That works for the low-cost end of the retail market, but for a brand with ambitions of world domination (and from the plethora of Hyundai slogans such as ‘Innovation for humanity’ and ‘Experience Beautility’ there is a certain fervent zeal about its cause), it needs to move into a more aspirational market.
And how the Santa Fe has set it out on that path. This could be the beginning of the end for Hyundai as a maker of limited, uninspiring cars.
It is really good – surprisingly, enjoyably, shockingly good.
The old model’s looks reminded me of a haggard, ageing elk with its droopy nose and wobbly lines.
The new one has the dash and vigour of a much more dynamic animal. An antelope perhaps. Or a deer.
The front is powerful with a handsome, blocky grille and slanting headlights, which have some stylish BMW-esque sidelight bars, and a deep, smooth spoiler.
At the back, the Santa Fe is reminiscent of the Volkswagen Touareg, especially the shape and style of the rear lights, which is no bad thing.
Overall it looks good, and Hyundai wants to major on quality in future with its marketing. Improved interiors and attention to detail such as soft, supple leather, firm plastics, blue backlit lighting and clear instrumentation are meant to reinforce that impression.
And, of course, matching existing quality brands are essential. The sixth and seventh seats illustrate Hyundai’s approach. They only cost an extra £600 and are well worth the cost, which will be retained at resale time.
There is a decent amount of room in the third row, and they are also easy to access, which is more than can be said for some bigger SUVs such as the Land Rover Discovery and Audi Q7.
There is also plenty of space in the second row, with lots of legroom, even behind a tall driver, and boot space is still pretty good with the third row folded flat.
Partially this is down to the increased size of the Santa Fe. It is 175mm longer than the old one at 4,650mm, with an 80mm longer wheelbase which helps, but simple, clever design also has a lot to do with it. The second row of seats hinge forward easily.
In a full year, Hyundai expects to sell 5,000 Santa Fes, with a quarter of them going to fleets. This seems a rather conservative number, and is in part due to the lack of infrastructure to access the kinds of fleets – the smaller ones in particular – that could be a rich source of business.
The firm intends to change this with the recruitment of a fleet team under John Mahony, which should be in place by the summer, according to UK managing director Tony Whitehorn.
And of those 5,000 cars, Hyundai expects 80-90% to be the diesel variant. Certainly, from a fleet point of view the figures suggest that the diesel version is the one to go for, with fuel economy around the 39mpg mark and emissions of 193g/km of CO2 for the manual gearbox model.
Also, since the change of ownership, with the UK arm coming under the direction of Hyundai rather than being owned by the RAC, it can source more cars if need be and have a much bigger say in specification, pricing and positioning before launch. This can already be seen with the Santa Fe, which comes with a very competitive price and a high level of kit.
The car is available with two engines, a 2.7-litre petrol V6 and a 2.2-litre diesel. The petrol only comes with an automatic four-speed gearbox, while the diesel has five-speed auto and manual options, which seems a very odd way of going about things.
This is not Hyundai UK’s fault. Focusing squarely on the US market, the petrol comes with a four-speed automatic gearbox because the motoring luddites of the US don’t like those fancy new five, six or seven-speed automatics that seamlessly change. The people of the last remaining superpower on Earth prefer slurring changes and slow progress. Good grief.
The entry-level model costs from £20,995 for the 2.2 VGT GSi manual. For that, you get 17-inch alloys, foglights, front, side and curtain airbags and air-conditioning.
The CDX, which starts at £22,795, is especially attractive, with dual zone climate control, heated front seats, electrically adjustable driver’s seat, six-disc CD player, cruise control, 18-inch alloys and ESP.
There’s also a CDX+ model with Smartnav, rain-sensing wipers, cool box and electric adjustment for the passenger seat for a further £800.
Previously, value brands used high specification as a consolation for the vapid driving experience and dullard styling, but the feeling with the Santa Fe is that all this extra kit is a bonus on top of an already impressive experience.
Behind the wheel
IT IS worth getting one thing out the way to start with: don’t bother with the 2.7 V6 petrol. It’s a waste of time.
The four-speed auto box negates any abilities the engine may or may not have. It feels slow and stressed, and so is noisy and inefficient as a result.
Now that’s out of the way, on to more positive things. The diesel is quieter, gives better performance and is less thirsty.
The manual version has a nicely weighted gearshift and feels much more relaxed cruising than the petrol, with a decent amount of torque.
The automatic is quieter still, perhaps because it tends to get revved less at the high end. The changes are smooth and generally occur at the right time. Both versions are worth a look before making a choice, although the auto is £1,000 more expensive.
Sitting in the Santa Fe is a revelation. There’s a pervasive feeling of quality, to the point where the style and materials remind me of the new Lexus IS. Probably not quite as good, but to even be muttered in the same breath illustrates what a seismic shift Hyundai has managed.
At first, the Santa Fe’s suspension feels as though it has been set up very softly, unlike many of the harder riding SUVs around. And it does feel a little wallowy at times, but push it in a corner and it seems to stiffen a little after the initial roll, which stops it feeling as though it is teetering on the brink.
The steering has that same dual personality. It’s not a blast to drive, but it is more than adequate for most SUV drivers.
AS long as you avoid the awful V6, the Santa Fe looks good, has a quality interior, drives well and is value for money. For Hyundai, things may never be the same again.
|Model:||2.2 VGT||2.7 V6|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||148/4,000||186/6,000|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||225/1,800||183/4,000|
|Max speed (mph):||111||111|
|0-62mph (secs):||11.6 (12.9)||11.7|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||38.7 (34.9)||26.6|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||193 (214)||252|
|Prices (OTR):||from £20,995|
(Figures in brackets for autos)