Hyundai Automotive New Zealand have made it pretty clear the direction in which they are marketing their entire product line-up, that being value-based.
That's not saying the product is cheap and nasty, far from it, the Korean desire for perfection is very evident in all their models, and such is the quality and value, the cars that arrive here are extremely tempting, coming with high specification components, especially for safety and convenience.
The most recent, and the last of several Hyundai drives I've experienced during the first half of this year, is the four-wheel-drive Santa Fe. It isn't a new model but one which has had a recent facelift, and an SUV which has high specification parameters, the facelift keeping the model fresh until a newcomer arrives next year.
There are just two Santa Fe models listed locally, both V6 powered, in GS and GLS specification. Hyundai do have a 2.4-litre, four-cylinder version, but it is only available on indent order and is a manual gearbox model only, whereas the 2.7-litre, V6-powered variant arrives with automatic transmission. The 2.4-litre model would cost $31,990, while the V6 is listed at $36,990 or $39,990 with the leather trim option.
The Santa Fe is a serious large car contender, it is a lot bigger than the popular Tucson at 4500mm in length and 1845mm wide. The station wagon section is cavernous and it includes a security blind. I particularly like the split tailgate which lets the window open upward independently of the upward lifting rear door, it is handy for throwing in the odd loose item.
Hyundai claim load figures of up to 2100 litres with the rear seats folded forward (850 litres otherwise), and on that subject, a tow rating of up to 1800kg for a braked trailer. These figures mean there is good load carrying capacity which doesn't come at the cost of usable in-cabin space. Five adults can be carried easily and all get a full overshoulder seat belt.
Light tan leather covers the seats and the complementing trim is coloured beige and black. The in-cabin environment is smart and appealing, while the ergonomics are excellent.
The driver's seatback is a little firm but the squabs support the body well.
In-cabin storage is plentiful, knick-knack pockets are scattered strategically and it is good to have drink holders which cater for both standard size cans and those large plastic drink bottles that my children like to carry with them.
For its price the specification level is high, the Santa Fe gets climate control, cruise control, central locking with remote, electric windows, electric mirror adjustment, variable intermittent wipers, leather-wrapped steering wheel on tilt-adjustable column, single-CD audio and, for safety, four air bags are fitted along with ABS which works on a four-disc system. In effect the brake pedal feels strong, and slowing 1705kg of weight needs a good brake set-up. I'm pleased to report that the Santa Fe measures up well with controlled retardation.
The four-wheel-drive system is pretty much standard fare.
Ordinarily, drive is sent to the two front wheels, when slippage is detected power is directed rearwards. Some early morning easterly mist meant the off-road tracks I used for testing were tricky in terms of traction. Fitted with Korean-made Kumho rubber (225/70 x 16in), the tyres don't have aggressive treads, but given the conditions the test car carried good forward motion. On descent and held in first gear the gear ratios aren't low enough to slow momentum completely, but with the odd dab of the brakes inertia downhill can be held.
Hyundai haven't intended the Santa Fe to be a complete cross-country traveller, instead it should be labelled an all-roader, it is in its element on rough roads rather than rough tracks. On long back-country shingle roads it deals well with corrugations, offering a plush in-cabin ride.
The suspension is independent all-round, struts up front and double wishbones at the rear are only dampened moderately. There's no mistaking the suspension locates four drive shafts, but the ride is far from abrasive, which reinforces it isn't set up for heavy duty cross-country work. However, with an impressive 207mm ground clearance the Santa Fe isn't just limited to the easy stuff.
On the seal it cruises with a great deal of sophistication. The handling sensation is that of predominant understeer, which is to be expected, but stability is fine and steerage remains informative.
Hyundai's own engine powers the Santa Fe, it is an all alloy, quad-camshaft unit which develops 132kW. It is much the same unit which has been seen in varying Hyundai models in New Zealand. It is an engine characterised by good bottom end strength (250Nm at 4000rpm) harnessing in the tallish ratios of the automatic four-speeder. The gearbox has a manual sequential shift, but ordinarily, I just let the gearbox do its own thing, it has quick and smooth shifts under load.
Given its power outputs it is a V6 which likes to rev freely, although it is happy at slow speeds, but given a bit of a scurry up it will pull to the red-line with a shrill howl and exhaust crackle. The tone is constantly audible, but not overbearing.
The gearing is a good compromise of what would seem to be useful getting power to ground if conquering a sticky incline, yet at road speed the engine is relaxed, turning over at 2500rpm at 100kmh. Shifting around 1700kg in a hurry works the engine hard, but it was able to send the Santa Fe to a 0-100kmh time of 10.5sec and 80-120kmh in 7.2sec. As a result it has performance to equal its muscular looks.
Hyundai would probably be one of the first to say that the Santa Fe's shape did take a little while to catch on, but it has stood the test of time and is a shape that's spawned the Tucson and Kia's Sportage. Between these three, Korean sport utility (SUV) buyers need look no further.
Incidentally, the second half of the year starts off with more Hyundai evaluations scheduled in, look for a review soon on the spectacular new Sonata.