Bigger, better, bolder; Hyundai has re-imagined its most popular car and we liked what we saw
September 23, 1998, that\’s the day when the original \‘tall boy\’ design, the Santro, was born, kickstarting Hyundai\’s India innings. Although the little Korean hatchback finally ran out of steam after being in production for more than 15 years, Hyundai celebrates its 20 years of existence in India this year. And it has decided to mark the occasion by reviving the Santro nameplate. And filling those rather big shoes is the little car you see here.The Santro badge makes a comeback after a hiatus of four years. With modern underpinnings, an efficient mechanical package and a colourful feature list, Hyundai is hoping its new small car will keep its sales executives busy in a fashion the Eon couldn\’t. Perhaps that\’s one of the reasons why the new Santro looks the way it does. Don\’t get us wrong, there\’s nothing fundamentally wrong with it, the Santro\’s design is relatively neat, refreshing and is sure to offend none. It\’s just that when parked alongside its siblings on the showroom floor, it may not come across as striking as, say, a Grand i10. A car that is shares its basic underpinnings with. However, Hyundai is quick to respond that it has learnt its lessons from the Eon, which was a bit overstyled for its size and wasn\’t received as well as Hyundai had expected it to.
Consequently, the company feels \‘less over-the-top styling is the way to go as customers in this segment seek space, features, comfort and value for money\’, and the Santro is \‘sure to appeal a lot of family car buyers\’. Okay, we may not agree with Hyundai over its styling, but when it comes to the aforementioned attributes, that is something that we seem to agree with the Korean carmaker because as far as the packaging in concerned, the Santro ticks all the right boxes.The cabin, for instance, feels well appointed with its dual-tone theme and a neatly designed dashboard. There\’s oodles of space both at the front and back, the seats are well designed and they offer good comfort and support. Plus, everything seems to be within arm\’s reach. Oh, except for the oddly placed power window switches that can be found below the gear lever. Also, for its expected price and the segment it plays in, quality of materials seems to have a decent mix of the good and the could-have-been-better stuff.
As for features, the Santro has a couple of segment firsts to boast about; the 7-inch touch screen, rear aircon vents, and parking sensor/reverse camera come to mind. The infotainment system needs a special mention here; it\’s one of the most intuitive screens we\’ve used lately (obviously in this segment), and it also offers Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Voice Recognition. Then, there\’s ABS and a driver airbag that come as standard fitment across the line-up. Speaking of which, there are five variants; DLite (base), Era, Magna, Sportz and Asta (top-end), of which the Magna and Sportz can also be had with a factory-fitted CNG kit. Plus, for the first time in Hyundai\’s history, there would be an AMT option available, again in the Magna and Sportz variants. But remember, you cannot team-up an AMT with a CNG kit.For the new Santro, Hyundai has heavily upgraded its 1.1-litre Epsilon petrol motor that now produces 68bhp and 94Nm; that\’s a jump of 6bhp and an almost similar bump in torque to the now-defunct Santro Xing. All variants can either be teamed with a 5-speed manual or an AMT. These figures may not excite you on paper, but should be sufficient out in the real world. We drove a couple of very close-to-production-spec cars at Hyundai\’s manufacturing plant in Chennai, and although driving on a test track is no indication of its performance in Indian conditions, it gives a basic understanding of how things work. And our initial impressions are pretty good.
The four-cyl engine feels smooth and is devoid of any unnecessary vibrations that are typical of 3-cyl motors. We may not go as far as calling it a peppy little number, but its linear performance should suffice the needs of family car owners. Driving at 40kph in fifth is easy peasy, engine drivability seems to suit the urban grind better, and it\’s only when you push it towards the higher revs that it sounds a bit whiney and under stress. The short throws for the gear lever, light clutch action and a neutral steering feel should make for a fine city car. We didn\’t get an opportunity to drive it over the rough stuff, so we shall reserve our judgement over its ride quality and high-speed mannerisms. However, what impressed us are the brakes \– they are amongst the best we\’ve experienced in this segment, or even a segment higher. And that\’s a huge achievement for Hyundai. Other than that, it offers everything you would expect from an entry-level compact family hatchback, maybe even more when compared to its immediate rival, the Maruti Celerio. The new Santro is decent to look at, it\’s got an interesting cabin, offers more features than its competition and if not superior, is at par with the rivals mechanically, too. While going to press, Hyundai was yet to reveal the prices, but we expect the introductory pricing to start at Rs 3.9 lakh, ex-showroom, and go up to Rs 5.3 lakh for the top-end Asta, which would make it very competitive, considering it will undercut the Celerio by a decent margin. From the looks of it, Hyundai has managed to rekindle its small car magic with the new Santro. That\’s game on. Read our first drive review here.