In 2006, Hyundai Philippines came out with a model that, in my opinion, changed the brand in the country: the Santa Fe.
Okay, some may contend that it was the Starex that made Hyundai a household name, but I would argue that it was the Santa Fe -then already on its 2nd generation- that revolutionized the perception of the Korean brand. I could say that since the Santa Fe was launched in 2006, Hyundai has never really looked back, launching one successful model after another with the i10, the Tucson and all the way up to the Elantra.
Well, here it is, the all new Santa Fe. Will it raise the bar yet again for Hyundai?
This isn't our first outing with the 3rd generation Santa Fe, with Brent Co testing the top spec variant a few months back. This example is the front wheel drive version, and has quite a few differences on the outside.
Unlike the Tucson and Elantra, the Santa Fe makes use of a new styling direction from Hyundai called “Storm Edge”. No need for extra marketing speak though; simply put, the new Santa Fe looks quite stunning, and that's not something you can typically say of any SUV or crossover. The last big vehicle that really struck me in this manner is the Ford Explorer.
I like the creases, the curves, the prominent grille and the use of lighting details to generate quite a bit of drama and visual impact on the road. Even though it came in plain jane silver, the use of flat black exterior pieces with front and rear skid plates conplement the overall design perfectly, and is finished off with a set of dark metallic gray wheels. Whoever designed this Santa Fe was clearly on the money.
And it's not all about the exterior, as again, Hyundai's designers were spot on with the interior. Fans of more classic, traditional designs may not like the cabin, as the dashboard features shapes, details and an overall look that could rival most concept cars. I like how Hyundai found a great balance of colors, accents and shades of gray... good thing it wasn't fifty.
Sitting on the driver's seat, it's a little firmer than what I remember from the previous model, but definitely better side bolstering. The wheel looks great, but for a vehicle of this price range, it really should be wrapped in leather already. The 2nd row, like the front row, feels a little firmer than the previous version, leading me to a bit of doubt if it'll be as comfortable on long drives and rides like before.
The third row was really one of the better selling points of the 2nd gen model, and thankfully, it's better in this new version. From what I remember, there's about the same amount of cargo space with the 3rd row up, but fold it and the 2nd row down, there's a massive amount of room for, well, bikes and such.
For features, you have it all here. Power windows, mirrors and central locks are standard. Both the 3rd and 2nd rows fold down with one pull of a lever. There's a multi-information display for the usual info like consumption and trip meters, and there are two 12 volt sockets in front to charge your smartphone or what not. The buttons for the cruise control system is on the right spoke of the wheel there for a convenient drive out of town, while on the left are the buttons for the audio system. The Santa Fe definitely delivers good audio, and the fact that it no longer needs that special Hyundai cable to access your iPod is a welcome upgrade; same goes for for the Bluetooth handsfree.
At the heart of the Santa Fe is, of course, it's CRDi engine. The original version of the previous Santa Fe had a 156 PS 2.2 liter turbodiesel motor; an engine that, later on, received a significant upgrade with a variable geometry turbo. Well, it's been retained in the new generation model. No complaint here, as it produces a very healthy 197 PS and 423 Newton meters of torque; incredibly big numbers in comparison to its displacement. The R-eVGT CRDi engine is matched with a 6-speed automatic, and drives the front wheels as, after all, the Santa Fe is a crossover and not a body-on-frame kind of vehicle.
I've had a lot of seat time in the previous Santa Fe from 2006, as I drove it all the way to Allen, Samar. I liked the comfortable qualities of the previous model, the power of the 156 PS engine and the balanced handling given it's a big vehicle. This one is a little different.
In town, the new Santa Fe's is well balanced; suppressing the rough stuff well and yet retains fairly good cornering, even when dealing with 90 degree corners on city streets. Visibility is good, though you do have to be mindful of the width of the front, much like the Explorer. Fuel economy is also pretty good in the city, as I was getting 9.5 kilometers for every liter of diesel without really trying (moderate traffic, driver only). As I said before, the seats are a bit firmer and has a bit more bolstering, so I didn't find them all too comfortable in town; good thing it was offset by the suspension.
For acceleration, as expected, the new Santa Fe has excellent off the line capabilities given its size. The 6-speed automatic has great ratios and provides the big SUV with smooth acceleration from that peaky diesel engine. Overtaking latency is also great, and the powertrain combo does give the Santa Fe a relatively high top speed. Fuel economy on the highway (100 km/h average, little or no traffic) by the fuel meter is at the 13.4 km/l mark.
What surprised me is how the handling has improved on a twisty road, as the old model -while light on its feet- wasn't particularly fun. This one is. Body control is good. Turn in is good. Even braking is good. I can only imagine how fun this 7-seater must be to take up to the Summer Capital, though you might want to hand out motion sickness pills to the rest of the family if you intend to gun it up a twisty mountain road.
The kicker, however, is the price tag. The original front-wheel drive model from 2006 sold for just over PhP 1.5M. This one received a significant price hike, as it now costs PhP 1,768,000. I guess the next question is: Is the Santa Fe is worth it?
Given how it drove, how it looks, the fuel consumption, features and everything else... yes, I'd say so. The Hyundai Santa Fe is really good, and much like the previous version, it's bound to be a common sight in gated communities around the metro and beyond.