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An SUV that doesn’t stint on the style front is also a practical seven-seater, finds Alvin Thomas.
Whether you like it or not, commuters have been swiftly swapping their sedans and luxury limos for sports-utility-vehicles (SUVs), and 2017 is going to be no different.
It has been predicted that SUVs will slowly edge out sedan sales and in the coming years, they will become the most common form of vehicle to buy.
A case in point was our test car last week: the Maserati Levante. You know that there has been a shift in the tide when a manufacturer deviates from its usual path to create an SUV – a concept that was hitherto alien to the brand.
But as more manufacturers are increasingly inclined to concentrate on SUVs, the technology and the engineering that goes into each of these machines are also being perfected. As a result of this, SUVs are becoming just as efficient as well as engaging to drive as any of their sedan counterparts.
But Hyundai, as we all know, has been playing the SUV game far too long to get this wrong. And their expertise does show in the way our test-car – the Hyundai Santa Fe – has been laid out for 2017.
For starters, its curvaceous body is very much in tune with Hyundai’s love-it-or-hate-it design language.
But, I have to admit that in this SUV format, the Santa Fe looks absolutely gorgeous; maybe even more striking and sophisticated to look at than any of its European counterparts.
Every element on the outside of the car is accentuated with bold lines and curves to present a very tidy exterior. Even the headlights are pulled back and chamfered towards the edges to give the SUV a sporty front fascia. Adding more aggression to the exterior are the sharp LED turn-signals, 46cm alloys and dual-exhaust tips.
The vivacious design-language carries into the interior of the car. It is unlike any I’ve seen in any other car, and it definitely stands out.
The interior is a fusion of shapes: for example, the air-conditioning vents up front are shaped like boomerangs, and all the buttons on the dashboard take up their own specific shape. There’s also a well-sized 20cm touchscreen on the dashboard, which controls all the navigation and entertainment.
Much of the dashboard and the doors are also lined up with soft-touch surfaces, as opposed to hard plastics, as seen in various other rival cars on the market. You also get leatherette seats, a full-sized panoramic glass roof and a decent-sounding Infinity premium sound system to go with myriad other tech features.
Where the Santa Fe truly outshines its competition, however, is in its interior spacing. There’s plenty of leg and head room for both passengers in the front and rear. Third-row seating is also available but it is best reserved for children – as adults will struggle to fit in the rear.
Fold the third-row seats down and you’re treated to an enormous boot. Additionally, you can also fold down the second-row seats flat for more cargo space. The space is beyond that of any other compact SUV I have tested in quite some time.
Our top-spec Santa Fe is powered by a smooth-running 3.3-litre V6, producing an impressive 266hp and 318Nm of torque, and is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission that sends power to all four-wheels.
Acceleration figures aren’t what I would call blistering but the Santa Fe is definitely brisk for its hefty size. You can also take control of the shifts manually to override the gearbox presets. On doing this, you can hold the power in lower gears for longer; making quick manoeuvres on the highway an easy task.
Gear shifts aren’t the quickest but the gear ratios are very good, and should provide you with adequate fuel efficiency should you decide to keep things mellow.
The ride in the Santa Fe is extremely compliant: it soaks up bumps and crevices on the road with ease. But at Y, we test cars to their limits. And on doing so, we learnt that the SUV grips the road, with ease almost, at corners. But dabbing the throttle for long can invoke understeer. After all, power is sent to all four wheels.
Due to its size, there is a hint of body roll but it’s nothing the electronic stability programme (ESP) cannot handle. As a matter of fact, I felt extremely confident behind the wheel of the Santa Fe. If you’re in the mood for a spot of fun, you can also toggle between the “Sport”, “Normal” and “Eco” modes. Sport mode essentially holds gears for longer and firms up the otherwise light steering wheel. However, there is no feedback from the steering wheel, which is normal for most cars of today.
The Hyundai Santa Fe is an excellent package for anyone looking for an SUV that can haul seven people around in absolute comfort, and its sales figures do reflect our experience. And the SUV – now in its second generation (if you neglect the slight facelift) – is a true testament to how good the South Korean manufacturer has become in such a short period of time.