The new Hyundai Santa Fe is a promising SUV that has the looks and offers a good drive, writes Hormazd Sorabjee

India is an SUV-hungry market. It’s a segment that has been witness to quite some excitement here with several new models being launched. One model that has been eagerly awaited is the new Santa Fe but there is no word yet from the Korean automaker on when this all-new SUV is coming to our shores. Until then, Hyundai is quite happy to sell the current model.

Hyundai’s original plan was to bring the new Santa Fe to India sometime this year, but the launch has been postponed to the first half of 2014 for several reasons. Firstly, Hyundai didn’t want to take the focus away from the Grand i10, which is the company’s big launch this year.

Also, Hyundai still has a fair number of the previous Santa Fe that it wants to exhaust before the new car arrives. But the main reason for the delay is Hyundai’s strategy to localise the new Santa Fe as much as possible. And developing local suppliers takes time. Local content is the key to achieving a cost-competitive price with Hyundai focusing on the Rs. 20 lakh to Rs. 25 lakh range.

The current Santa Fe may not be a head turner, but you can’t miss the massive trapezoidal grille which can be spotted from miles away. Finished in chrome, this grille retains the key elements of the Hyundai look.

There are many interesting design elements, such as the sharp crease in the side panels that run from the peeled-back headlights through the door handles, all the way to the back. The roof slopes steeply towards the rear, and the window line that sweeps up to the D-pillar accentuates this tapered effect.

At the rear, the roof spoiler, the stylistic cut which arcs across the tail-gate and the shapely wrap-around tail are interesting design details that we’ve now come to expect from Hyundai. Lending a sporty touch are the rear skid plate, twin tail pipes and hexagonal mesh set in the lower half of the front and rear bumpers.

The new Santa Fe is based on an all-new platform, but it retains the same 2700mm wheelbase. However, the overall dimensions are quite different. It is 40mm longer and just 5mm wider, but the roofline is a good 45mm lower, which gives it its hunkered-down stance.

Step inside and you can see great strides in cabin quality. After you adjust the 12-way electric driver’s seat to get perfectly comfortable, you find yourself in familiar surroundings if you’ve driven a modern Hyundai before. A lot of the switchgear is carried over from other Hyundais, while the dashboard and the centre console, with its ‘hour-glass’ shape, are similar to the design in the Elantra. The Santa Fe, however, gets a seven-inch TFT LCD touchscreen through which you can access all the various functions. On the India car, GPS navigation is expected to be standard and Hyundai may also give a two-tone beige interior to suit Indian tastes. The Santa Fe’s equipment levels are expected to be best in class. Hyundai is likely to introduce its Smart Park Assist system and there’s even the option of a self-leveling suspension.

The front seats have loads of seat travel so tall people can stretch out, but the seats aren’t too supportive and could do with a bit more bolstering. Move to the middle row and decent legroom, a generous squab and adjustability of the seats make the Santa Fe a good SUV to be chauffeured in.

The one-touch control to drop the second row seats, which have a 40/20/40 split, is hassle-free. This gives quick and easy access to the third row, which is spacious enough for adults, but just for short trips. The 50/50-split third row folds flat into the floor to offer 534 litres of luggage space. And if you have really bulky items, you can go upto 1,615 litres by flipping the second row forward as well. The well thought-out cabin, which majors on practicality and versatility, is a strong point of the Santa Fe, especially in a market where seven-seat SUVs are increasingly popular.

Carried over from the previous Santa Fe is Hyundai’s 2.2-litre VGT diesel engine that the company says has been upgraded for better fuel efficiency and emissions. It uses a traditional cast-iron block, but comes with more advanced bits like third-generation common-rail diesel technology with Piezo injectors.

The power output of 194bhp is the same as before and torque is an impressive 44.45kgm. Two transmission options are available — a six-speed manual and six-speed automatic — and these are likely to be carried over to the Indian market as well.

And there’s the ‘on-demand’ four-wheel-drive system which is standard on all Santa Fes. This doesn’t give the SUV hardcore off-roading capabilities, but it’s good enough to pull owners out of any sticky situations they are likely to encounter.

For most of the part, the Santa Fe is a front-wheel-drive car, with power only going to the rear wheels when sensors anticipate a loss of traction at the front wheels. However, it’s possible to select all-wheel-drive manually by pushing the ‘lock’ button; but this holds four-wheel-drive permanently only up to 40kph.

Performance is seriously good and you can feel the oomph from the moment you drive off. The mid-range is particularly strong. The tall sixth allows for very relaxed cruising, which makes the Santa Fe a great highway car. The refined nature of the engine gives the Santa Fe a premium feel; in fact, this 2.2 CRDI motor is quieter than many of its German rivals.

Though the steering is light and doesn’t call for too much effort, it feels listless and weights up in an inconsistent way. The ride on the U.K.-spec car that we drove was soft and quite comfortable on most surfaces, but the flipside is a fair amount of body roll and some sloppiness through corners.

Indian customers won’t be too fussed if the Santa Fe doesn’t deliver class-leading dynamics. That’s never been a priority for Indian SUV owners.

What they want is looks that stop traffic, a cavernous interior, loads of equipment and an effortless driving experience. The Santa Fe delivers in all these areas. Will it deliver on price? With the rupee going sharply south, we will have to wait and watch.