Versatility is always a great thing to incorporate into any new automobile. The ability of a carmaker to fulfill many different needs with one single model is key to success; that's the reason why minivans are engineered to have flexible interior arrangements and why SUVs are taking the backseat to the rise of crossovers.
What would you get, however, if a carmaker chose to bridge the gaps between the SUV, the crossover and the minivan?
The 2014 Hyundai Grand Santa Fe seems like a good start at an answer.
When Hyundai Philippines launched the third generation Santa Fe in 2013, we knew they had a great crossover in their stable, and this one is the latest version of it. Technically the Grand Santa Fe a long-wheelbase version of the Santa Fe (2800mm wheelbase for the Grand SF, 2700mm for the SF), and is positioned to take the place of the now-discontinued Hyundai Veracruz. The Grand Santa Fe was actually introduced alongside the “standard” Santa Fe in other markets, though Hyundai Philippines (under Hyundai Asia Resources, Inc.) opted to save their ace for a later date.
Style-wise, the Grand SF has a virtually identical front end to its smaller sibling, though the lower bumper gets reshaped foglamps. The chiseled look is derived from Hyundai's Storm Edge design language, the next phase of the company's design revolution that began with Fluidic Sculpture.
Move over to the side, however, and the difference is clear, as the Grand SF is clearly longer at 4915mm over the SF (+225mm), has a larger rear quarter window, and has a redesigned rear end that has a more vertical tailgate. Width has grown to 1885mm (+5mm) and so has the height to 1700mm (+10mm). What's significant though is the increase in the overhangs as Hyundai added 30mm in front and 95mm in the back; it will be interesting to see how the Grand SF handles the extra overhangs.
Inside the difference is clearer, as Hyundai gave the Grand SF a far more premium interior. The dashboard may be the same, but the upholster has been significantly upped a notch with brown leather. Also the Grand Santa Fe is a six-seater crossover (2-2-2), as the middle row has been removed in favor of a pair of luxurious captain's seats (much like on the Toyota Alphard, minus the ottoman) that, coupled with the sunshades for the rear doors, makes these the best seats in the house. There's also a narrow aisle in between the captain's seats to make ingress to the back easier, though the middle seats can be leaned forward to allow for direct entry. The extended body also makes more cargo space available in the back with the rear seats up.
The list of standard features is also long as it includes niceties such as the touchscreen audio unit, six speakers, dual zone climate control, power seats, anti-lock brakes, traction control, hill descent control, hill start assist, cruise control, a smart key and many more. Hyundai also fitted their new flagship crossover with a large panoramic roof should you wish to see more of the sky as you travel. We would contend, however, that on a vehicle designed and intended to be as luxurious as this that a DVD unit should be standard along with rear headrest monitors.
At the heart of the Grand Santa Fe is the same, class leading 2.2 liter R-eVGT diesel engine. This powerplant makes 197 PS of power and 437 Nm of torque thanks to the CRDI system and the advanced VGT. The two combine to produce exceptional power and torque from a relatively small 2.2L; to put that in perspective, the 2.2L TDCI VGT in the 2014 Ford Ranger makes just 150 PS and 375 Nm while the larger 2.5L D-4D VGT in the 2014 Toyota Fortuner only makes 144 PS and 343 Nm. Also standard in the Grand Santa Fe is 4WD and as a 6-speed automatic with manual mode.
Personally I was wondering whether the same engine in the standard (read: lighter, smaller) Santa Fe could handle the heavier Grand version, but a quick drive around town quickly settled that. The Grand Santa Fe manages its weight and length around tight city streets very well. The damping of the suspension isn't as soft like the Honda Odyssey, but it's definitely comfortable. Also the foam of the leather seats could have been made softer to better suit the Grand SF's target market.
Steering is electric, so it's quite easy to drive. Also of note is that the steering "feel" can be adjusted via buttons on the wheel for comfort (very light), normal and sport (stiffer). Of course it's just simulated resistance from the EPS, but it's a neat little touch. One thing that was noticeable is how the engine is tuned to deliver peak torque at a slightly higher RPM than most similarly sized engines; 1800 to 2500 rpm. It seems trivial but it does have an effect on fuel economy, as the engine needs to rev a little higher to get going; unusual for a diesel. Despite that, the Grand SF delivered figures comparable to its lighter brother at 8.8 km/l in moderate to heavy city traffic (19 km/h average, 2 persons).
On the highway, the Grand SF is simply superb. The diesel is quiet when cruising and the transmission kick down makes overtaking slower vehicles a cinch. Tire noise and wind noise are both kept in check. Fuel economy is likewise good at 13.7 km/l (2 persons, 97 km/h average speed). The Grand Santa Fe also has the added capability of going on the path less travelled with its 4WD system and off-road electronic driver aids, though difficult trails are best left to real SUVs and pick-ups.
If you haven't noticed by now, we've really been comparing the 2014 Hyundai Grand Santa Fe to minivans like the Toyota Alphard and Honda Odyssey more than the large crossovers such as the Ford Explorer. That's how the Grand SF strikes us; it's a vehicle that makes sense when used as a minivan but has the style and drive of a properly sorted crossover and even some of the off-road of an SUV. Toss in the advanced CRDI VGT diesel engine and it becomes more compelling, even at PhP 2,498,000.