New Hyundai Santa Fe Sets Class Standards

Hyundai’s simple, straight and sensible design elements have catapulted the Santa Fe to popularity in the U.S.

In an industry known for its hyperbole during the introduction of a new vehicle to the automotive press, Hyundai tends to shy away from exaggeration or embellishment. They’re not diffident or humble or shy, but rely on verifiable facts, data and third party source research to make a point or points.

Prior to the introduction of the new Santa Fe last week in Santa Barbara, California (aka the bedroom enclave of the über-rich and very-famous) John Krafcik, Hyundai’s vice president product development and strategic planning, in a company update noted the automaker’s “best warranty” in the industry positioning had paid dividends.

“Our 10 year, 100,000 mile and 5 year, 60,000 mile warranties were not just a marketing pitch, although it’s been an effective marketing pitch we had to have the quality to back it up or we’d go bankrupt,” Krafcik said.

“We are seeing the end of the 5 year warranty and are halfway through the 10 year 100,000 mile warranty and those costs have been significantly less than what we had provisioned for. It’s good financial news for us and shows that the work we’ve been doing on Hyundai’s quality is paying dividends as well.”

As this was said a slide noted Hyundai’s warranty cost per vehicle index, the standard for the industry had dropped 50% in just 4 years. You don’t need to be a CPA to recognize this as a significant number.

Designed and Engineered in America

The all new Santa Fe is the first production vehicle designed at Hyundai’s design center in Irvine, CA for “American requirements” and was benchmarked up, rather than in-class. When asked why, Krafcik replied, “To establish new standards for the mid-size crossover market segment.”

Simple. Straight. Sensible.

But the detail is a bit more complicated. The previous version of the Santa Fe was the first major sales success of the then semi-struggling, new-to-market brand whose reputation for quality, they admit, was not spectacular. But the old Santa Fe was a winner and the new version looks, feels and drives like it too will set new records.

Here’s the quick walk-around, look under the hood, techno-gearheading, interior impressions, safety specs and entertainment enhancement overview:

Exterior walk-around

• New sleek styling with continuity notes from the previous model

• At 184.1 inches (00.0 feet), it’s 7 inches longer than before

• It’s 1 inch wider and 2 inches taller

• Has an almost 3 inch (2.9”) wider track for improved handling

• Integrated cross rails on the roof rack

• 18 inch alloy wheel standard

Look Under the Hood

• Standard V6 engine – 2.7 liter with 185 hp, 21 city & 26 highway mpg

• Optional V6 engine – 3.3 liter with 227 hp, 19 city & 24 highway mpg

• Shiftronic, 4-speed automatic with manual control on the 2.7 liter

• 3.3 liter engine has 5-speed Shiftronic with manual control

• Both meet ULEV emission requirements


• Unibody crossover platforms with 106.3 wheelbase

• New suspension geometry

• Shorter turning radius than previous model

• Front and rear disc brakes with ABS

Interior Impressions

• Overall impression? Nice. Very nice.

• Three-row seating available

• Blue backlighting for all gauges, switches, buttons and cup holders

• Soft-to-the-touch materials with subtle color key gradations

• Distinctive dashboard without too much plastic wood

• Dual-zone air conditioning

• Luxury type air conditioning outlets in front and rear

• Lots of other optional goodies and accessories

Safety Specifics

• Six standard airbags including side airbags for all rows of seating

• ESC, electronic stability control on all models

• All seats have 3-point seat belts

• Adjustable had restraints

• Tire pressure monitoring

But enough specs, what’s the new Santa Fe like to drive? A pleasure. A real pleasure. It’s very, very quiet.

Both engines have sufficient power to easily merge with freeway or highway traffic, it hugs the road on the curves, and the seats are easily adjustable and comfortable – a very fun to drive automobile.

Three different models of the Santa Fe are being delivered to dealer showrooms now: the entry level GLS, a sporty SE and the luxury Limited version. Pricing is from the low 20’s to the high 20’s, and all come with the aforementioned 100,000 mile – 10 year powertrain warranty and the 60,000 mile – 5 year warranty.

It really doesn’t look like Hyundai will need or use hype to get the Santa Fe sales. In fact, national advertising won’t start until the fall. Yet, even with a delayed national launch, Krafcik predicted sales will reach 90,000 units in the first full year.

While the name is Korean, the Santa Fe was designed in America and is being made at the new Hyundai factory in Alabama.

What’s down the road?

Hyundai’s been on a new car roll-out marathon with seven new products in just two years and along the way, they’ve picked up a few pieces of impressive trophy hardware from J.D. Powers and other auto research companies for the vehicle quality and safety.

But something is missing.

That’s why it was not unexpected, when during the Q&A following the introduction of the Santa Fe in Santa Barbara last week, one intrepid journalist asked Krafcik, “When is Hyundai going to have a halo car?” Smiling, Krafcik replied, “It does seem right for us to have a halo car, doesn’t it?”

So, exactly what is a halo car? While there is no definition in Webster’s, in practice, a halo car is a trendsetting, great design, non-conventional, limited production, hot vehicle at an affordable price.

Such vehicles are usually introduced at a national automobile show in concept form that generates media buzz. It get’s people talking and looking. And that’s what Krafcik admits is lacking in the brand image of Hyundai, even though he predicted a 500,000 year for the brand.

“We have a quality image but need more consumer awareness to increase consideration.”

A halo car could do a lot to satisfy this need. As a lines premiere vehicle, it sets the tone for the more pedestrian, plebian offerings. Recently, the trend has been toward two seat convertibles – think Solstice, Sky and the Nissan Orbit.

Don’t be surprised if there’s a bright glow over the Hyundai display at the next major auto show – think the Paris or LA show. Given Hyundai’s proclivity and penchant for left coast names how about a name that would work at both shows – I suggest Scottsdale as the nom de aureole.

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