It’s mid-March. John Krafcik, president and CEO of Hyundai Motor America, is pleased about the performance of the company in the first two months of 2013. “We continue to have production capacity constraints. We’re selling them as fast as we can make ‘em,” he says, noting that when it comes to time-to-turn, the amount of time vehicles sit on dealers’ lots, Hyundai is the third-fastest in the industry for non-premium brands, at 39 days. It is bested by Subaru at 35 and Kia at 36. The overall industry average, he says, is 59 days. Hyundai’s market share started the year at 4.1% and has steadily grown to 5%. It might have been bigger, Krafcik posits. “Our line-up doesn’t have a lot of AWD vehicles.” Which, of course, are popular in months like January and February.
So to address that, in part, Hyundai has launched the Santa Fe.
“Wait a minute,” you might be thinking. “Didn’t they already launch the 2013 Santa Fe?”
“Wait a minute,” you might be thinking. “Didn’t they already have a midsize, three-row crossover utility?”
Krafcik candidly admits, “It’s hard to get a new nameplate launched.” Expensive, too. But the Santa Fe, now in its third generation in the market, resonates. How well? Measured by the time-to-turn, it is at 19 days. People know what a Santa Fe is. (They could sell more, Krafcik says, but again it is a capacity constraint; they’re building the Santa Fe Sports at the Kia Motor Manufacturing America plant in West Point, Georgia, on the line with the Kia Sorento.)
It is not all sweetness and light vis-à-vis Hyundai and the Santa Fe. Krafcik acknowledges that when they analyzed families—as in having one or more children under one’s roof—and examined a cohort of competitive vehicles (Mazda CX-9, Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, and the Ford Explorer), Santa Fe was at the bottom of the list for those family buyers. And it isn’t behind by a few points. CX-9 is at 53.1%. Santa Fe at 16.1%.
So now there is the bigger one. One with a longer wheelbase.
“It is rare to have a two wheelbase strategy,” Krafcik says. This is something that is done in luxury vehicles, where there is an “L” variant of the sedan. Chrysler pulled it off with its minivans (e.g., Caravan and Grand Caravan). But not in crossover utilities.
From the B-pillar forward, the Santa Fe Sport and the Santa Fe are the same. But in the other direction, the sheet metal is all different (yes, the roof, which admittedly goes forward of the B-pillar, is different, too).
The Santa Fe has an all-new archi-tecture. And this architecture provides a vehicle that is not only rigid—the torsional rigidity is increased by 16% compared with its predecessor vehicle—but it is lighter, too. Although the Veracruz is put behind them, Mike O’Brien, vp of Corporate and Product Planning, does use the model for a point of comparison with the 2013 Santa Fe. The 2012 Veracruz has a curb weight of 4,266 lb. The 2013 Santa Fe has a curb weight of 3,933 lb. A 333 lb. difference.
Yet the mass difference vis-à-vis some of its competitors makes them appear as though they’re in need of some serious coaching by Jillian Michaels: the Honda Pilot and the Mazda CX-9 are a hefty 4,306 and 4,317 lb., respectively. The Ford Explorer is at a (comparatively) bulky 4,534 lb.
Largely, this is a result of the steel that is used in the construction of the crossover. They’ve boosted the amount of high- and ultra-high strength steel in the vehicle. As is becoming more the norm, they’re using ultra-high strength steel—hot stamped—to produce the B-pillar for purposes of safety.
What’s not at all the norm is that they’re also using ultra-high strength steel for the door outers. In addition to which, 70% of the outer frame and floor structure consists of anti-corrosion steel. It is probably worth men-tioning that Hyundai Steel is part of Hyundai Group; the automotive side of the house undoubtedly has an office in the steel development center.
Mike O’Brien, Hyundai Motor America vp of Corporate & Product Planning, observes, “Weight directly translates into efficiency and better performance.”
Which brings us to the powertrain.
The Santa Fe—both the seven-passenger (GLS) and six-passenger (Limited) versions, both front- and all-wheel drive (the Dynamax system, sourced from Magna Powertrain; magna.com
) setups—is powered by a 290 hp, 3.3-liter, gasoline direct-injected V6 that’s mated to a six-speed automatic with SHIFTRONIC manual (in case someone wants to feel a bit racy when going to get groceries, perhaps). This all-aluminum Lambda II engine is essentially the same as is used in the Hyundai Azera sedan (autofieldguide.com/articles/how-hyundai-continues-to-advance-the-2012-azera
)—although O’Brien points out that the Santa Fe is the first-ever Hyundai that can tow 5,000 lb., so the engine has, as he puts it, “been ruggedized” compared with that used in the Azera. For example, there is a chromium nitride deposition coating used on various sliding surfaces within the engine; the coating facilitates movement and can withstand the heat within the engine.
He points out that the high-pressure direct-injection (>2,200 psi) permits a high compression ratio (11.5). In opera-tion, the comparatively cool fuel is injected into the cylinder just before the point of combustion, thereby facilitating more complete burning, which translates into better fuel efficiency: for the FWD version the numbers are 18/25/21 mpg city/highway/combined; for the AWD version the numbers are 18/24/20 mpg.
But what’s that about performance?
It goes back to some of the other vehicles in the class and how they perform when you take their horsepower and weight into relationship. In the case of the Santa Fe, the power-to-weight figure is 13.6. The number, says O’Brien, for the V6 Highlander is 15.0. The Explorer comes
in at 15.6, the CX-9 at 15.8, the Pathfinder at 16.0, and the Pilot at 17.2. A lower figure is a better figure.
That’s what they mean about performance.
In 2004, a book titled The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less by Barry Schwartz was published. The thesis of the book is, essentially, that when faced with too many choices, anxiety sets in. There is another way of looking at that phenomenon, which is in the context of manufacturing, not shopping. Too much choice introduces complexity; too much complexity results in a greater potential for things to go wrong (certainly that may cause some anxiety), or for quality to suffer.
So one of the things that Hyundai has done for the Santa Fe—all versions of the crossover—is simplify things by reducing the number of versions that can be built. The GLS and Limited both have the same powertrain setup. Both are offered with FWD and AWD. The GLS has seven-passenger seating; the Limited has room for six. The GLS is offered with two option packages, which means there are three total variants of the vehicle (i.e., base and the two upgrades). The Limited has one option package. So this means there are a total of six ways a GLS can be built (three each for FWD and AWD) and four for the Limited.
There are two Santa Fe Sport models, the Sport 2.4 and the Sport 2.0T (the nomenclature based on their powertrains, with both being four-cylinder engines; the 2.4 is normally aspirated; the 2.0 is turbocharged). Again, both are available with FWD and AWD. There are a total of eight variants for the Sport 2.4 and six variants for the Sport 2.0T.
In total, there are 24 buildable combinations for the Santa Fe. Which presumably means less anxiety all around.