Judge all other crossovers by the new Santa Fe
ROAD TEST:Amid the reports of stagnant new car sales and dealer closures, Hyundai is recording remarkable growth. It is now the sixth biggest brand in Ireland, rubbing shoulders with the well-established household names. Its Irish importer has done particularly well from the success, recording a 37 per cent growth in turnover in 2011 and profits of €3.4 million.
The story of the Korean brand’s growth has been told before, but it’s often attributed to its expanding model line-up. What should not be forgotten is that for most Irish motorists for most of the last decade Hyundai was about one model – the Santa Fe.
This model was a brand in itself, the relatively affordable answer to SUV desires.
First generation models were a bit lumpy in performance, too soft for any real off-roading and a little unsophisticated around the edges. Over the years the model has improved but this time we get a major overhaul in both design, refinement and handling.
So much so that the Santa Fe name was at one stage going to be replaced. It was clearly a tough decision but the name is just too strong – arguably stronger than the brand name itself – so it stays.
The exterior of the latest model is far more refined than previous generations and this refinement is carried forward inside, where much of the look and trim is taken from the popular i40 family car range, including touchscreen controls and switchgear.
Where once Hyundai represented the budget end of the market, the Santa Fe now has the equal of rivals like the Honda CR-V in terms of comfort and equipment levels. The level of standard equipment is very impressive. This is a very competitive marketplace, with a host of rivals on offer and aside from the dealer network and the brand reputation, it’s the little things that will win over customers. That’s why the Santa Fe is arguably one of the major players in this crossover market.
The Santa Fe boasts seven seats, but in reality you would need the dexterity of a Russian gymnast to make proper use of the third row of seats and they are only for small children or the very occasional short run to the school and back. This is a five-plus-two format rather than a real rival to the big people carriers.
Under the bonnet is a 2.2-litre diesel that is well-matched to a relatively short-throw manual transmission. It’s well-suited to the car and in keeping with the overall refinement of the car, quiet yet refined.