HYUNDAI SANTA FE: A fuel-efficient, luxurious, full-sized SUV

    Hyundai Santa Fe
    Hyundai Santa Fe

    WITH a sticker price of over P2.5 million, Hyundai’s Santa Fe is in the mid-rung of the luxury SUV ladder beside such honchos as the Mazda CX-9 and the Ford Explorer.

    Now, these plus-size people carriers have more or less the same features. Lots of space, big engines to lug around the extra weight, usually two more seats and other niceties like infotainment systems and powered this and that.

    And at that price tag, these features are expected. Size alone does not elevate this level of SUV from the Fortuners and Monteros. It is a combination of MMA warrior and a beauty queen Q&A that makes the Santa Fe what it is. Decidedly bold. Ruggedly beautiful.

    Surprising in many ways.

    Our test drive began at BGC on a cold September afternoon. A downpour just drenched the city and the drive South was going to be slow and possibly slick. Glancing at the Santa Fe at Hyundai’s 5th floor garage, I am immediately stung by its bold styling—a sort of grown up Veloster or Kona. But I base this comment only on the fact that I drove both cars before this SUV, so the common design elements stuck in my head.

    The “fluidity” design elements came clearly in this large canvas. The Veloster what the power spray version of the flowing lines. The Santa Fe was the calm lake.

    Clearly, it was not designed for the sake of design alone. Having been exposed to how cars are designed, I can say that this one was thoughtful at the same time elegant. Not like clothes only for fashion’s sake. This one had form and function.

    The engine is the same one found in the previous-generation model. The 2.2-liter turbodiesel that outputs 200 PS and 441 Nm of torque is all go. While I see no reason in having an eight-speed automatic transmission (thus, ten speed is for me totally bonkers) mating it to a front wheel drive only set up does give it more gears to play with. An all-wheel drive version would be the best pairing. But at least for now this front running gear can deliver the good quickly and effortlessly—even for the tall ascents in Mt. Robinson’s Galleria and Robinson’s Manila, where the parking inclines were like challenges in an urban off-road display.

    The drivetrain comes with traction and stability control for free, a feature I was able to test because of circumstance.

    That circumstance came at the entrance of the Susana Heights offramp, when a speeding light truck from the right lane darts into the third lane (used mostly by buses and trucks). I was on the second lane with cruise control on when the tall delivery truck comes into the third lane when another car takes the lane from the left to ease into the third lane, to position itself to enter the upcoming Petron station.

    That move eases the truck out of his position, swapping lanes just about a car’s length infront of me.

    I pressed the brakes and felt the ABS engage, looked to my sidemirrors for the open inner lane and move the Santa Fe, at speed, and in the wet. I could feel the traction control take over as I resume throttling the car to speed. The delivery truck slowed down on the second lane, and drove back to the third as the lane chopper—a relative, an Eon with a large deck spoiler—squirmed into the gas station.

    A scary moment, made quite safe by the Santa Fe.

    I enjoyed the feel of the leathery parts of the interior. It was a visual delight—all the big stitches, the brown and gray overlays, the supple materials with a tremendous array of soft points at just the right places. These G-spots in the interior make for what a luxury car is.

    The armrests, the seat back, the bolsters that meet your arms are all cushiony without being too soft. Almost all the switches, are well located, and within reach, with the exception of the folding mirror switch, which was a tiny flicking thing.

    There is, for the cable challenged, wireless mobile phone charging. I do not have an Apple or Samsung to test it with, but my son does, and it did keep his S10 happy. To add to the delight are four charging points for the passengers and one single button to flip the middle seat to get to the third bench—which by the way rivals the Everest and mu-X in seating position and capacity.

    Now because I live in the distant South, my highway drives are about 60 percent of the way. In the travel the Santa Fe delivered a stunning 20 kilometers per liter on cruise control at 80 kilometers per hour. If I combine that with the inner city (not including Manila) I get about 10 kilometers per liter. In urban Manila however, stuck in 2 to 3 hour jams, 8 kilometers per liter is the estimate.

    We can forget the boring traffic. The infotainment system includes everything needed to while the time away, including (if you are ready for it) plugging in a TV box. This I readied for my dear mother who was supposed to arrive at the time I had the car so she would not miss an episode of “Ang Probinsyano.” She delayed her return for a month.

    The Santa Fe is large. Thus having 360 camera to manage seeing outside the car is a big help. There is no excuse to kiss the curbs and have small, hated dents around the car. It works flawlessly even at night or in the rain.

    With the spicy performance, elegant interiors, seating for seven, loads of features and important safety equipment all in one package, the Santa Fe is a great family car. It is not a like-it, hate-it look. It is just all mature and composed, which is for many people of style and substance, more than just a good impression.

    As for the price, well P2.538M is a lot.

    Competitively at this price range, buyers look at image. And the Santa Fe has the image—it is an athletic, plus size people carrier that can muster attention and more than enough amenities to keep people who can afford the price tag, happy.

    Will a panoramic sunroof and all-wheel drive perhaps, make them happier?