2012 Hyundai Santa Fe Premium 4WD

While Korean culture might be the 'in' thing along with the latest 'Gangnam Style' phenomenon, the Hyundai Santa Fe is out to prove that it isn't just some new fad or sensation, seeking to establish itself as the premiere SUV in the market.

It's ambitious... let's see how it goes then.

The 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe marks a serious progression for the brand in terms of design, quality and performance. The Santa Fe badge is considered an icon as it is one of the most well known models in the Hyundai lineup globally, though the Starex may give it a good run in the Philippine market.

Evolved from the Hyundai Fluidic Sculpture ethos, the Santa Fe debuts the new 'Storm Edge' design language, drawing inspiration from the natural elements created by a brewing storm. The result is a combination of swoops and strong edges that make up a dynamic, aggressively-designed urban cruiser. The strong hexagonal chrome grill and trapezoidal headlights make a strong statement to go with it's edgy design language. Strong wheel arches further accentuate strength and character while slightly rounded lines give it an overall balance and flow.

The new Santa Fe is based on the Sonata platform. While a long wheelbase version is available in other markets, locally, we get the short wheelbase variant which sits on the same 2700mm wheelbase as the previous generation and seats seven, while other markets configured theirs for five.

Like the lines outside, the interior is a mix of sharp polygonal edges with smooth flowing lines. Underneath the tough outer shell is a luxuriously soft interior feel thanks to a combination of soft-touch plastic and fine grain leather with hints of aluminum and cool blue illumination. Despite being just 25mm longer and 10mm wider on the outside, Hyundai engineers and designers have managed to come up with a more comfortable interior space to complete the more premium feel of this next generation model. The panoramic glass roof added a unique experience. However the deal breaker for me was the rather uncharacteristic noise coming from the integrated cupholders on the second row armrest, which sounded like you forgot to close the tailgate.

Technology is very much abundant inside the Santa Fe starting with a graphical startup self-check on the multi-information display integrated into the instrument panel. The integrated touchscreen LCD entertainment system produced better than average sound quality, it comes equipped with iPod, USB, and Bluetooth connectivity with an Aux-In port, as well as a back-up camera display. Other electronic features include adjustable seats, folding mirrors with integrated LED puddle lamps, electrochromic rearview mirror, steering wheel integrated controls, cruise control as well as a comfort access smart key.

The engine is based on an improved 2.2-liter R series diesel engine with slightly more displacement than its predecessor. The new powerplant is packed with more punch churning out a maximum power of 197 PS at 3800rpm with nearly 100 newton meters more torque at 423 Nm available from 1800-2500rpm. This is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission; a definite improvement from the former five-speed.  Throttle response is very good and you'll feel the relatively high boost from the variable geometry turbo come in as the engine revs into the peak torque and power bands.

The new Santa Fe is equipped with an Active ECO mode which can be manually switched on to optimize the transmission for fuel economy. On the highway, I was able to achieve 18.7 km/l, as the well-balanced combination of the powerful engine and efficiently geared transmission allows it to cruise at 80km/h with the engine running at 1500 revs per minute. In the city however, I was only able to do 7.3 km/l with traffic.

On the road, the new Santa Fe feels firmer because of the 19-inch wheels and slightly stiffer suspension compared to its predecessor. It had just the right amount of firmness without being harsh. This translates to better handling characteristics, which meant car-like manners as you take on corners at speed. The electronic power steering system of the Santa Fe comes with three selectable modes: Normal, Sport and Comfort. I personally found the Sport mode to my liking for highway and spirited city driving, however the Comfort mode gives a good light steering feel if you just want a relaxing drive around the city, especially in traffic.

Hyundai may have gone leaps and bounds in terms of refinement for the Santa Fe. With the current pricing however, Hyundai has placed the Premium variant way ahead of the pickup-based seven seater SUVs it was normally being compared to. It is significantly smaller in terms of size and footprint than similarly priced seven-seat unibody SUVs like the Ford Explorer and Mazda CX-9. It does come with an efficient diesel engine, which is significantly cheaper to fuel up compared to the 3.8-liter V6 on the CX-9 or turbocharged 4-cylinder Ecoboost on the Explorer.

While the new Santa Fe is definitely a very good crossover, I think that Hyundai may be overreaching considering the huge leap in retail price (PhP500,000 ) from its predecessor.  Half a million Pesos is no joke even for this top of the line model; you can buy yourself an Eon as a spare car for that difference or just use the money to fuel up the previous generation Santa Fe for its useful life... and still have a significant amount of change left.