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[Test Drive] Hyundai’s Santa Fe returns with off-road updates

First full-change model in five years sets global sales target of 200,000 units

By Byun Hye-jin

Published : Aug. 27, 2023 - 13:54

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Hyundai’s new Santa Fe (Hyundai Motor Group) Hyundai’s new Santa Fe (Hyundai Motor Group)

The first Korean-made sport utility vehicle, Hyundai’s Santa Fe, has returned with its biggest update since its debut in 2000, with improved off-road features in design and performance.

Touting the All New Santa Fe as a mid-sized family vehicle that can cater to both city commuters and outdoor enthusiasts, the carmaker laid out an ambitious sales target for next year -- 135,000 units in North America, 16,000 units in Europe and 70,000 units in Korea.

“From the beginning, the Santa Fe had the strongest SUV heritage, but the biggest challenge was to overcome the mundane image that lacked standout features,” said Kim Yoon-su, director of the domestic marketing department at Hyundai Motor Group, during a media preview on Aug. 9. “We tried to create a unique image (for the new Santa Fe), blending a robust exterior with delicate interior design.”

After five years, the fifth-generation full-change model hopes to restore the image of Korea's bestselling SUV. The Santa Fe topped the list of SUVs sold in Korea until 2020, when it was outpaced by Kia’s Sorento. The Sorento has since maintained the top position, selling 70,018 units and 68,220 units in 2021 and 2022, respectively. Santa Fe sold 41,739 units and 28,205 units over the same period.

An interior view of Hyundai’s new Santa Fe (Byun Hye-jin/The Korea Herald) An interior view of Hyundai’s new Santa Fe (Byun Hye-jin/The Korea Herald)

The Korea Herald conducted a test drive of the 2.5 gasoline turbo engine model on Aug. 24 from Goyang to Paju, Gyeonggi Province -- a roundtrip totalling 96 kilometers.

The Santa Fe offered a smooth ride in most of its four driving modes -- Eco, Normal, Sport and My Drive. It felt a little sluggish when accelerating and breaking compared to a sedan, but it gave a stable and powerful performance on the road. When switched to Sport Mode, the driver’s seat tightly adjusted to the body to help reduce the effects of high speed. The engine sound was minimal during the drive.

The Smart Cruise Control Mode was useful to manage fatigue on long sections of highway with speed limits, allowing the driver to take their foot off the accelerator. The Lane Following Assist mode also comes in handy to relieve pressure off the hands and shoulders, as it allows the driver to relax while gently holding the steering wheel as the car automatically takes control of the steering.

Hyundai’s Highway Driving Assist 2 helps the driver to change lanes at any speed over 60 kilometers per hour. The car smoothly changes lanes by itself when the turn signal is engaged.

A rear view of Hyundai’s new Santa Fe (Byun Hye-jin/The Korea Herald) A rear view of Hyundai’s new Santa Fe (Byun Hye-jin/The Korea Herald)

The gas mileage of the vehicle was 10.3 kilometers per hour for a drive of 53 kilometers. The official mileage is 11 kilometers per hour.

As for the design, the fifth generation Santa Fe parted ways from all previous models, adopting a box-shaped exterior with a longer length and wheelbase. Its front and rear lamps adopted the so-called “H Light,” which reinterpreted the Hyundai car emblem.

The price tag on Hyundai's All New Santa Fe’s gasoline 2.5 turbo ranges from 35.5 million won ($26,800) to 43.7 million won. The two-wheel drive 1.6 turbo hybrid and the all-wheel drive model are priced between 40.3 million won and 50.4 million won, before applying the government’s eco-friendly car tax credits. Kia's Sorento gasoline model is priced around at 35.1 million won and 41.9 million won, while the hybrid model starts from 37.5 million won.