When we drove the new Santa Fe last month, we found it to be as good as it always was. We found every aspect improved but then at the price at which it retails, one does start to think if it truly is value for money. One can buy an entry luxury SUV with a higher badge value for a similar amount but we still think the Hyundai does offer more. But how does it compare to rivals that offer similar features but at a slightly lower price. This is where the Honda CR-V and Ssangyong Rexton step in. Both these SUVs have done surprisingly well recently. So is the Santa Fe then worth the extra money?
There are no prizes for guessing which one's the best looker here. Hyundai has been nailing it with striking design and presence, the new Santa Fe is no exception. It looks two generations newer when compared to the previous model. The proportions are perfect and the face is imposing thanks to the huge chrome grille and mean sharp headlamps. Inside too it's the same story, one gets a feeling of being seated in a modern D-Segment car, the materials used as well as fit and finish is top notch. The CR-V is the next best here, some may find it attractive especially when viewed head-on but of the three, the Honda has the least presence and that's because it's more car like than SUV. In fact the new generation model is now a crossover that takes a more practical approach. Even inside, the space management and access to controls and cubby holes are all really well thought of.
The CR-V is the most involving to drive and offers more car like dynamics
Quality of materials used is good while access to various controls are within easy reach
Rear seat is soft and comfortable
The Rexton has been around for over a year now but the design is close to 8 years old. The Italdesign Giugiaro design has aged well, but standing next to the Honda and Hyundai it looks old. The Rexton is longer, taller and wider than the rest and it looks like a proper SUV. Step inside and the interior not just feels dated but the quality of materials used is poor and there isn't a sense of premiumness. All three vehicles offer a lot of space and can gobble up large cargo, but unlike the Santa Fe and Rexton that offer a third row seat, the CR-V remains a strict five-seater.
Body roll in the Rexton is on the higher side
The Rexton is spacious
Interior is spacious but material quality and finish is poor
While the CR-V is the lone petrol here, the two Koreans feature diesel power. The CR-V's 2.4-litre motor like in most Hondas is a rev happy unit and is the most refined of the lot. The engine puts out 190PS at 7000rpm and 226Nm of torque at 4400rpm. While there is sufficient power, compared to the Santa Fe and Rexton, peak torque is much lower since it is naturally aspirated while the Hyundai and Ssangyong are turbo-diesels. However in town, it is a delight to drive and even on the highway it cruises effortlessly at triple digit speeds. The five-speed automatic even features paddle shifters and the gear shifts are instant unlike the Rexton. Fuel efficiency however is disappointing; in town the best it could return was 8kmpl while on the highway it went up to 13.4kmpl.
The Rexton uses a Mercedes-Benz licensed 5-cylinder, 2.7-litre unit that is an older generation engine but still produces a good 184PS at 4000rpm and 402Nm of torque between 1600rpm and 3000rpm. There is noticeable turbo lag though and when the turbo spools up, the whoosh from the turbine wheel is as loud as in a truck. The motor shines at cruising speeds making it a good tourer, performance is quite impressive for a vehicle this size, the ton comes up quickly in 10.19s and the SUV maxes out at 171kmph. In town the Rexton returns 8.1kmpl and on the highway a not so high 10.7kmpl.
Santa Fe handles well while body roll is well controlled
Instrument cluster is unique and reminds one of WALL-E's eyes.
Rear seat space is capacious
The Santa Fe is the most powerful of the three, the new 2.2-litre diesel dishes out 197PS at 3800rpm and a phenomenal 431Nm of torque that is available from as low as 1800rpm. The motor is quiet and feels almost petrol like, power delivery is linear and speeds climb up quickly, the ton comes up in just 9.2s while top speed is a respectable 186kmph. The Santa Fe is also the most fuel efficient of the three, in the city the SUV returned 10.2kmpl and 14.9kmpl on the highway.
The CR-V is our choice of a driver's SUV because it combines performance and dynamics so well. The engine is powerful and quick while the handling is sharp thanks to a more direct and precise steering and a more car like damping character. It is firm but not hard. This gives it good composure and stability around corners where it also exhibits the least body roll. Power is sent to the front wheels and only when the situation demands it, four-wheel drive is turned on automatically. On the ride quality front, it could have been better and the suspension isn't the best at soaking bumps and potholes. However over long journeys the Honda is a comfortable vehicle to be in.
The Rexton is best driven in a straight line, take it around a corner and there is significant body roll. The steering has no feel and the SUV feels uninterested in rushing along, the light steering however makes it easy to manoeuvre the vehicle at parking speeds. The soft suspension set up however soaks in potholes and bumps really well and the high ground clearance is ideal while off-roading. Talking of off-roading, the Rexton features full time four-wheel drive. The Santa Fe on the other hand combines the best of all worlds. The suspension is setup perfectly to offer great ride as well as handling. The Hyundai just glides over broken roads and potholes and is the new benchmark for ride comfort in this segment. There is slight body roll especially when pushed around corners but for a car this size it is never a concern. Ground clearance of 185mm is good enough to go over a few boulders and wade through. The four-wheel drive system like in the CR-V comes on only when the situation demands it or, if needed, can be kept on at all times. The steering offers three modes, the Comfort mode makes the steering as light as the Rexton, so while there is no feel it is perfect to use in congested traffic and while parking. Normal mode adds a bit of weight and I found myself using this mode more often while driving in town as well as on the highway. The Sport mode adds even more weight and is the most precise.
All three SUVs are feature friendly especially if the top variants are opted. The Rexton is the most affordable and is priced at Rs 20.89 lakh, ex-Mumbai. At this price, the SUV offers the most value, however it is the least appealing to drive and doesn't come close in matching the CR-V and Santa Fe in terms of styling, dynamics and overall quality. If you are looking for an SUV that offers great practicality and an involving driving experience, the CR-V is for you but it is only offered with a petrol engine and is priced at Rs 25.75 lakh. Honda needs to get the diesel variant soon and we hear it is on its way to India sometime this year. The new Santa Fe has improved considerably in every department but as mentioned before comes at a price, the top variant is priced at Rs 29.26 lakh. The Hyundai could have been priced lower but for the extra rupees, it offers best in class performance, striking looks and can seat seven in comfort. The reason why Hyundai India have already received close to 600 bookings since its February launch.