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[Behind the Wheel] New Santa Fe: Hyundai’s family-friendly SUV gets smarter

Hyundai Motor’s new Santa Fe (Hyundai Motor)
Hyundai Motor’s new Santa Fe (Hyundai Motor)

Hyundai Motor’s new, face-lifted version of the Santa Fe is here with a much different look and smarter system, set to regain its reputation as the first SUV to sell 100,000 vehicles in South Korea.

The automaker released the refreshed version of its signature family sport utility vehicle on June 30, two years after it launched the fourth-generation model in 2018.

For the year, the car sold over 100,000 units, making it the first SUV in the 100,000 club.

As changes are often subtle when it comes to vehicular face-lifts, the mightily changed look of the new Santa Fe has caught some by surprise, as it has gone under a complete makeover.

For its new look, the new Santa Fe embraced a new, wider radiator grille that links to the daytime running lights, which have also been redesigned to embed a sharp “T” shape drawn in the concept of an eagle’s eye, according to the carmaker.

Opinions appear to be divided over the new design, which gives a stronger, or to some more aggressive, impression of the car compared to the previous version. Considering that it is a family car, preferences may vary.

Having had the opportunity to test-drive the new car on July 3, it was immediately noticeable that new grille gives the car a more active look, but is not as exaggerated in person as it may appear in pictures and promotional videos.

The test-drive course was a trip of about 65 kilometers from Hyundai Motor Studio Goyang in Gyeonggi Province to Kwanseivista, the designated turnaround point in the same province near Bukhansan.

Hyundai highlights the new car as the perfect city-oriented SUV for the family, and indeed the face-lifted Santa Fe comes with more room for passengers alongside a smarter driving experience.

The legroom in the backseat has been widened by 34 millimeters and the storage space has been expanded by 9 liters to allow up to 634 liters when the third row of seats is completely folded down, according to the automaker.

The highest Calligraphy trim the reporter drove applied soft nappa leather for a classy interior. One noticeable change inside the car is the center console, which gathers all the buttons related to operating the car, including the shift-by-wire -- and they are in buttons too. 

The center console inside Hyundai Motor’s new Santa Fe (Jo He-rim/The Korea Herald)
The center console inside Hyundai Motor’s new Santa Fe (Jo He-rim/The Korea Herald)

It had removed superfluity on the front panel, and because all keys are located on the right-hand side of the driver, it was more reachable. But driving the car for the first time, the buttons came as too crowded to quickly pick the one needed, especially while on the road.

Still, for the owner of the car, it may offer an intuitive convenience once one gets used to finding all the right spots.

Starting the car, the 12.3-inch full LCD dashboard turned on to boast its new user interface with higher graphics, reminding the driver that it is equipped with some of the latest technologies. The car also has a 10.25-inch navigation infotainment screen.

The new Santa Fe has applied the next-generation powertrain Smart stream D2.2 engine, for the first time for a Hyundai Motor SUV, and it offers up to 202 horsepower and maximum torque of 45 kilogram-meters.

It is difficult to say the new Santa Fe was quick in its throttle response, but the midsize SUV did prove to be suitable for a stable ride on the road, especially when driving on highway speeds of over 100 kilometers per hour.

Various advanced driver assistance systems, collectively dubbed SmartSense, were offered throughout the ride, such as the Lane Following Assist and Highway Drive Assist.

When using the turn signal, the camera attached on the side immediately turned on the dashboard to act as a side-view mirror.

There are three different driving modes to choose from: Comfort, Eco and Sports. The new Santa Fe is also equipped with a smart-driving mode, which remembers the driving preference and styles of the driver and automatically invokes that mode -- it is the world’s first such system, according to the automaker.

The price of the new Santa Fe diesel 2.2 model begins from 31.2 million won ($26,100) for the lowest Premium trim, 35.1 million won for Prestige and 39.8 million won for the highest Calligraphy.

By Jo He-rim (  
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