20 years ago Hyundai took the wraps off the first-generation Santa Fe, going against the giants from the land of the rising sun. Even though people were skeptical in the beginning and it wasn’t as popular as most of its rivals, the Santa Fe stood the test of time, and has improved dramatically to what it is today.
Now celebrating its 20th anniversary, the Santa Fe has not only become an icon for the brand, but also one of the best 7 seater SUVs in the market. That said, let us look at how much the Korean SUV has evolved over the years.
Named after a city in the U.S., Hyundai introduced the Santa Fe for the first time at the 2000 Geneva Motor Show. While subsequent generations became progressively premium over time, the very first Santa Fe was very much, a workhorse.
In 2001, not long after the first model was produced, Hyundai had to ramp up production due to the overwhelming demand from numerous countries around the world.
One of the key factors that contributed towards the success was the spacious interior and generous cargo space.
In 2003, in response to customers demanding for even more driving performance, Hyundai upgraded the Santa Fe with a more powerful engine and a computer-controlled four-wheel-drive system.
Even the 2.2 CRDi diesel model which we had in Malaysia produced close to 200 hp and 436 Nm of torque, which was insane for a vehicle in this class at the time.
And then we had the second-generation Santa Fe which was more refined, and offered significantly improved handling and sportier engines to equip customers for a range of driving and weather conditions.
By the middle of the 2000s, design language was becoming increasingly important to customers. Therefore, the Santa Fe’s successor model featured significant changes outside and inside the vehicle. Its exterior offered an assertive front grille, confident sculpted lines and finely detailed headlights. This contemporary look showcased how the brand’s design direction was evolving.
The interior utilised a range of soft-touch, high-quality materials and low-gloss surfaces to provide second-generation Santa Fe customers with a touch of luxury. This premium feeling was further emphasised by the blue backlighting surrounding the model’s controls and switches, in combination with leather upholstery.
Meanwhile, it offered more space than ever before, and for the first time, the option of adding a third row of seats was available, extending the five-seater to a seven-seater.
With customers of the time demanding increased safety features, the second-generation Santa Fe offered a series of extensive safety upgrades, which continued Hyundai’s leadership in standardising the industry’s most effective technologies. Electronic Stability Control (ESC), an anti-lock braking system (ABS), side-curtain airbags for all seating rows, a tire pressure monitor, and active front head restraints now came as standard. Later, a premium version was added, which included a built-in navigation system, rear-view camera, cruise control and a light sensor.
And then, we had the 3rd gen Santa Fe which was a bigger step forward for Hyundai, as it offered even greater comfort and quality, re-tuned engines and improved efficiency. In addition, it featured a new design direction called “Storm Edge”, which consisted of refined lines as well as bold and voluminous surfaces.
Available as both a sporty five-seater and a version with a long wheelbase offering three rows of seats for six or seven passengers, the third-generation Santa Fe also boasted a refreshed unibody crossover platform.
The long version received a slightly differentiated design, including a unique hexagonal grille design, a new look for the B-pillar, optional 19-inch alloy wheels and flush dual exhaust tips.
Hyundai also reinforced its commitment to providing its customers with class-leading safety features. These included a premium braking package, which contained four-wheel disc brakes, an Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS) including Brake Assist providing maximum braking force when a panic stop is detected, and Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) to automatically adjust the braking force to front and rear axles based on vehicle loading conditions.
Building on the success of its previous generations, in 2018 Hyundai introduced the fourth-generation Santa Fe. The elegant SUV model features a bold outward appearance with a wide, athletic stance. Inside, it is the roomiest Santa Fe yet, with 38 mm more leg room in the second row.
Equipped with Hyundai’s latest SmartSense technology, the fourth-generation Santa Fe is among the safest in its class, and it received the maximum five-star safety rating from Euro NCAP.
Key features included Hyundai’s in-house developed and industry-first Rear Occupant Alert, which uses an ultrasonic sensor to detect the movement of children or pets on the rear seat and alert the driver when leaving the car.
18 years after the introduction of the first-generation model, this powerful, elegant SUV has evolved to become Hyundai’s premium flagship model in Europe.
The continued improvements the Santa Fe has undergone over the past two decades demonstrate Hyundai’s commitment to developing quality products with the latest features for its customers. Further details on the enhanced fourth generation will be revealed in the near future.
By the end of 2020, Hyundai will launch an enhanced version of the current generation with new electrified powertrains and major design updates. Over the past 20 years, Hyundai has sold more than 5,260,000 units of the Santa Fe globally.