REVIEW DATE: 21 Jan 2008
Hyundai's Santa Fe Diesel Could Be The Car That Proves That Korea Has Finally Entered The Big Leagues. Andy Enright Reports.
Let's not mince words here. The reason we buy Korean cars tends to boil down to one thing. Price. What you're usually counting on is quality and performance that's a notch or two below what you'd expect from a Japanese or European car but a price tag that's several notches cheaper, making it a good value pick. Try as I might, it's difficult to come up with one Korean car that would stand a chance if price was taken out of the equation. Hyundai's Coupe probably comes closest but if the latest Santa Fe diesel is anything to go by, Hyundai could well be stepping their way inexorably towards parity with the best of the rest.
It's got some formidable rivals to face down. Japanese contenders like the Honda CR-V, the Nissan X-Trail and the Toyota RAV4 will all stand in the way of the Santa Fe but Hyundai are confident that their compact 4x4 has a place in the market. It's a car that has metamorphosed from a modest, if slightly odd-looking budget contender into something a good deal more aspirational. Even the entry level model weighs in at a around £21,500 with the range-topping CRTD diesel seven seat automatic setting you back around £26,000. That's more than an entry level BMW X3 and only a little more than a grand off the price of a Jeep Grand Cherokee Predator. That, if nothing else, emphasises the scale of the Santa Fe's task.
The CRTD diesel engine develops 148bhp, helping the Hyundai realise its upmarket aspirations a good deal more effectively than the 115bhp common-rail fitted to the old Santa Fe. Equipped with a variable geometry turbocharger, the diesel engine develops 335Nm between 1,800 and 2,500rpm and, like most modern engines, not only offers more power but also improves on the fuel consumption figures of its predecessor. This is due to a more efficient common-rail injection system that also reduces noise, vibration and harshness (NVH). Fuel economy is rated at 38.7mpg with emissions pegged at 193g/km. The sprint to 60mph is dispatched in 11.5 seconds en route to a top speed of 111mph.
"The Santa Fe becomes the prime pick if you're looking to land a quality compact 4x4 that's bursting at the seams with equipment"
Three trim levels are offered and each is available in manual or automatic guise and with the five-seat or seven-seat interior layout. The entry-level GSI doesn't do too badly on the equipment front, offering front, side and roof curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and 17-inch alloy wheels. Add in front fog lights, roof rails, air conditioning, a CD stereo, a full-sized spare wheel and electric windows all round and you have a decent first step on the Santa Fe ladder. Highlights of the next trim level, the CDX, include dual zone climate control, heated front seats, leather trim, an upgraded seven-speaker stereo with six-disc CD autochanger, cruise control, compass, and an electrically-adjustable driver's seat.
If you want even more, the flagship CDX+ really goes the whole hog. An on-board entertainment system includes a premium stereo and multimedia DVD package. The ten-speaker Infinity audio system features Logic7 surround sound while a roof mounted screen flips down to allow those in the back to watch DVD movies. It can even be synced to a Playstation or Xbox. Smartnav satellite navigation is included along with rain-sensing wipers, a cool box, and electric adjustment for the passenger seat. I once had a colleague whose girlfriend caught him cheating with another woman. She left him and stripped his flat bare. He came home to find the place completely empty. No carpets, no curtains, not even any light fittings or plug sockets remained. You'll get the same feeling if you test drive a base model BMW X3 after stepping out of a Santa Fe CDX+.
Hyundai are nothing if not sensitive to the current limitations of their badge equity. Although they could build a car that went head to head with a Range Rover, they're smart enough to realise that a label-conscious public would thumb its nose up at it. That may well change in future. Twenty years ago nobody would have countenanced a Japanese luxury saloon and been able to keep a straight face but all that has changed. Korean cars are the next to make that switch in perception but it needs time and for the moment, the current Santa Fe represents a manageable aspiration for Hyundai.
Bigger than its predecessor, it also tones down that car's rather controversial styling with more conventional, but still distinctively Hyundai, lines. The rising waistline is the most obvious change, giving the Santa Fe a more athletic stance, and the rear end is particularly shapely for a vehicle of this type, with well integrated tail lights and a deep rear window. There is still some evidence of the sculpted flanks that proved so controversial on the original Santa Fe, but this design feature is now integrated far more elegantly into the wheel arches and the swage line that runs from the top of the tail lamps to form a distinct 'shoulder'. The front lights are significantly larger and more rakishly swept back onto the front wing and bonnet while the grille is narrower and deeper, giving the Santa Fe a more imperious - and expensive - look.
One area where the Santa Fe was noticeably slipping behind the pack was in terms of interior build quality. Although everything seemed durable and customer satisfaction surveys have shown that little goes wrong, the perception of quality was an aspect that needed addressing. So it is that the latest Santa Fe now offers higher quality wood and metal detailing, mesh type upholstery fabrics and piped leathers. One of the biggest material changes to the current Santa Fe is that there's now an option of seven 'full sized' seats, although adults may question that description if subjected to a lengthy spell in the back. The 175mm in extra length over the old model has been put to good use though and there's 84 litres more cargo space - the total rising to 774 litres.
The Santa Fe CRTD diesel has some hard graft ahead of it if it's to convince UK buyers that it's up to the mark. The big battle will be getting it onto potential customer shortlists. If Hyundai can put bums on seats, a test drive should be enough to convince.
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