, along with the skid plate also stresses upon the go-anywhere personality of the machine.
In profile, the headlamps which 0loked inwards tapering from the front angle appear sharply upswept and add to the front forward stance of the car. The angled windscreen, along with the dropping roofline and the rear spoiler goes a long way in lending the Santa Fe a sporty and dynamic shape in profile, despite its big size. The swept up, tapering design of the rear window and the quarter panel, along with the strong crease emanating from the front fender and merging into the tail-lamps further adds to the zesty look of the car. The tapering shape of the window, towards the rear may not augur too well for the airiness and sense of space in the second and third row though.
At the rear, the horizontally positioned LED combinational tail-lamps help lend a squat, wide stance to the car. It’s split in two by the tail-gate which opens like a hatch. The registration plate recess adds another horizontal line to the rear, helping underline the width of the car, and in the process making it look athletic. The plastic under-cladding lines the entire lower body of the Santa Fe, and is carried over to the rear bumper as well. The skid plates witnessed at the front have their counterparts finishing the job at the rear as well, completing the premium, sporty yet adventurous look of the Santa Fe.
In all, the Santa Fe carries forward the much acclaimed newfound design prowess of Hyundai with élan. Even after being a big seven seater, the SUV manages to look sharp, sexy and compact. The fit and finish all round it top notch and the Santa Fe, without doubt is one of the best looking machines in its size segments. It’s urbane, it’s contemporary, and yet, has the odd elements in places which establish its casual off-road ability. Good job!
Engine and Transmission
The new Santa Fe comes powered by the same 2.2 liter CRDi engine which powered its predecessor. Some changes, however, have been made to improve the refinement and fuel efficiency of the old unit, and it’s quite evident from the moment you put this big SUV in motion, especially at the lower band of the rev spectrum.
The 2.2 liter diesel unit also dishes out impressive power and torque figures. The peak power output for the engine is rated at 197PS at 3,800 rpm. The engine is mated to two gearboxes – a 6 speed manual, and a 6 speed auto. The torque output for the two transmission systems is different. While the manual transmission version of the car delivers a peak torque of 420Nm, the AT version offers slightly more twist rated at 436nm. In both versions, however, the peak torque is delivered at a similar 1800-2500rpm band.
With close to 200 horses and substantially more than 400Nm of torque at hand, the Santa Fe packs quite a punch. It’s quick off the block, and manages to deliver extremely impressive performance in the mid-revs as well. Overtaking is hardly an issue with the strong torrent of prodigious torque powering the wheels of the Santa Fe in full swing from 2000 rpm onwards. Just put the right foot down and the Santa Fe moves ahead in a smooth, reassuring and assertive way. This one’s going to be a highway cruiser’s delight.
While the mid range performance is extremely strong we did notice some bit of turbo lag at the bottom of the barrel. The evidence of this can be found in the fact that the 6 speed auto transmission hardly ever lets the rev needle below the 1500 rpm mark. Drop the speed to bring the tacho needle below 1500 rpm, and the transmission will drop a gear, to be equipped with ample punch to let you surge ahead convincingly.
The 6 speed auto transmission performed well for a traditional single clutch torque converter unit. Sure, there was a mild lag in the shifts as we shoved the right pedal and summoned a kickdown, but the transmission is still much better sorted than most other such systems we have sampled. It’s not as quick as the modern dual clutch transmissions like the DSG, but does its job pretty well. The remarkable torque available across the rev band reduces the need to downshifts and helps mask the mild lag. Manual mode, the transmission holds on to the revs and lets the tacho needle climb up all the way up to redline to let you drive spiritedly.
We found the engine uncannily silent below the 2000rpm mark. While cruising in higher gears at 100kmph or thereabouts, there is hardly any engine noise filtering into the cabin. The 2.2 CRDi impresses with its low rpm smoothness and hushed behavior. It gets a little noisy as it approaches the 3000 rpm mark and beyond though. The engine, with its strong mid range torque prefers spinning at ease in the sub 3000 rpm region. It has enough meat there to take on almost all real world scenarios with ease. It doesn’t much appreciate being hustled though.
A punchy mid-range performer, the 2.2 CRDi engine isn’t exactly a dope jab for the power addicted, but is a reassuring, confident and relaxed unit – suited perfectly to the SUV body type. It’s got what it takes to haul the weight of a heavy car like the Santa Fe without breaking a sweat. It can achieve speeds above the triple digit mark without making an effort and can maintain cruising speeds without a bother in the world.
Interior, cabin comfort and features
Climb into the Santa Fe, and the first impression you get is that of quality, opulence and neat workmanship. The cabin of the Santa Fe feels like a premium place. Right from the jazzy instrument binnacle, to the perforated leather seats, the central touch-screen and the soft touch buttons – adequate care has been taken to ensure that the Santa Fe doesn’t have any bits which tarnish with its upmarket status.
The steering wheel and the dashboard is reminiscent of the Elantra, which itself is highly regarded for its interior. The two-tone dashboard is finished primarily in brown and beige, with silver and black inserts on the center console, gunmetal finish inserts on the steering wheel and carbon-fiber like inlays under the outer air vents. Door panels are also done up in a predominantly brown and beige finish with silver and black also being used. Power window buttons have gunmetal surrounds. The fit-finish is top notch, and all the visible elements within the cabin come across as exponents of fine workmanship and represent a neat, consistent assembly.
Feature-wise, the Santa Fe is appreciably well equipped both in terms of comfort – convenience and safety. Talking about the former aspect, the instrument binnacle is a nice looking, predominantly blue backlit unit. The analogue tachometer on the left also features an engine temperature gauge and a gear indicator at the center. The speedo on the right, marked up to 240 km/h has the fuel gauge and outside temperature display at the center.
Between the two dials you have a multi-page menu driven central screen offering loads of vehicle related information. The multi-page menus on this display can be controlled via buttons located on the bottom right portion of the multi-function steering wheel. While being able to control more functions using the steering wheel is always a good thing, these buttons, being too many in number sometimes do get pressed inadvertently.
The top left buttons on the steering wheel offer volume control, seek (track, station etc), mute and mode (radio, CD etc) buttons. On the lower end, you have the make / reject call buttons. On the top right, you have buttons to engage, cancel or control the speed for cruise control. This panel also features the Flexi-Steer button, unique to Santa Fe. Using this button, you can choose from three presets for the steering wheel behaviour – Normal, Comfort or Sport. We’ll talk more about this function in the handling / ride section later. The bottom right side of the steering wheel, as mentioned earlier has buttons controlling the MID screen between the two instrumentation pods.
The four main screen pages on the central Multi Information can be broadly categorized as follows
- Trip info – Distance to empty, average speed, trip distance, clock, ODO reading
- Audio – Shows what’s playing on the audio system
- Service Reminder – days / distance remaining before next service
- User Settings – some customizable settings related to vehicle including lamps and others
Upon turning the system on, the tell tale lights which light up on the instrument cluster include the Diff-lock on/off, power steering function, handbrake, airbags, ABS, Traction Control and Hill Descent Control signs
The central screen is a touch sensitive unit and allows you to connect your media, pair your phone, play music, set the clock and do a few other things. While the screen is perfectly functional and is a great feature to have, we think a bigger size and a brighter display would have served the purpose better. We found the TFT display a tad dim on a couple of occasions.
Under the central screen you have the controls for the two-zone automatic Climatatronic AC. In addition to controlling the air circulation mode and temperature, you can also choose to turn the rear A/C on or off from this panel. Cochi was incredibly hot even during this time of the year, and we found the Santa Fe’s A/C to be extremely effective in hot conditions. You even get a chilled glovebox to keep your beverages cool on a hot, humid day.
More on Interior, Cabin Comfort and Features
In terms of storage spaces, the Santa Fe scores highly with a practical mix of a variety of cubbyholes. The front doors have large map pockets with space for a big one-liter water bottle, more space for a smaller bottle and then some for flatter objects. The armrests on doors also have a small cranny where a small cellphone could rest happily. The front central armrest comes with a flip-open lid, and offers really generous space beneath. To give you an idea about its volume, it swallowed two digital SLRs comfortably. Between the top lid and the big hollow under the armrest, you have a shallow plastic tray which can handle stuff like your wallet or cell-phone.
Right before the armrest you have a small crevice, which, again is good to accommodate a wallet or a cellphone. Further ahead, you have two big cupholders. Further ahead, you have another recess big enough to handle a wallet and a cell-phone together. And if you’re one of those perennial whiners, then you have another compartment with a push to op lid on top of the dashboard. For those who’d still not be satisfied, there is a roof mounted glares compartment.
For the second row occupants, the door panels aren’t quite as big as the front units, but would still be able to accommodate a couple of half-liter water bottles – slimmer one liters bottles would require a shove to go in. Armrests on rear doors also have a small crevice like the front units. Central rear armrest features twin cup-holders. Front seats also have pockets mounted on the back to accommodate newspapers, magazines, or bottles.
And the story doesn’t end yet. Even the third row occupants get one cup-holder each, and these are integrated with a big cubbyhole which can hold anything from a water bottle to a wallet of a bunch of keys.
The big, wide front driver’s seat is 12-way electrically adjustable. In conjunction with the tilt-telescopic adjustable steering, the seats allow you to tune your driving position to the finest level possible. The seats have nice, firm padding, and they are wide and well bolstered to offer good comfort even over longer drives. Second row seats are also very comfortable with great thigh support. The second row seats ride on rails to allow fore and aft adjustment, along with customizable recline angle. Apart from offering more comfort to the central row passenger, this function also allows to create space to let third row passengers get in, and can help maximize the legspace for the third row passengers.
The third row of seats on the Santa Fe isn’t particularly comfortable. It features a low seating layout – letting the knees point skywards. As mentioned earlier, the middle row can be pushed forward to create more knee-room, but even with this row cannot be utilized for long journeys. All three rows of seats get their individual A/C vents with flow control.
The boot space available on the Santa Fe, with all three rows of seats up is good for two small suitcases, and probably a couple of haversacks – as demonstrated in the image here. With 5 occupants, however, the rear seats can be tumbled down 50:50 to convert into a flat bed and uncovering acres of luggage space. The middle row too, can be folded down in a 40:20:40 ratio.
The Santa Fe also offers a sweet sounding six speaker audio system with CD/USB/Aux-in/Radio and Bluetooth. Power outlets also come aplenty with two sources for the front row, one of the second and one more for the third row of seats.
All in all, the Santa Fe offers a comfortable, spacious and very well equipped cabin. We love it for its flexibility and the quality and finish is top notch too. We did, however, feel that a big sunroof and auto dimming RVMs should have been a part of this big SUVs otherwise fantastic package to make it even more appealing and functional.
Ride, handling and driving dynamics
It’s easy to find the perfect driving position in the Santa Fe, thanks to its flexible driver’s seat and the tilt-telescopic steering wheel. The seat height is moderate – neither too high up nor too low. Visibility all round is very good. Internal RVM offers a good view of what’s behind despite car’s length. The reverse parking camera helps parking in tight corners, while also offering a closer view of things not visible via the RVMs, like rocks immediately behind the car in a field.
The Santa Fe, despite its size is quite a maneuverable car, and slipping it in and out of tight spaces isn’t much of a problem. Steering, which is light and smooth at slow speeds makes things easier within the city. The ‘Flexi Steering’ on the Santa Fe offers three modes to choose from – Normal, Comfort and Sport, allowing varying levels of stiffness, with the Sport being the stiffest. However, even with all its low speed convenience, and weighting up with increase in speed, Santa Fe’s steering remains devoid of feedback and connected feel from the road. It’s quite insulated from the road, which may be a good thing for a smooth and refined feel for some, but doesn’t work too well for an involving, spirited drive around the bends
The suspension of the Santa Fe has been tuned on the European lines – slightly on the stiffer side, but very well damped to offer a delightful combo of great ride quality and reassuring firmness around bends. Not only is the suspension tuned well to filter out the uneven surfaces effortlessly, the NVH levels are exceptional too. At low revs, the Santa Fe provides an exceptionally silent and well insulated cabin.
We drove the Santa Fe on a variety of surfaces and were delighted to see that the vehicle managed to deal with small to large irregularities at varying speeds with commendable poise. No thuds filtering in, no jarring noises – the Santa Fe offers one of the most balanced rides you can get in a big SUV.
Loaded with its army of supervisory electronics and active safety equipment the Santa Fe also offers a very reliable set of wheels around bends. Traction Control, Electronic Stability Control, ABS with EBD and brake assist work well for good control and poise. On our way back from Arithiraplli – a scenic waterfall some 60km from Cochi, we pushed the car a fair bit through the winding hilly roads. The Santa Fe, riding on its McPherson struts up front and multi link independent suspension at the rear, and rolling on 235/60/R18 ‘Nexen Roadian 581’ tyres came across as nicely poised and sure-footed for a big SUV. We were a little skeptical about the lesser known tyre brand initially, but they delivered good performance in dry conditions, with hardly any squeals and loads of grip.
Sure, the steering is devoid of the involving communication of, say, the Ford Ecosport but the car held its line without shade of drama or doubt. You can comfortably expect a fair bit of body roll from a vehicle this size and weight, but the Santa Fe, even after being a big SUV exhibited appreciable body behavior around bends. There is a bit of body roll to be experienced, but you can carry fairly good speeds around corners with this one without having to worry about any surprises.
Braking on the Santa Fe was strong and reassuring. We did feel the weight of the car coming into play when we tested the big machine for hard braking at speed. It did pitch a bit, but did not lose its line or exhibit any loss of balance. The brakes are powerful and offer good stopping power, though a bit more progressive feel and feedback would be welcome.
The Santa Fe, in spite of boasting an on demand 4WD acts as a 2WD in normal road conditions. On experiencing traction loss at front wheels, drive can be transferred to the rear wheels. The AWD gear on the Santa Fe is an on-demand, intelligent system which reacts to the traction available on wheels. The torque split between the front and rear axles can vary from 100:0 in normal conditions to 50:50 in situations where front wheels are not getting any traction.
For situations where a bit more serious 4×4 gear is required, the Santa Fe also features a 4×4 Lock facility. Once you press the 4×4 lock button placed on the rightmost corner of dashboard, the torque split is fixed to 50:50. This arrangement, however, works only for speeds below 40kmph, beyond which the system releases itself from the 4×4 lock mode.
All of this makes the Santa Fe a mild off-roader which has the capability of accessing areas which a normal 2WD car would not be able to reach. We witnessed the Santa Fe clear some reasonably big obstacles on our way to a river for a photo op. That said, the Santa Fe is not a hardcore mud-plugger and discretion should be observed before venturing out into tough terrains with this machine.
Overall, the Santa Fe presents itself as a fantastically well sprung SUV with great ability to flatten rough surfaces, and enough firmness to carry good speed through bends. With its vague steering, it may not be a whole load of fun to attack the corners, but it offers a very safe and reassuring set of wheels with well controlled body roll for a big SUV.
Conclusion / Verdict
After a daylong stint with the new Santa Fe, we found it to be a unique proposition from a mainstream car manufacturer. It’s big, yet visually compact and sportily styled. It boasts laudably well appointed interior which exude quality and good workmanship. It’s got acres of space, flexible seating and includes some very well thought out creature comforts. The engine is punchy, the auto transmission works well, and there is decent off-road equipment on offer too.
If you compare the Hyundai Santa Fe to the Toyota Fortuner, which is going to be its chief competitor, the Santa Fe scores highly in every department, expect for sheer brawn and size. As a standalone product, the Santa Fe looks good with its opulent interior, liberal set of features and an overall good driving package.
However, we think that the pricing of the Santa Fe is a tad on the optimistic side. Even with all the virtues, the 30 lakh rupees OTR price tag may look steep to some for a Hyundai product. Hyundai thus far has not been able to market its 20lakh + products too well.
And that’s probably the challenge. If you weigh the SUVs playing in the segment, pound-for-pound, the Santa Fe even with its higher than expected price, manages to come out tops. Hyundai is probably of the opinion that the customer in the segment will put the brand perceptions aside and judge their product purely in terms of the value its offering. If that happens, the Santa Fe may actually turn into a success, for it offers good bang for buck.
The Santa Fe is a fantastic product from the Korean carmaker, and manages to lift the perception of the brand’s capabilities in our eyes several notches. We sincerely hope that it does the same to the prospective customers of this specific model as well.
Santa Fe Ex-Delhi Prices at the time we conducted this test are as follows
Santa Fe 2WD M/T Rs. 2,630,000
Santa Fe 2WD A/T Rs. 2,715,000
Santa Fe 4WD A/T Rs. 2,925,000
Technical Specifications, complete features list and image gallery
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