In India, a few cars define the segment to which they belong. The Maruti Alto and Swift for mini cars and premium hatchbacks, Honda City for mid-size sedans, and so on. For SUVs, the needle freezes at Toyota’s Fortuner. So when a Hyundai tries to land a few jabs on the Fortuner, its product needs to be brutally good. The existing Santa Fe ended up with a bloody nose. Will round 2 be different?
In many ways Santa Fe is an antithesis of the Fortuner. The Toyota is all muscles and sinews, but the Santa Fe is pleasing to the eye. Barring the height, the two cars have roughly the same dimensions, but the Hyundai does not loom threateningly, as the Fortuner does. The headlamps are narrower, fog lamps bigger and wider, with lots of chrome garnishing in evidence, which seems to be the new fad.
The lower ground clearance gives the vehicle a more proportionate look. There are no ragged edges, though, and the lines are rounded off neatly.
All that is nice, but perhaps when you are in an SUV, an imposing presence may be just thing you want.
Interiors : a cut above
There is ample space. As for features, everything you can think of and more are present. The cabin follows the pattern already seen in Hyundai’s sedans and saloons, but the interplay of hard and soft touch plastic deserves a special mention, as it puts the car in a completely different category. Quality and fit-and-finish are top notch, way better than the Fortuner or Pajero Sports.
Now, the niggles: the third row of seats is at best suited for children or young adults. The central console does look a little dated, and the touch screen too small for a car this big.
Performance: ride and handling
The car gets a single 2.2-litre diesel engine, but it comes in two sets of specifications. The 2-wheel drive base version gets the same power but less torque than the engine in the 4-wheel drive. Manual transmission comes only in 4WD. Interestingly, despite the smaller engine, the Santa Fe has more power and torque than the Fortuner. In effect, a lighter car but more energetic.
Another notable change is the handling. For once, this is a Hyundai car that handles well on winding roads. Credit goes to a stiffer suspension and also the three modes that control the weight of the steering. Put it in ‘sports’ mode and the SUV actually handles like a car, but without compromising on the ride quality. Body roll is soaked up, and unlike Fortuner, there is little turbo lag. It accelerates readily and in any gear.
A sore point is the low ground clearance, limiting off-road capabilities. But most SUVs in this category barring the Pajero are soft roaders at best anyway.
Santa Fe is a statement of intent that Hyundai aspires to drive beyond the bread-and-butter small car segment. And they have got a capable vehicle here. But there is more to car-buying than just merit.
As a brand, Toyota is more sought-after among Indian SUVs. Even when it is ageing, the Fortuner continues to appeal to a cross-section of buyers. Some people may not like its elephantine road presence, and prefer something more refined and understated: the Santa Fe will appeal to them no end. Such people, however, are in minority.
What also does not help Hyundai’s case is Santa Fe’s steep pricing. It starts at Rs 26.3 lakh — almost Rs 2 lakh more than the top-end variant of the Fortuner. Sure, the product offers a lot, but its fate may well be determined by the cruel edge of pricing.