Now that Hyundai is recognised as a formidable player in the industry, it faces the challenge of maintaining the momentum and avoiding complacence.
As an upstart, its task seemed a bit less daunting because it was easy to show progress when coming off a low base. Just think back to offerings such as the first Accent and the Atos. But that honeymoon phase of the renaissance is over. No longer do we think of Hyundai products as the cheap alternative.
It has sought to position itself in line with the evergreen players and naturally, it will be assessed in relation to those established marques. First launched in 2012, the Santa Fe SUV was treated to a subtle refresh this month and we sampled it at a launch in Johannesburg.
Hyundai decided to remind the media in attendance that its product competes with the BMW X3, Audi Q5, Land Rover Discovery Sport and that cousin from Kia, the Sorento. And I think this is a move it might regret, but more on that later. You will really need to look closely to spot the changes.
Actually, if Hyundai had not displayed an image of the “old” model alongside this revised version, the tweaks would have gone unnoticed. So, yes, this is very much a facelift rather than an entirely new version. The grille is slightly more imposing, the headlights were redesigned and there are LED strips surrounding the fog lamps.
It rolls on new alloy wheels. Sharper illumination is seen at the back and the round exhaust outlets of old are replaced with square units. Splitting hairs, really. With that said, the Santa Fe is by no means a bad looking thing. Inside, the driver instrument panel boasts a cleaner look for enhanced legibility, and navigation is now part of the package.
In fact, standard fare is one of its biggest strengths. Included in the mix is an electrically operated tailgate, which opens automatically when you stand behind it. Unlike systems from other manufacturers, it does not require any idiotic foot or hand gestures to work. This is in addition to a panoramic sunroof, reverse camera, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot detection, leather upholstery and heated seats for driver and front passenger.
One engine derivative is on offer: the 2.2-litre, turbocharged diesel mill (145kW and 436Nm) mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, available in two-wheel and four-wheel drive guises. That proven engine still manages a good job of getting the hefty SUV on the move. As a comfortable cruiser, the Santa Fe does fairly well, offering a supple ride, although wind noise was higher than expected at freeway speeds.
Shortcomings like that might sway you to look elsewhere. And the cabin ambience, while generally inoffensive, is no match for the Teutonic Brands Hyundai says it wants to compete with. It ticks all the boxes on the safety front — but my inner naysayer hates how slim the interior door panels are. You rest easier when there is a chunky piece of trim separating you from the hazards outside.
Actually, you could even say the Hyundai is not on par with the new Sorento in the interior department. Things appear less optimistic when you consider the price. The five-seater, two-wheel drive version goes for R659 900 while the seven-seater, all-wheel drive model costs R699 900. It does not seem that Hyundai did enough to warrant such a hefty asking price.
Of course, it should be noted that the exchange rate is not in its favour. But for this amount of money there are many alternatives that feel more accomplished. Most buyers might see more sense in opting for something with a premium badge that would hold its value better, even if it means forgoing some of the standard niceties.
For considerably less you could have the new Ford Everest, which we evaluated in the last edition of Ignition Live. It offers the same level of standard specification, equally good road manners, generous space and the added virtue of authentic offroad capability . . .
Engine: 2.2-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged- diesel
Power: 145kW at 3800rpm
Torque: 436Nm between 1800 and 2500rpm
0-100km/h: 9.8 seconds
Top speed: 220 km/h
Fuel consumption: 8l/100km
(five-seater); 8.3l/100km (seven-seater)
CO2: 198g/km (five-seater); 206g/km (seven- seater)
Prices: R659 900 (2WD five-seater); R699 900 (4WD seven-seater)