2014 Hyundai Santa Fe comprehensive review

  • Feb 20, 2014

Two months back, I made a call to a good friend at Hyundai’s Corporate Communications division. It so happened that a colleague of mine from a non-auto publication was looking for a 7-seater SUV in the Rs 25-30 lac bracket and the new Santa Fe had him hooked. His know-how about this segment was impressively good but not surprising given the fact people like him spend more time logged onto the web world through their tablets and smartphones than flipping through a magazine or catching up on an auto show on the idiot box thanks to their late night working hours.
So, this gentleman wanted to pre-book the Santa Fe and hence the call to my pal at Hyundai. Ofcourse, the usual games on concealing the product launch details went on but I was given enough hints on the nearing (at that time) launch of Hyundai’s flagship model in India.

Fast forward to 13th February and post the Expo madness, I was in flight mode to Kochi to drive the new Santa Fe. Ofcourse, my friend did notice my Facebook check-in and hence during our detailed telephonic conversation, he made sure I knew what all to look out for him during the test drive – the call went on for a good one hour and by the time I found myself at the evening presentation in the open air, by the pool side location at Courtyard Marriot, I had started looking at this new product from the eyes of a prospective customer – 36 years old, annual earnings of over 30-35 lac, family man with kids, soft corner for weekend getaways and ofcourse a customer who wants to be pampered. For further usage, let’s relate to my friend, or a typical customer as Mr. X!

The Santa Fe, on paper, looks unbeatable. It seems to pack in all the bells and whistles along with quality and style – this is something every person wants and looks for in a SUV when he is ready to put down 35 lacs (on road) on the table. However, the earlier Santa Fe too had a familiar appeal (on paper) but didn’t really put the sales charts on fire, selling for instance, a mere 498 units in 2013 – that’s an average of just over 40 units per month. The problem, or the rather the secret to this segment is that people are looking for appeal and design. The Fortuner has appeal, if no design and the Q3 has both design and appeal if not the right price. The new Santa Fe tries to aggregate all this and then more as I found out the following day. Let the questions began then!

Does it look expensive and premium for my status?

Officially launched at the 2014 Auto Expo, the Santa Fe quickly lost its limelight due to an array of showcases and launches the same day. Here in Kochi though, I didn’t regret my decision to spend Valentine’s Day with the “Sleek Silver” color option. Even without a logo, it won’t be hard to recognize the Santa Fe as a Hyundai product. The Fluidic theme that started off on smaller models has now carried on to this big SUV too and with a lower stance as compared to the outgoing version, does lend a very modern and funky look to the SUV. While the front is all new with a bigger triple layer chrome-dipped grille and narrow swept back headlamps (HIDs, with washers), see the Santa Fe side on and it’s hard not to notice the rising shoulder line which lends it a ready for motion, lean-forward visual stance.

The front also gets fog lamps with cornering function – practical and a safe feature. If you notice further, the black mesh grille and plastic cladding on the lower part of the front bumper breaks the single color monotony easily – design touches like these certainly deserve a mention. Silver skid plates are present at both the ends and the rear gets LED light treatment as well. It is the combination of sharp edges and tight crease wraps done in interesting new ways that sets it apart from the current breed of premium SUVs. It’s visually big as well, being 145mm and 170mm longer than the CR-V and the Koleos respectively and as much as 40mm wider than the Fortuner. My friend loves flaunting his assets (gadgets and the works) and this will go down well with him too.
Half the battle won? Hang on!

How does it feel on the inside?

Step inside and instantly, the cabin looks expensive. It’s easily a segment above as compared to rivals like the Fortuner, Pajero Sport and the Endeavour when it comes to look, feel and features. The materials used inside are definitely on par or above all its Japanese rivals, if not up to the level of German quality. The driver’s seat is big and supportive and along with 12-way power adjustment, allows a good driving posture for people of all heights and built. That said, the co-driver seat has manual adjust – the cheaper Renault Koleos gets brownie points here, having a 4-way power seat for the co-driver. Under the right air-con vent, you also notice the buttons for differential lock, switching of traction / stability, toggling between the ECO mode and using the down-hill assist mode.

The steering wheel gets your attention easily – well made (leather) with buttons laid out in a nice manner. The left side buttons are for volume control, switching between songs, muting the audio and changing modes (from USB to FM for instance). The lower left side has buttons for answering and disconnecting a call while the upper right side of the wheel has buttons for cruise control and the flex steering modes – more on this later. Finally the lower right side of the steering gets toggle buttons for the driver information system that is located in the speedometer console – that’s a total of 13 buttons and yet doesn’t interfere with the driver’s fingers or palms when you wish to drive this two tonne SUV fast.

The cabin gets a dual tone color scheme with the upper and lower panels of the fascia being darker. The central console has a waterfall effect, being wider at the top and tapering down towards the deep, open-sided storage area ahead of the gear lever that can easily swallow a fat wallet and a smartphone. However, doing that will block access to the USB port and the two auxiliary jacks. Coming back to the upper part of the central console, the Santa Fe comes with touch screen, 2-DIN CD/Radio system. No, it isn’t DVD compatible and the touch screen size is simply too small. The user interface however is well made and it’s easy to operate the system. The screen doubles up as a rear view camera (with four sensors) and this is something that is sorely missed on other SUVs like Pajero Sport (only the anniversary edition got it), the Koleos (only sensors) and the more expensive Audi Q3 – again only sensors on this one.

Practicality has always been Hyundai’s forte and the Santa Fe gets cooled glove box, a huge storage area under the front arm rest and an interesting small storage space above the console on the fascia – will come handy for toll slips and change during those weekend getaways undertaken by Mr. X and his family. The internal review mirror however misses out on auto-dim functionality – isn’t this a feature that we now see on cars that have a sticker price half of the Santa Fe’s?

There is no doubt that Hyundai has followed its tradition of loading the Santa Fe with a long list of standard equipment, some of which would either be optional or not even available as an option anywhere else in the class but if you research closely, you are surprised with the omission of a sunroof that the cheaper Rexton has in addition to the CR-V and the Q3. Trust me, sunroofs are a hit with kids and Mr. X might not like this omission. Likewise, only the driver side window gets one touch up and down feature and not all the four windows.

Moving on the 2nd row, even with the front seats adjusted for my height (I stand 6 feet tall with a heavy build), there is ample knee and leg room here. These 2nd row seats can also be moved back for more legroom and even reclined if Mr. X wishes to take a nap on the go while being chauffeured around. The blinds for the rear windows (manually operated) are a very thoughtful feature here. There is also a central arm-rest in the 2nd row with integrated cup holders while there are vents for both 2nd and 3rd row passengers.

The last row is best for Mr. X’s kids or adults with a slim build and height not exceeding 160cm or so – the baby sitter probably? The sloping part of the rear roof is the culprit here as headroom is very limited. Once seated though, you get your own air-con controls here along with small cubby holes. The last row gets a 50-50 split option while the 2nd row gets a 40-20-40 option – flipping the seats is pretty easy. Even with all the 3 rows up, there is space for two soft cases.
Looks like overall, Mr. X will be happy with the interiors as well. Time to move on to the heart of the matter!

Does it have ample punch for my driving needs?

One of the biggest USP of the older Santa Fe was its heart – the power-plant. Infact, even the Verna for that matter comes with one of the best diesel engines in the segment and the new Santa Fe is no different. Extracting 194Bhp from a 2199cc diesel engine is by all means a big achievement and while the outright power figure looks tempting, the torque rating is what’ll be doing the hard work - 437Nm for the A/T versions (421 for MT) is more than every single SUV in the Rs 18-32 bracket. For number crunchers, the new Santa Fe’s power output is 20Bhp more than the Q3, 54 higher than the Q3 S and 25 more than the Fortuner. When it comes to torque, it’s a massive 117Nm higher than the Q3 S, 57 more than the Q3 and a good 94 more than the Fortuner.

In real world usage however, you do feel the bulk of the car hampering the performance marginally. The Santa Fe is a heavy vehicle no doubt but you always have power in reserve. At an indicated 120km/h, a gentle tap on the acceleration pedal shoves the Santa Fe forward and it’s only when you glance at the speedometer do you realize the speeds you are carrying. The engine is audible at slow speeds and while accelerating through traffic but once on the move, it’s hardly noticeable until unless you start toying around for enthusiastic driving. The engine on our test car was mated to a 6-speed automatic gearbox that did impress us a lot. It understands your needs easily and though not lightning quick as the Q3’s DSG, is still one of the better ones around. Option to shift gears manually is present as well.

The Santa Fe also comes with a 4WD system that automatically implements rear wheel traction for full time four-wheel-drive performance. What is surprisingly good is that Hyundai is offering electronic differential locks too along with a host of safety aids – more on that later. ARAI rated economy stands at 14.7kmpl for the manual and 13kmpl for the automatic being the 3rd best in the segment here after the Q3 and the Koleos but significantly better than the big brawny SUV options like the Fortuner, Pajero and Endeavour.

Open roads and flowing hilly roads is where the 2.2-litre engine comes into its own sweet spot. The Santa Fe is capable of doing serious speeds without a jiffy while at the same time has enough low end juice for negotiating city crawls, just what the doctor ordered for Mr. X!

Will it spill my drink on city roads and will it keep me safe?

A good chunk of Santa Fe owners will be spending their weekdays in the 2nd row and when they do it, they will be surprised with the way it glides. It not only has commendably subdued wind noise but the well-sorted ride comfort wins your heart over. You don’t get tossed around on broken roads and through everyday city roads, it won’t leave you with a reason to complain. Even on the sound proofing front, the company has gone an extra mile and made more efforts than ever to damp out noise and vibrations. Even the suspension noise has been tamed with better isolation and damping materials.
Up front when you are in the driver’s seat, visibility is good if not terrific but the ease of driving, as found in other Hyundai models, will make driving this big SUV a task easy enough for Mr. X’s better half as well. No really and further the flex steering with three modes of Comfort, Normal and Sport gives you options to enjoy the drive depending on needs and environment – this was first seen on the 2013 Elantra GT sold internationally.
Comfort mode works best for the fairer sex and city usage while Sport does weigh up the steering a lot. It does offer confidence but you are always aware of the SUV’s bulk and size. On open roads, the chassis and steering do end up supplying a solid feeling of control while at the same time, also absorb the highway’s imperfections if any.

People like Mr. X’s love being safe. Their caliber, social status and career positioning demands safety - from having multiple passwords for smartphones to a web cam installed in the kids’ room to check on the baby sitter’s activities, safety is something they understand and don’t wish to ignore. In this regard, the Santa Fe not only ends up teaching Mr. X new acronyms, but also makes more expensive SUVs and luxury sedans look dated and well, unsafe! To start with, it comes with 6 airbags – dual front, side and curtain. The Fortuner and Pajero in comparison have just two. Next, it gets an advanced traction control system that also makes use of both 4WD driving force and braking force.

There is also the regular TCS or traction control system, ESC or electronic stability control, VSM or vehicle stability management (includes roll over sensors) among others. For hilly terrain, the Santa Fe gets both HAS or Hill-start assist (brakes are automatically engaged to prevent roll backs) and DBC or downhill brake control system that assists the driver in maintaining control during steep forward movement. And we aren’t done yet, for Mr. X’s kids, the Santa Fe also comes with baby seat anchors. Cornering lamps also aid safety on un-lit roads while rear camera certainly helps avoids bumping into other cars or knocking off an unsuspected pedestrian.

I’m in love with the Santa Fe – but 30 big ones?

My concern with the Santa Fe, till I landed in Kochi for the test drive, was its price. Hyundai used to smash the competition on the cost and value equation but with this product, I thought, that's not necessarily such an easy win any longer. The old Santa Fe, launched in October 2010 as a CBU, had a starting price of 20.95 lac, extending to Rs 22.95. Inspite of the new Santa Fe being a CKD, ie, being assembled here in India, its price tag is much higher - Rs 25 lac to 27.8 lac post the excise cut revision.
It is, without a question, the most loaded and comfortable 7-seater SUV in its segment and ultimately, the product ends up targeting such customer needs, like the needs and desires of our friend here, Mr. X. It does tick all the right boxes – pampers you well, makes you feel special, is supremely comfortable and comes with an engine that shames all the rivals. Keep the sticker price apart and you realize it is wrapped up in a dream package. While I must admit it’s no longer an overt bargain and has a few missing features (sunroof to name one), it is one of those SUVs that can influence you into whispering to your heart, “go ahead, splurge”.


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