With the sports utility vehicle (SUV) market growing faster than almost any other, and South Africa offering an astonishing choice of off-the-road driving opportunities, it’s understandable that Hyundai is bullish about the prospects of its new Hyundai SantaFe here. But the real reason for its likely success has more to do with money than heading off the beaten track. By DEON SCHOEMAN.
If you live in a large metropolitan area like the greater Johannesburg, or the Cape Peninsula, you’ll agree that traffic jams have become an increasingly prevalent (and annoying) reality of the daily commute.
With buoyant new vehicle sales still bucking the ever-softening economic trend, and public transport all but non-existent, more and more gleaming automotive metal is finding its way onto a road network already scarred by the wounds of heavy use and insufficient maintenance.
So, chances are you’re ending up stuck in snarled-up traffic more often than before. And if that’s the case, you’ll have had ample opportunity to spot an associated trend: the growing number of SUVs sharing our road space.
Just why there are more and more of these juggernauts on our roads is a complex question without a single, simple answer. In broad terms, the taller stance and elevated seating allows a commanding driving position that instils a sense of security and confidence.
Of course, it also helps that SUVs cope better with our deteriorating road conditions: after all, off-road machinery should have no problem coping with the gaping potholes and corrugated tar that have become a suburban reality.
At this point, it’s pertinent to acknowledge that not all vehicles with a raised stance and a tailgate are SUVs. Many are actually best described as crossovers.
So, what’s the difference? As a rule of thumb, a SUV is equipped with all-wheel drive, and offers some form of all-terrain capability. By comparison, a crossover vehicle, as the name implies, combines the attributes of seemingly disparate vehicle categories to create something altogether new.
Either way, we’re seeing more and more raised-stance vehicles taking to our roads, with and without all-wheel drive.
Many South Africans like the stance, the space and the versatility of an SUV, but don’t necessarily need or use all-wheel drive. In other words, people are buying SUVs for their crossover capabilities, and not for their all-terrain talent.
The new Hyundai Santa Fe fits that role perfectly. Now in its third generation, the Korean has grown in size and stature, while benefiting from the flowing lines and edgy details that have become a modern Hyundai trademark.
Interestingly, there is no choice of engines: all Santa Fe models share the same turbodiesel mill, and the identical six-speed automatic gearbox.
Two of the three models offer all-wheel drive, but the third (and most affordable) version is two-wheel drive, acknowledging that 4×4 is not a must-have – and that the Santa Fe will appeal to both crossover and SUV buyers.
The other major point of distinction is the interior: the all-wheel drive models feature a second seat row with two seats, upping total seating capacity to seven. That makes the Santa Fe great for mom’s taxi duties – although, I’m wondering whether the seven-seat option linked to two-wheel drive might not have been an even more appealing combination …
Talking of appeal, the new Santa Fe is an altogether more attractive vehicle than its rather bulbous predecessor. Think of it as a larger iX35. It employs the same flowing lines, but translated into a larger form factor, and headlined by a bold, brightwork-festooned front grille.
Indeed, the Santa Fe is a further expression of Hyundai’s current design language, but manages to convey both sophistication and a certain masculine, muscular presence that’s absent from the smaller, more svelte ix35.
Of particular note is now the shape manages to disguise the vehicle’s significant bulk. Measuring 4,7 m long, and tipping the scales at 1,723kg, this is by no means a compact runabout. But well contained overhangs, together with a rising shoulder line and relatively narrow side glass aperture, endow the Korean with a welcome visual litheness.
The big wheels also add to that impression: the top-spec Elite runs on huge 19-inch alloys that certainly look attractive, but are hardly practical from an all-terrain perspective. Proof then that even Hyundai considers the Santa Fe more crossover than SUV, despite the all-wheel drive system fitted. For my money, the so-called Premium base model’s 17-inchers are a far more effective offering from an all-terrain versatility point of view.
While the styling succeeds in underplaying the Santa Fe’s bulk, the cabin is unashamedly spacious, and smart to boot. That goes for all three models, with the biggest distinguishing feature, as already mentioned, being the seven-seat, three-row configuration of the Executive and the Elite versions.
Standard specification is impressive across the range, with everything from dual-zone climate control to remote central locking, a trip computer, electric windows and exterior mirrors, cruise control and a multi-speaker sound system with USB and iDevice connectivity included in the package.
The Santa Fe also seeks to cosset its occupants in safety, with six airbags, ABS brakes, traction control and auto-locking doors included across the board. Xenon headlights with automatic operation are another standard item on all three models, together with auto-activating windscreen wipers.
The overall execution is contemporary with a dash of sci-fi: the dashboard layout is boldly geometric, with a tapering centrepiece that has a dash of Transformers-style chic. But in ergonomic terms, it’s pretty intuitive, despite an initial impression of clutter.
The boot is family sized – but the two third-row, pop-up seats steal the majority of that packing space when in use. That should not be a problem when fulfilling commuting and school shuttle duties – but on holiday trips, a Venter may be the only answer as far lugging luggage is concerned.
As mentioned earlier, all three models in the Santa Fe range are powered by the identical engine. The 2.2-litre unit combines latest-generation common-rail injection with an efficient turbocharger to produce 145kW of maximum power, and 436Nm of torque.
A six-speed automatic transmission is standard across the range, but there are no shift paddles: the gear lever’s sequential-mode setting is the only way to perform manual-mode shifts.
The entry-level Premium is also the only Santa Fe with front-wheel drive – both the Executive and the Elite utilise an intelligent all-wheel drive system that feeds power to those wheels with the most traction. It can also be locked in a 50:50 front/rear configuration to assist when the going really gets tough.
Depending on the expected application of the vehicle, the all-wheel drive capability may be a necessity, or just a fancy extra. It does cement the Santa Fee’s status as a SUV (at least as far as the Executive and the Elite are concerned). But the two-wheel drive model offers an attractive price/value proposition for those seeking crossover talents, rather than a 4×4 machine.
Driven with the kind of vigour the Santa Fe’s athletic looks encourage, the big Hyundai will cover the zero to 100km/h dash in about 10sec (the Premium is slightly quicker than the rest), while the 190km/h top speed is rapid enough.
The claimed 8,3 litre/100 km combined cycle fuel consumption figure seems a little optimistic, and I’d suggest that anything under 10 litres/100 km would be impressive. Even so, that would still allow an operating range of more than 600km.
Perhaps more important than the straight-line stats is the fact that the Santa Fe is a talented handler, with much less body lean and roll than one would expect of a big machine, and ride refinement that’s impressive, given the low-profile rubber in use on the top-end model I drove.
Turn-in is positive enough, while the three-way adjustable power steering assistance allows steering feel and feedback to be fine-tuned. For me, only the Sport setting approaches the kind of heft I prefer – the others made the steering feel like a TV game.
Whether you consider it a crossover or an SUV, the new Hyundai Santa Fe has a lot counting in its favour. Top of the list is the spacious and versatile interior, but the muscular turbodiesel engine and the contemporary styling are also among the newcomer’s key attractions. And let’s not forget the keen pricing and high spec levels.
Which brings me to the real reason why I believe the new Santa Fe will be successful. With pricing starting in the low R400k region, and culminating at almost exactly R500,000, the new Hyundai is not cheap – but it is significantly more affordable than, for instance, a BMW X5 or an Audi Q5.
Granted, the Hyundai brand may not be playing in the same, premium league as those two, but with a similar list of bells and whistles, together with attractive styling and decent performance, the value proposition is hard to ignore.
So, with demand for SUVs and crossovers on the rise, and the need for value stronger than ever, expect the Santa Fe to appear on our congested roads in increasing numbers. And if, like me, you hate being stuck behind an SUV, the Santa Fe may be one way to address that situation.
After all, if you can’t beat them, join them… DM
"The soul is known by its acts" ~ Thomas Aquinas