Santa Fe is an iconic model in Hyundai Motor Company’s SUV lineup. From 2000, when the first generation Santa Fe, ‘Hyundai Motor Company’s first independently developed SUV’, was released, to the current 2023 when the fourth generation model was released, Santa Fe makes daily life convenient with ample space and performance focused on on-road driving. It has become an urban SUV.
Until 2000, when the Santa Fe first appeared, the mainstream SUV market was an angular-style frame-based SUV that had a sturdy frame and strong rough-road ability to easily run on barren unpaved roads. However, the situation is starting to change with SUVs incorporating a monocoque structure that boasts a comfortable ride that suits customers’ city-friendly lifestyles. The popularity of urban SUVs, which not only have ample space but also provide a stable ride similar to that of sedans, has spread rapidly. One of the leading players in this trend is Santa Fe.
The all new Santa Fe, the 5th generation in 2023, was developed based on the concept of returning to nature after confirming the essence of an SUV that moved from outdoor life to daily life in the city. In the background, when the project to develop the all new Santa Fe began in 2019, there was a big data analysis that predicted that the outdoor lifestyle would become popular again in the near future. On top of this, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about changes in lifestyle. As a result, the demand for vehicular leisure activities has skyrocketed.
Outdoor lifestyle using SUVs such as auto camping or ‘Carcnic’ usually requires the tailgate to be wide open and the cabin space to be used; And Hyundai Motor Company focused on this. By breaking down the boundaries between inside and outside, the automaker decided to give the all new Santa Fe a wide range of versatile spaces and abilities that can seamlessly connect daily life in the city and outdoor life in nature.
So they used the ‘Back to Front’ strategy – designing the rear of the car with a focus on the spacious tailgate and long wheelbase that were not easily seen before. They chose an innovative method that completely overturned the traditional design process to define the car’s character through space. In other words, the changes in the all new Santa Fe, which encompasses both urban and outdoor life, are supported by analysis that penetrates people’s lifestyles and a philosophy that leads trends.
The intention behind the design and development background of the all new Santa Fe, which focuses on rear seat space, is clearly visible in its looks. With a front overhang that is 30mm shorter than before, a 50mm longer wheelbase (2,815mm), and a rear overhang that has been extended by 25mm, the overall length of the car is 4,830mm, which is 45mm longer.
The SUV’s unique angular style, solid-looking bold fenders, straight character lines, and seamlessly neat sides combine to create a strong and majestic SUV atmosphere. The overall height of 1,720mm, which is 35mm higher, is the secret to securing both interior space and SUV style. Considering the height of the bridge-type roof rack (1,770mm, based on 20-inch wheels) that allows easy installation of outdoor gear, the all-new Santa Fe is taller than its upper-class model, the Palisade (1,750mm). The test drive car was painted in ‘Earthy Brass Metallic Matte’, the main color among a total of 9 exterior shades, giving it a stronger SUV look.
The rear part, which was designed with a focus on the spacious tailgate, may not be loved by everyone. However, it is clear that hiding the wiper and removing miscellaneous decorations creates a clean impression. The H lights on the front and rear lamps, which symbolize the Hyundai Motor Company emblem, clearly show the brand identity. Although the position of the rear lamp seems a little low, this design is the result of considering both the size and location of the gas lifter that supports it to create a tailgate that opens as wide as possible for space utilization.
The advantage of being able to safely lift a huge tailgate is clear; Not only is the opening larger than that of any other vehicle in its class, but the wide tailgate, made of one undivided piece, acts as a roof from above, making it great for blocking out sunlight and rain during outdoor activities.
As shown in the world premiere video with the concept of ‘Open for More’, the all new Santa Fe’s rear seat and cargo space are created like a terrace with an excellent sense of openness. The spacious tailgate of the all new Santa Fe is the path that leads our daily life in the car to nature and new experiences with infinite possibilities.
The actual specs are as follows; The maximum width at the bottom of the tailgate opening has been increased to 1,275mm, which is 145mm wider than before. This is a huge figure considering that the width of the bottom of the opening of Palisade, which is one weight class higher, is 1,196mm. The opening height is 812mm, the same as the Palisade. The loading capacity behind the second-row seats is 725 liters (based on VDA figure of 5-seater model).
Not only are the openings and spaces wider, but the height of the interior space has also increased to an impressive degree. When all the rear seats are folded, the height from floor to ceiling reaches 887mm, which is enough for an adult male to sit comfortably when staying indoors, and is also useful for carrying large luggage or outdoor gear. Another delightful change is the standard application of the second-row seat remote folding button to the trunk.
In addition to the spacious cabin, there are features throughout the car that take into account the actual outdoor lifestyle and the comfortable journey of the third-row passengers - such as the hidden type assist handle mounted on the C-pillar to make it easy to step on the rear wheel and access the roof rack on the roof. Also, depending on the delicate design, the top cover can be opened or locked depending on the situation. A large area of quarter glass is placed behind the C-pillar to increase the sense of openness for third-row passengers.
The test car was a 5-seater model, so there were no third-row convenience features, but the 6- and 7-seater models were equipped with cup holders, air conditioning systems, and USB ports. In addition, the seating height and headroom of the third row of seats were increased by 30 mm and 69 mm, respectively, so that passengers taller than 185 cm can ride comfortably. In particular, the third row of seats is equipped for the first time with a reclining function that allows the backrest to be tilted 10° backwards, helping passengers enjoy a comfortable journey.
The first and second row seats are also filled with consideration to ensure a comfortable journey for passengers. Based on the longer and higher body, both headroom (1,045mm in the first row, 1,030mm in the second row) and legroom (1,052mm in the first row, 1,075mm in the second row, based on 2.5 turbo gasoline) have been increased, and there are many useful storage spaces. - Like the most notable new interactive multi-console. Passengers can easily open the center console cover from anywhere in the first or second row, and in the second row, they can conveniently handle their luggage by opening the drawer at the bottom of the console. This shows how Hyundai Motor Company is preparing for the future era of mobility, where the usability of the center console will become more important.
The front seats have a horizontal layout with a stable atmosphere, with a panoramic curved display extending left and right and air vents across the dashboard. In addition, various cutting-edge IT technologies that increase convenience, such as built-in cam 2, digital key 2, fingerprint authentication system, 6.6-inch touch air conditioning display, and wireless software update, were added to reflect the latest interior trends to create a cozy home atmosphere.
The first row was also carefully designed considering the convenience of the driver and the passengers sitting next to him. The ‘Smartphone Dual Wireless Charging System’, the first applied by Hyundai, can charge two smartphones at the same time, and a ‘UV-C sterilization multi-tray’ is provided at the top of the glove box to disinfect frequently used portable items. This test drive car was not housed with UV-C ultraviolet sterilization and disinfection function, but this tray is a good storage box for small items.
In addition, there is ample storage space throughout the interior, including a large space under the center console and a deep cup holder at the bottom of the door. The highlight is the center console space, whose usability has been significantly improved by installing an electronic shift column on the side of the steering wheel. The upper space of the smartphone’s dual wireless charging system is quite large, so there was concern that the phone would move, but the rubber charging pad on the bottom does a good job of holding it in place.
The all new Santa Fe’s powertrain has been improved to further increase the existing completeness. There are two powertrains for domestic use: a combination of a 2.5 turbo gasoline and a wet 8-speed DCT, and a combination of a 1.6 turbo hybrid and a 6-speed automatic transmission. Its owners can choose between front-wheel drive or electronic all-wheel drive (HTRAC). The test car was a 2.5 turbo gasoline model with a maximum output of 281 horsepower and a maximum torque of 43.0kgf·m, and was front-wheel drive equipped with 255/45R 20 tires. It would be more reliable off-road if there was a four-wheel drive system with a rough road driving mode, but for everyday driving, the current configuration is sufficient.
The curb weight (1,835 kg based on the test car) increased by more than 100 kg (1,690 kg based on the 4th generation 5-seater class) by increasing the size and strengthening the crash safety structure, including various advanced specifications and 10 airbags. But the all-new Santa Fe shows enough power to seem unaffected by these changes. Thanks to the maximum torque exerted over a wide range of 1,700 to 4,000 rpm, it not only accelerates easily, but also climbs most uphill roads on public roads with ease. The 2.5 turbo gasoline engine and 8-speed DCT, which are used in various models of Hyundai Motor Group and have proven performance, are highly satisfying in everyday driving environments. The response of the engine and transmission is quick and accurate, allowing you to accelerate smoothly, change gears quickly, and run excitingly on the road.
Contrary to first impressions, the all-new Santa Fe stands out for its smooth driving feel, like a comfortable sedan; This change occurred due to the improved maturity of the 3rd generation platform, which is used in all of Hyundai Motor Group’s latest models, starting with the 8th generation Sonata in 2019. The 3rd generation platform, which features a low floor design, low center of gravity, lightweight, and collision energy dispersion structure, is a modular architecture in which Hyundai Motor Group’s capabilities are concentrated with the goal of improving ride comfort and driving performance. This has been achieved through continuous improvement and optimization for each vehicle type since it was first unveiled in 2019. This is the key to not only creating a spacious interior for the all-new Santa Fe, but also creating a smoother driving experience.
In addition to the all-new Santa Fe’s 3rd generation platform with a lower center of gravity, maneuverability has also been refined to become more stable. Optimization of the length of the bump stopper at the top of the front damper, which absorbs road shock, reduced pitching, and the improved structure of the steering gearbox also improved the steering feel. Thanks to this, there is less bouncing even when the suspension spring repeatedly expands and contracts smoothly when passing through a curved road or a place with a bad road surface. The car has clearly grown larger, but in reality it feels like a smaller car. This feature shows that the DNA based on urban SUVs remains.
The level of ride comfort and NVH performance has also been raised further; This was to reflect feedback from consumers who wanted a more comfortable ride and improved external noise and vibration blocking capabilities befitting a family SUV, along with the effects of the 3rd generation platform. To this end, the ride comfort has been improved by installing a frequency-sensitive, high-performance shock absorber (Selective Damping Control), which is applied to all of Hyundai Motor Group’s latest models. The automaker also improved the structure of the bushing, which reduces vibration at the connection between the car’s lower parts.
In addition, the material of the steering wheel parts was changed to aluminum to reduce vibration, and road noise was improved by applying a separate sound-absorbing pad to the interior floor carpet. Refining the structure of the A-pillar and roof rack, which generate a large amount of driving wind, and applying double-laminated sound-insulating glass to the front seats as standard are also factors that greatly contribute to a comfortable ride. Starting with the mid-grade Prestige trim, the second row is also equipped with double-laminated sound-insulating glass as standard, making it quiet enough for passengers to comfortably have a conversation in the cabin even when the car is driving over the speed limit.
30 minutes after you start driving, the ergo motion seat is activated to control the air pockets inside the driver’s seat and press down on your lower back to relax your muscles. You can set it to operate after 30 minutes or 1 hour, and it also includes a stretching function that relieves tension in the pelvis and lower back, reducing fatigue even on long distance drives. When you park your car and rest, you can experience comfortable rest by using the relaxation comfort seat, which creates a weightless posture by raising the leg rest and tilting the seat back.
One of the primary elements that helped me feel comfortable throughout the test drive was the Lane Keeping Assist 2 (LFA2), which was installed for the first time in Hyundai. Steering control ability has improved further by changing from the existing torque control method to the steering angle control method. It stably keeps the car in the center of the road, not only on regular roads but also on steep slopes and sharply curved highway entrances and exits. In some cases, when the lane boundary disappears, the smart system maintains its function by recognizing the vehicle ahead using the camera. The all-new Santa Fe is also equipped with Steering Wheel Grip Detection (HoD), which detects electric current from the driver’s hands to determine whether they are properly holding the steering wheel. This allows the driver to more safely use functions such as Lane Keeping Assist 2 and Smart Cruise Control, which safely adjusts the distance to the vehicle in front.
The combined effect of these elements is clearly visible in the driving texture of the all new Santa Fe. The sturdy-looking style and bulky body made me want to jump into nature right away, but in reality, it was within the category of an urban SUV that could run smoothly on well-paved roads with a smooth ride. Rather, it has become more flexible and more tolerant than the slightly stiff feel of the previous model. Considering that many consumers projected the appearance of a versatile family SUV onto the Santa Fe, it is clear that it has evolved.
As a result, the all new Santa Fe follows the philosophy that has been followed since the first generation Santa Fe; And it succeeded in providing both the ability to bring daily life to nature more freely and comfortably than ever before, and the vast space that supports this. I think the driving force behind all of these elements coming together so beautifully is the design that was completed through an innovative process that broke convention while maintaining a retro style. The all-new Santa Fe, which became a hot potato as soon as its design was revealed, announces the new evolution of the core model of Hyundai Motor Company’s SUV lineup. It also seems clear that this will ignite new changes in the global SUV market where it will debut in the future.
by Se-hwan Lee
Photography by Dae-il Choi and Beom-seok Kim
HMG Journal Operation Teamgroup@hyundai.com
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