Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Hyundai Santa Fe

When I were a lad, we used to live in a hole in the road. Oh wait, I slipped into autopilot there.

When I were a lad, if you wanted a reliable car that was a little bit stylish, you had to go for a German car. You could have style, in an Italian car, quirkiness in a French car, or reliable in a Japanese car. Or you could get a German car which was reliable, but extremely dull, made stylish only by the excessive price tag, the same way that Range Rovers are stylish.

Then you had the rest of the world offering some cars - you had British Rovers, which, well, put it like this - there's a reason that they went bankrupt. You had Russian Ladas which would get you from A to B in a little over 17 years with all the style of the 1950s. You had Polski Fiats, or Yugos or any other number of communist offerings, all of which had the basic premise that it didn't matter if you wanted a car that looked good, you got one which looked like it was designed by someone armed only with a set square and pen.

Oh, and there were Koreans. Now, you only had a Korean car if you were a blithering idiot. There was no conceivable reason to buy a Korean car when I was a child than as a statement of your peculiarity, like a large purple hat, with red flowers on the side.

But over the last few years, things have changed. The demise of the smaller Korean manufacturers such as Daewoo or Ssangyong have left an open playing field for Hyundai/Kia which is now one.

And in 1998, they decided to overcome early image problems by offering 10 year warranties in America, and concentrate on improving quality. And the results are starting to reap huge rewards.

The new body Santa Fe was really a turning point for Hyundai. Launched in 2006, it replaced a solid, reliable car which unfortunately looked like someone had driven into the side of it, and this was before you drove it home. The new model was based on the Kia Sorento of the time, which was a little primitive, and the designers at Hyundai managed to produce a desirable Korean car.

Since then, the designs have been getting better and the fixtures and fittings have kept pace with the design improvements. Just look at Hyundai's current line up to see what I mean. You've got the i10,i20,i30,ix35 and the Santa Fe all being reasonably good looking. OK, maybe good looking is not the right term. If you drive ANY of these, you won't get people pointing and laughing like you used to do. And tell any of your friends that you drive an i30, they probably won't take the piss too much. Just remember not to say it's a Hyundai i30. There are still badge snobs out there.

So the facelifted Santa Fe is a step up again from 2006's model. It's sleek, stylish, and the prices have been kept similar. 15 years ago, Hyundai was a laughing stock. Now, it's acceptable. But not only that. It's actually desirable.

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