2019 Hyundai Santa Fe: Stronger and more stylish inside and out
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Finding our way to the new Santa Fe leads us directly through the new Hyundai Motorstudio design centre in Goyang, on the south-western side of Seoul, South Korea.
Unlike other automotive design centres, this one is open to the public, and is definitely worth a look if you’re visiting one of Asia’s most fascinating cities.
Today however, it’s the global automotive press doing the gawking, and it’s a surprising way to introduce the fourth iteration of the Santa Fe given that the official unveiling won’t take place until this month’s razzle-dazzle auto show in Geneva.
But then, walking the press into a large foyer at the Goyang venue chock-full of new Santa Fe models feels appropriate because the upgrade to one of New Zealand’s most popular SUV has been led by the company’s designers.
They’re responsible for the stylish looks of the stronger, larger new body, and have produced the highlight — its more upmarket cabin furnishing.
The new Santa Fe displays new design themes inside and out. You won’t confuse the Santa Fe with the slightly smaller Tucson anymore.
Nor will there be any identification issues between the new SF and the compact Kona, despite the larger vehicle adopting a similarly adventurous headlight layout to the smaller, with arrays of LED driving lights taking top billing on the fascia, while the genuine possum-stunners reside on either side of the enlarged front bumper, stacked into two large pentangle-shaped recesses.
As for the “fluidic sculpture” theme of recent Hyundais, the exterior of new Santa Fe no longer looks like it was shaped by running water. Instead of the rippled character line of the current model, there’s a strong shoulder line running down the flanks of the new SF from front to rear, adding a crisp muscularity to the design.
The new Santa Fe no longer looks as precious and over-styled as the outgoing third-generation vehicle, but there’s still enough that’s in-your-face to trigger “the shock of the new”. It took me several hours to accept the larger glasshouse, huge cascading grille and enlarged headlight clusters of the new Santa Fe, and it was only while driving the vehicle in natural light later that afternoon that the new exterior design won my approval.
That delayed positive response is always a good sign, as it usually signals that the vehicle in question will have enduring appeal.
As for the interior of the new Hyundai, it’ll take several decades to grow old. There’s the twin cockpits for front-seat occupants, accompanied by a centre console that cascades past them while keeping every control handy.
The driver gets to face a TFT screen with an Audi-like ability to select multiple instrumentation layouts — and, like top Kona models, there’s a legible and informative heads-up-display. Another large colour TFT screen at the top of the centre console monitors secondary control settings, and projects cellphone info and applications via either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, as well as the maps of Hyundai’s new fifth-generation nav system.
But it’s the new trim and colours that set the mood. Hopefully New Zealand dealers won’t continue to order simple black/silver interiors when there’s a choice of brown and royal blue leathers. With a well-arranged mix of rough and smooth textures, it all comes together to create a Genesis-like ambience, and few mainstream SUVs exude such class inside.
The Krell audio system fitted to top-spec Santa Fe models has the ability to resurrect Woodstock, offering clarity and resonances that will allow you to pick out new nuances in your music du jour. It’ll even work in real time to rebuild audio details lost in your compressed music files.
Getting in or out of any of the seven seats of the Santa Fe is now easier, thanks to a 65mm wheelbase extension and the pulling forward of the front windscreen pillars.
The second-row seating slides further forward to better improve third-row access and egress, and reasonably tall folk can occupy the latter without feeling cramped.
They’ll also enjoy higher levels of natural light and expanded viewpoints thanks to the 40 per cent larger rear three-quarter windows, so a sense of imprisonment no longer accompanies being ushered towards the third row. The luggage room available behind that last row also enlarges by approximately 10 per cent.
It’s now time to stop running our fingers sensuously over the perfect leather stitching of the new Santa Fe’s seats and take it for a drive.
New engines for this generation include two new turbocharged, direct-injection 2.0 inline-fours — a petrol and a diesel — but New Zealand isn’t taking either. Our fourth-gen Santa Fes will continue to be powered by the present 2.4 litre direct-injection petrol engine with its 138kW/241Nm peak outputs, and the same R-series 2.2 litre turbo-diesel that generates 147kW and 440Nm.
The powertrain improvements to our wagons will be limited to the lighter new eight-speed automatic gearbox that replaces the six-speed of the current model and provides a wider spread of ratios, and improvements to the adaptive 4wd system that add driving modes.
The latter include a “sports” driving setting that sends more driving force to the rear wheels when selected.
I can’t wait to try that one out on a Kiwi gravel road. For there’d be few opportunities to fully experience the latter during an afternoon’s drive around the coastal fringes of Incheon.
The prism through which we experience the driving impressions of the new Santa Fe is also the new 2.0D model, hardly the appropriate powertrain choice for a press corps comprised of journalists mostly from the Americas and the Pacific — regions that won’t be taking the new 2.0D engine.
But never mind the market fit, experience the strength. The new body feels stiffer, and less inclined to understeer on these dust-surfaced Korean back roads, and while both a strong police presence and traffic congestion prevents any enthusiastic exploration of the chassis performance of the new Santa Fe, there are tangible indications of the improvements made in this area.
It feels more willing to change direction, lighter on its tyres, and more submissive to the driver’s desires than the current model.It also feels more planted, especially the rear tyres, which benefit from the moving of the shock absorbers from an angled position to upright to achieve more stable suspension geometry.
Although it seems the front end didn’t receive as much attention, there’s an impression of a more agile handling persona for the largest Hyundai. It feels like you’re driving a Tucson instead of a Santa Fe. Suspension travel and set-up is also more than capable of absorbing whatever an under-maintained Korean back road can throw at it.
The new eight-speed gearbox, developed in-house by Hyundai, is a further highlight, always selecting the right ratio, with willing kick-downshift performance. It slurs the shifts so smoothly that you hardly notice them, while driving the Santa Fe so directly that Hyundai is claiming a fuel use reduction of 3-4 per cent (current Santa Fe 2.2 diesel: 7.8 litres/100km).
The new Santa Fe will debut two new safety systems in a package that includes the usual smart cruise control, blind spot monitors, rear cross traffic alerts and multiple-view parking and reversing cameras.
The outside doors will automatically lock themselves if there’s a vehicle (including bicycles) approaching the Hyundai to prevent occupants stepping into oncoming traffic.
There’s also a motion sensor fitted inside the cabin to warn if you have left a child or a pet inside the cabin after parking and locking the Santa Fe. Presumably, it’ll also warn the owner if an intruder has broken into the vehicle and is lurking inside it until the owner returns (insert movie scenario of choice).
The fourth-generation Santa Fe range will go on sale in New Zealand in the third quarter of this year.