Korean culture is taking the entire world by storm. Everything from food to pop music to soap operas is enjoying tremendous success, catapulting them to mainstream culture. The latest one to cross the oceans from Seoul to the rest of the world is PSY and his addictive song, “Gangnam Style”.
Gangnam refers to a district in Seoul where people are generally considered trendy, hip, and classy. You can liken it to their version of Beverly Hills in the US or Bonifacio Global City here. Cool and chic as the people are from Gangnam though, they never proclaim that they are, hence the comedic value of the song. In that sense, the all-new 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe is a true citizen of Gangnam. It’s not a luxury pretender. It’s cool and classy, down to its diesel-fed soul.
For starters, the all-new Santa Fe wears Hyundai’s new “Fluidic Precision” design concept—a more refined, more mature take on the original “Fluidic Sculpture” language. It isn’t as swoopy and curvaceous as say an Elantra or Sonata; rather it’s more streamlined, tauter than before. It’s a move upward from pair of Uniqlo jeans to a well-pressed Hugo Boss suit. Up front, the large hexagonal grille is more upright, flanked with large headlamp and fog lamp clusters. The headlamps feature interesting LED accent lighting while squared-off projector lights are nestled inside projecting a bluish tinge at night thanks to HID headlamps on the 4WD model.
From the side, a strong character line extends along the body from the front wheel well and tapers off just before the rear door handle, but then picks up just before the C-pillar and integrates nicely into the wraparound tail lamps. Meanwhile, the glass area themselves incorporate an upward rake in the rear communicating a sense of drama so lacking in the mid-sized crossover segment. The all-new Santa Fe ramps up the style even further by having standard 18-inches on the 2WD and then moving up to 19-inches on the 4WD.
At the back, the Santa Fe has stylized tail lamps featuring a thin line of brightwork through the lens cap. The lamps themselves are illuminated by LEDs giving the Santa Fe a unique glow at night. A strong U-shaped character line connects the far ends of the tail lamps down the middle of the tailgate which ties the Santa Fe to the rest of the Hyundai line-up.
Inside, the Santa Fe plays a very familiar tune, especially if you’re familiar with Hyundai’s newer product offerings. The hexagonal grille is mimicked front and center on the dash with large angular vents sandwiching the integrated entertainment system. Both the 2WD and 4WD models carry a multitude of connectivity options from MP3 to USB to Bluetooth, but the 4WD goes further with a 4.3-inch LCD touch screen eliminating some center stack clutter. The center stack gets narrower as it flows down towards the transmission tunnel where the dual-zone climate control (the rear occupants get an extra manual blower with vents on all rows) is housed and operated by a set of clearly organized buttons.
The materials used inside the Santa Fe don’t take a backseat with high-quality leather (cloth on the 2WD) and soft-touch plastics enveloping the entire cabin. The color scheme is a unique two-tone brown affair with a small amount of aluminum and carbon fiber dotting the cabin. As a whole, the cabin feels truly upscale; everything from the leather used on the steering wheel to the plastics on the door trim to even small details like the window switches and stalks are all top-notch. Plus, the entire look feels welcoming and warm than other mid-sized crossovers. It’s a quiet cabin too. Even with the sunshade retracted on the standard panoramic sunroof on the 4WD, there was very little wind noise to speak of. And the road noise from the tires is virtually unnoticeable.
Behind the front seats is a 40/20/40 split bench seat with ample amounts of both head- and legroom. They also fold and slide fore and aft allowing access to the third row seats which feature a 50/50 split. With all the seats up, the Santa Fe offers genuine seating for seven adults with three-point seat belts for everyone. With both rows folded, it presents a cavernous loading bay enough to fit a decent amount of balk-bayan boxes.
For the 2013 model, Hyundai Asia Resources, Inc. has simplified the engine line-up to just one: a 2.2-liter 4-cylinder common rail direct injection diesel with 197 horsepower and 428 Nm of torque. Largely carried over from the previous generation Santa Fe, this engine still manages to eclipse the competition not just in terms of power, but also in smoothness and quietness. Indeed, it shames even the Germans. It can be mated to either front-wheel or all-wheel drive architecture, but the sole transmission is a six-speed automatic with the H-matic manual override feature. The new addition is Active ECO which modifies the shift points for better fuel economy.
On the road the Santa Fe feels sweet and refined whatever the driving environment. In a more crowded setting like urban areas, the earth-shattering low-end torque is your ally in darting in and out of traffic with the 4,690 mm length feeling much smaller than it really is. As the roads open up, the Santa Fe never feels underpowered or overworked; the engine and transmission feeling well suited to each other. This shows in the Santa Fe’s remarkable fuel economy figures of 9.52 km/l in the city for the 4WD and 10.4 km/l for the 2WD. These figures easily go up to as high as 23 km/l on the highway. These figures are achieved with the Active ECO on and nothing else; no feathering of the throttle and such.
The engine isn’t the only part of the Santa Fe that deserves praise. The revised suspension with MacPherson struts upfront and multi-links at the back give this crossover excellent road manners. The overall ride is comfortable yet confident. The 4WD shows impeccable balance and control through any sort of terrain, while the 2WD just manages to chirp its front tires due to torque steer, but the addition of standard traction control limits this. The Santa Fe is also the first locally-available Hyundai to offer the company’s new driver-selectable three-mode steering dubbed “Flex Steering”. This on-the-fly rack adjuster is a nice touch enabling you to set the desired effort level. Most of the time, it will be left in “Normal” mode, but “Sport” is excellent for tackling twisty roads while “Comfort” is perfect for those with less than ample arm strength.
Compared to other mid-sized crossovers, the Santa Fe is far more maneuverable in tight spots thanks to more manageable exterior dimensions and excellent visibility. Plus, parking assist sensors is standard in all models with the 4WD getting a standard back-up camera with built-in guide lines as an added bonus.
Priced at P 1,768,000 for the 2WD and a cool P 2,228,000 for the 4WD, the 2013 Santa Fe is more expensive than the previous model. But before you balk at the price increase, you have to go beyond the mere sticker price to appreciate the all-new Santa Fe. In what could be a killer move, Hyundai has priced and equipped the Santa Fe to battle on two fronts. The 2WD is destined to steal sales from the ubiquitous Montero Sport and Fortuner thanks to a solid range of standard features from Smart Key keyless entry with engine start/stop to a full range of safety features. Plus, the ride is plusher and more car-like. Meanwhile, the 4WD does battle against the Explorer and comes with much more standard tech such as 19-inch rims, a panoramic sunroof, power front seats, and even an electronic parking brake with auto hold as standard. And the real world fuel consumption is much better than a gasoline-fed engine. In short, the Santa Fe comes in with guns blazing, ready to outdraw the competition.
The all-new Hyundai Santa Fe is exciting, revolutionary, and ready to take on the world. In just three generations, it has managed to catapult itself from obscurity to the mainstream. While the song “Gangnam Style” talks about pretenders and wannabes, the Santa Fe is nothing like that. This is one crossover that exudes class and refinement from the inside out. It truly is a well-engineered, well-designed, and well-priced product. It seems that the Korean cultural invasion has finally crossed over to automobiles as well.