Hyundai Santa Fe: Ugly Duckling no more

 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2 CRDi Executive Plus The Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2 CRDi Executive Plus variant that we picked up had all the bells and whistles on offer, which pushes its asking price close to the RM200k mark. With this package, you are looking at RM189,888 on the road with insurance, inclusive of a 5-yr/300,000km manufacturer warranty.

To be completely honest, prior to 2013 I had written off the Santa Fe as one of those also-ran SUVs that didn’t have a strong identity of its own and was merely placed as a gap filler in a market dominated by the Japanese and European marques. To place a pre-2007 Santa Fe next to an SUV from another make in a parking lot was like placing Ugly Betty on stage to compete with Miss Universe in a beauty contest. Note that I said beauty contest, and not a contest of overall capabilities, for I do believe that the original 2001 Santa Fe did have its fair share of supporters who managed to look beyond its skin to find something else that was attractive about it. I do not have any prior account of the Santa Fe’s facts and figures prior to this model, nor did it ever pique my interest to look beyond its fascia to dig further. That’s the “Shallow Hal” part of me talking. I still remember the first time I laid eyes on the 2001 Santa Fe, and, God forbid, from the least desirable part, its rear end. As the saying goes, what has been seen cannot be unseen… What’s with that fridge door handle anyway?

Ok, fast forward to 2007 and the world was introduced to the new and improved Santa Fe. It looked a lot better than the model it replaced, so kudos to Hyundai for that dramatic makeover. It was around this time too that South Koreans in general were beginning to look more and more like each other, thanks to a burgeoning plastic surgery industry. K-pop had started to infiltrate global charts with their manufactured looks and sound, the height of which sparked flash mob frenzies of cowboy dance routines all over the world. If you haven’t already guessed which artiste I was referring to, well you have some catching up to do. Anyway, back to the Santa Fe. So just like its citizens, Hyundai too, underwent a complete makeover in the way they designed and built cars. Gone were the quirky vehicles that failed to garner excitement out of home soil, and in came internationally acclaimed car design gurus who helped to revolutionize the company and the Korean car industry in general, for Hyundai owns about 33% of Kia as well; together they form Hyundai Kia Automotive Group, the third largest chaebol (conglomerate) in South Korea. Today, Hyundai and Kia vehicles line the streets the world over with their forward thinking designs and excellent value propositions.

2013 Hyundai Santa Fe: Skin Deep

When the 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe was unveiled (as early as 2006 in major markets), it sported a completely new skin, looking more contemporary and acceptable to a global audience. Gone were the weird bug eyes fore and aft, but one thing that didn’t get thrown out with the bath water, was that fridge handle. I suppose the designers felt that they had to leave a trace of the old Santa Fe behind to remind customers that this is a Santa Fe after all. New engine options and trim details went down well with buyers, who seemed to warm up to the new bad boy. Of course, while the 2007 Santa Fe started to win over new buyers, the engineers at Hyundai had already laid out their battle plans for an even better Santa Fe. It does seem that with every major revamp, the Santa Fe gets a complete makeover, as evident in the latest 3rd generation model. Bad boy has indeed grown up, and what a fine looking gentleman he’s turning out to be. There’s no mistaking the Santa Fe for a lady, for he is all brawn and ready to rock! Hyundai has always pushed the design envelope as far as their designers care to take it to, but it’s nice see that with the Santa Fe, they didn’t overdo it.

2013 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2 CRDi Executive Plus; front profile

2013 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2 CRDi 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2 CRDi_2

Compared to its predecessor, this one will turn heads wherever you take it for a spin, as evident from the approving stares that he got under my stewardship. I could just sit in a coffee place a whole afternoon just admiring the car; it’s really quite captivating to look at. Up front, a pair of handsome eyes equipped with Xenon projectors look menacingly ahead, topped off with sharp looking light bars for parking lights. A three part, hexagonal floating chromed grille takes center stage in between those menacing eyes. The way the parts come together as a whole, it might as well breathe fire! A dark grey skid plate rises from the bottom of the front bumper to add a purposeful look to complete the front package. From the side, and especially from the front quarter view, the Santa Fe’s good looks continue to impress. Matte black polycarbonate wheel arches and door guards serve a dual purpose here; they are easier to clean off, and it leans out the side profile of the car so that it doesn’t look stout. The trend these days for SUVs is for the rear wheels to be positioned all the way out with a short overhang. That is also the case here with the regular wheelbase Santa Fe for the domestic market, while in certain markets there is a long wheelbase version. 19” alloys adorn the wheel arches of the Santa Fe, wrapped in Hankook Ventus Prime 2 tyres, specced at 235/55 R19. This is for the top of the range 2.2 CRDi Executive Plus variant, which this review is based on. The Theta II 2.4L Executive Plus also gets the same 19” wheels, while the Elegance variants (petrol or turbodiesel) get 235/60 R18s.

2013 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2 CRDi Executive Plus  rear profile2013 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2 CRDi Executive Plus; rear spoiler

Taking a walk round to the back, this full-sized SUV is just as breathtakingly handsome to a fault. The slimline rear combination lamps feature two rows of LEDs as well as two strips of light bars to really stand out at night (available only on Executive Plus variants). A roof spoiler helps to keep the sun out for the last row of passengers on a hot day, while a low boot line provides easy access to the trunk. A pair of twin exhaust pipes subtly peak out of the rear skid plate without making the rear look busy. And *drum roll*… #no #fridge #door #handle! Finally, the new Santa Fe manages to shrug off that last piece of its duckling feathers to emerge as one of the most attractive SUVs in the market today. Period.

2013 Hyundai Santa Fe: Beauty and Purpose Within

2013 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2 CRDi Executive Plus; premium interior

When you are checking out the Santa Fe at a Hyundai showroom, take your time to appreciate the exterior first, for the excitement doesn’t stop there. The 2.2 CRDi Executive Plus variant that we picked up had all the bells and whistles on offer, which pushes its asking price close to the RM200k mark. With this package, you are looking at RM189,888 on the road with insurance, inclusive of a 5-yr/300,000km manufacturer warranty. One look inside the cabin and you will be wowed by the fine, light brown Napa leather worn by all 7 seats. The driver gets a 12-way adjustable powered seat while the front passenger seat makes do with fewer adjustments, but is powered nonetheless.

2013 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2 CRDi Executive Plus; display screen and center console 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2 CRDi Executive Plus; huge a/c knob

Hyundai’s Supervision Cluster & 4.2” TFT LCD provides an extensive range of the Santa Fe’s current operational parameters, is easy to read and has a pleasing blue overtone. The space age design doesn’t stop there; a sophisticated looking center console takes center stage and is sure to be a conversation piece for first-time passengers in your Santa Fe. A Sat/Nav unit starts up automatically when you start up the car, and begins searching for the best satellite signal without prompting. A synthesized voice tells you that it is searching for a satellite, and interrupts your music once it gets a good lock on. Initially it was a little irritating, considering that the sound system in the Santa Fe was quite decent and you didn’t want your music interrupted, but after a day or two you just kinda wait for the lady in the Sat/Nav to say her piece, and after two days you just forget that it’s there. The multimedia unit accepts various source inputs via Bluetooth, USB and iPod; I’m normally just happy with USB without having to go through the hassle of connecting my phone or other playback device.

2013 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2 CRDi Executive Plus; steering

The steering wheel is wrapped in soft leather that is smooth to the touch and has a nice, sturdy feel to it. Audio controls, cruise control, handsfree phone operation and MID settings are neatly positioned on the spokes without hindering drivability. An interesting option on the steering wheel is on-demand Flex Steer electronic control, which allows you to toggle between three steering effort presets; Normal, Comfort or Sport. Flex Steer is making its way across Hyundai’s mid to high end models that are equipped with MDPS (Motor Driven Power Steering), Hyundai’s version of EPS. With this option, you can choose Comfort mode when you’re trying to park your Santa Fe, Normal mode for town commutes and Sport mode when the missus is at home, tending to the young while the young at heart goes for his weekly stress relieving power drive. Another interesting control at your fingertips is the Auto Hold feature, which keeps the car fully braked after you’ve brought the car to a complete stop; thereafter you may remove your foot from the brake pedal and the car will not move an inch until you step on the throttle. This takes some stress out of your daily commute, be it on a flat road or up and down a hill.

2013 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2 CRDi Executive Plus; sunroof2013 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2 CRDi Executive Plus; second row seats

On days when the sun is in hiding, you might feel like enjoying the breeze a little. The Santa Fe has a full panoramic moon roof that extends all the way almost to the back of the car, with a retracting sun roof thrown in to satisfy most pundits. The Santa Fe is quite the social vehicle, encouraging you to share the spoils with friends and family. The middle seats take the luxury appeal up a notch, featuring manually adjustable levers to move the seats slightly forward or backwards as well as allowing them to recline the seats for better comfort. The last row features twin seats for young adults or children, or if you happen to have a short celebrity friend like Zack Galifianakis or Ken Jeong looking to sleep off a night of debauchery, just let him lie down for a bit in the last row. Those seats are just as comfortable as the middle row ones, only with less legroom. No, former Houston Rockets Yao Ming wouldn’t fit in there for sure.

2013 Hyundai Santa Fe: A Big Heart with lots of Grunt

2013 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2 CRDi Executive Plus; 2.2l diesel

The 2013 Santa Fe 2.2 CRDi has a big and powerful heart in the form of a common-rail turbocharged 2,200cc oil burner, good for 197PS@3,800rpm and a massive 442Nm between 1,800-2,500rpm, a carryover from its predecessor. This engine is mated to Hyundai’s own 6-speed automatic transmission with torque converter to deliver a smooth yet authoritative drive. You can choose to either leave the transmission in full Auto or switch over to Manual when the mood strikes. As usual for an oil burner, you can hear the characteristic (but muted) diesel chatter coming from within the engine bay, but it doesn’t intrude much into the cabin unless you’re driving with the sun roof open on a quiet night. To be honest, the engine was rather smooth for an in-line four diesel mill, and even under hard acceleration it doesn’t splatter. There is a slight lag before the turbocharger fully spools up to deliver 442Nm of twisting force, but once you hit 1,800rpm you’ll be off in a hurry. Owing to the use of an electronic variable geometry turbocharger (VGT), the power delivery can be slow and steady if your right foot feathers the throttle even above 2,000rpm, but once you floor it, the turbocharger electronically switches its aspect ratio to high boost mode, unleashing the beast within. Old school turbo enthusiasts will notice the lack of a blow-off valve, because a VGT doesn’t need one. Even though there is a slight lag, it’s still a lot more forgiving than old school high pressure turbochargers, where the transition from zero boost to full boost is very apparent; there is virtually no power below the boost range, then when the turbo spools up, wham, torque steer nightmare! In VGT applications, the transition is more gradual and is much easier to control.

2013 Hyundai Santa Fe: Cosseting Ride

On the whole, the ride quality in the Santa Fe is soft and supple; a little too soft for my liking, owing to the potent powerplant within which showed up the soft nature of the Santa Fe’s suspension settings on a few occasions. Fitted with the naturally aspirated Theta II 2.4-liter powerplant, things might be more balanced, but with so much brute force under the hood, the turbodiesel Santa Fe could very well do with a firmersetup. Charging into a corner, you feel the limits of adhesion unraveling all too soon, with a good amount of body roll taking place. Of course, the handling limits of the Santa Fe had yet to be reached, and even if it was breached, the car’s Vehicle Stability Management would take over to save your bacon.

Aside from feeling a little iffy around corners, on our oh-so-imperfect tarmac the Santa Fe tends to ride a little edgy and nervous, trying its best to cushion every little imperfection on the road with diplomacy and a gentle rebound. On the flipside though, and in the Santa Fe’s defense, if you take the car off-road you will appreciate the soft damping rate better. Hyundai probably had to take the middle road between all out performance and comfort, leaning slightly more towards comfort. Going over speed humps, the MacPherson struts up front and multi-link rear suspension in the rear do a decent job of keeping my passengers in their seats with no nasty jabs or bottoming out, which means the dampers were well specced. All the car needs is a swapping out of the soft springs to a firmer type and you’ll be all set.

2013 Hyundai Santa Fe: Compelling Package

2013 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2 CRDi; at the rear

Hyundai has always offered a lot of car for the money, and the Santa Fe continues that grand tradition, facing off against heavyweights in the Japanese and Continental camps with heads held up high. On the whole, this top dog 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2 CRDi Executive Plus offers aspiring towkays and corporate ladder climbers a fast track to luxurious SUV-style motoring without breaking the RM200k barrier, featuring many creature comforts that you can’t even find in similarly priced established marques’ offerings. You want performance, it’s got it. You want comfort, it’s got that too. You want stylish good looks, it’s got that in spades. Hyundai has already stamped their presence in the world of motoring for a good few years now, and it seems that the Korean motoring revolution has only just begun to mature, with a lot of innovation coming our way in the years to come. The question then, is not about whether or not the Santa Fe is good enough for you, but whether you are man enough to tame this beast.

2013 Hyundai Santa Fe images

2013 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2 CRDi Executive Plus; bi-Xenons 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2 CRDi Executive Plus; headlight and foglight2013 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2 CRDi Executive Plus; under side window illumination2013 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2 CRDi Executive Plus; LED light strip 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2 CRDi Executive Plus; instrument cluster 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2 CRDi Executive Plus; boot space

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