While India’s second-largest car maker Hyundai has seen success in almost every segment it is present in, it could never crack the premium SUV segment despite two attempts—first the Terracan and then the Tucson. So, in 2010, Hyundai introduced to the Indian market its star SUV—the Santa Fe. Named after the capital city of New Mexico in the US and once so popular with American customers that Hyundai had a tough time meeting the demand, the Santa Fe was the natural choice for India.
Initially, it did capture the attention of Indian buyers, but soon it ran into smaller SUVs by BMW and Audi and, of course, the Toyota Fortuner. But Hyundai was not to sit quiet. At this year’s Auto Expo, the Korean company launched the 3rd generation Santa Fe to take on the competition.
The new Santa Fe embodies the ‘Storm Edge’ language derived from Hyundai’s now-celebrated fluidic design philosophy. So, the front gets a three-bar hexagonal grille surrounded by headlamps and LED daytime running lights, while the rear is highlighted by LED lamps and skid plates with dual exhaust that add the much-required SUV touch. The side profile is striking—the large, 18-inch diamond cut alloys and the roof rails make the Santa Fe look sporty. The spare wheel is fixed under the body—though it makes the rear look neat, but mounting and unmounting the wheel can be slightly inconvenient in case you encounter a flat tyre.
The Santa Fe has a spacious cabin and you get two-tone beige and brown interiors with silver inserts around the AC vents and door trims. There are plenty of storage pockets all around—in the doors, between the front seats, behind the seats—and you even get two charging points. Then there is a dual-zone AC with vents on the B and C pillars. In fact, the multi-function steering wheel, leather-wrapped gear-shift knob and the ergonomically-placed centre console, all look great.
But there are some omissions. One, while the driver seat gets a 12-way electronic adjustment feature, the front passenger seat only gets manual adjustment and cannot be raised—so a short passenger may find it difficult to see the road ahead. Two, the cabin rear-view mirror is not the auto-dimming one. And three, there is no satellite navigation. We would also have liked ventilated seats as are there in the Elantra, plus maybe sunroof as an option.
Still, there is great attention to detail and the feature list includes cruise control, rear parking sensors and camera, cooled glovebox, rear window curtains, smart key with push button start, rain sensing wipers, etc. A nice feature is the ‘solar glass’ windshield that protects you against ultraviolet and infrared rays. And a segment-first feature is ‘Flex Steer’ that allows the driver to switch among three steering modes—Comfort, Normal and Sport.
Under the hood
The 2.2L CRDi diesel engine equipped with e-VGT turbocharger powers the Santa Fe. Delivering a maximum power of 197PS@3,800rpm and a maximum torque of 44.5kgm@1800-2500rpm, the unit is a gem.
On the road
On well-paved roads, the Santa Fe is a very fine cruiser. We undertook a 360-km long journey in the 4WD variant—from Delhi to Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan—completed it in just five hours, without a break, used cruise control liberally, and at the end of it we were as refreshed as when we had begun. That’s the beauty of this SUV—be it high speeds or low, be it straight roads or curves, ride quality remains plush. But on bumpy roads you do feel some amount of body roll, although that is well controlled.
Off the road
We Indians love our SUVs so much that we barely use them as Sport Utility Vehicles. In fact, the editor of AutoX, and a friend, Dhruv Behl once told me, “In India, SUV stands for Stylish Urban Vanity.” After all, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of sport, or utility, in many SUVs we have. The Santa Fe 4WD, however, is different. While on a smooth road only the front-wheel drive mode works, as soon as the SUV senses the need—such as a slip detected on any of the wheels—it automatically shifts into a four-wheel drive mode. We took the Santa Fe on the sand dunes and also into a dry river bed, and not once did we feel an apparent loss of traction. The ground clearance of 185 mm is decent for limited off-roading activities, and then there are skid plates that prevent underbody damage to an extent.
You get six airbags, anti-lock braking system, electronic stability control, vehicle stability management, brake assist, traction control and all four wheels are equipped with disc brakes.
The Santa Fe excels in almost every sphere—be it external design, in-cabin luxury, safety features, on the highway, in the city, and the 4WD’s SUV character will impress the off-road enthusiast. It is definitely superior than many of its Japanese and American rivals. But all this comes at a price. The Santa Fe 2WD manual variant comes for Rs 26.3 lakh and the top-end 4WD automatic costs Rs 29.25 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi).
Yes, in the new Santa Fe, a lot has changed, but what hasn’t is that this big SUV still runs into the territory ruled by small SUVs from Audi and BMW—in India, badge value matters more than the car value. And the Toyota Fortuner still remains the one to beat. Here’s hoping the Santa Fe manages to change that.