Both Renault and Hyundai have not-so-fond memories of selling premium SUVs in India. Hyundai originally started with the Tucson, which was an impressive little soft-roader but never really wooed buyers. Even the previous-generation Santa Fe didn’t find many buyers. Renault’s Koleos has been on sale in India for more than two years and it has had around the same measure of success. But, demand for premium SUVs is steadily growing and the brand new Santa Fe and the updated Koleos are proof of that.
The latest Santa Fe looks nothing like its predecessor and that’s a good thing. Out go the mundane lines of the older car and in comes a fresh, bold new look. The combination of muscular SUV lines, immense road presence, a torquey diesel and Hyundai’s efficient aftersales service and dealer network, makes the Santa Fe a very tempting buy. But, priced at a hefty Rs 29 lakh for this top-of-the-line diesel automatic, it is a full Rs 3 lakh more expensive than the Renault Koleos.
The Renault Koleos has always been a strong contender in this segment and, with the recent facelift, it has become more desirable. It doesn’t have the Santa Fe’s modern flair as far as looks are concerned and it hasn’t been as successful. But it’s got its fundamentals right, like its good driving dynamics and spacious cabin. The updated engine now makes more power too. The fact that it’s cheaper than the Hyundai only adds to its overall appeal.
But which SUV is the best? Should you pay more for more or pay less for less? That’s the big SUV-sized question.
What are they like to drive?
With powerful four-cylinder engines under the hood, these SUVs have more than adequate power to offer. On paper, it’s the Santa Fe that’s way more powerful than the Koleos, and this gives it a big advantage. Powered by a 2.2-litre four-cylinder motor that makes a healthy 194bhp, the Santa Fe’s engine is supremely smooth and sounds so sweet – you could easily mistake it for a petrol-powered car. There’s only a hint of diesel motor rattle, very little vibration, and even when you rev it, it never sounds harsh.
With loads of pulling power – the diesel motor makes light work of the Santa Fe’s heavy, near two-tonne kerb weight. Normal driving conditions need only a gentle dab on the accelerator pedal, and the Santa Fe surges forward effortlessly. The engine is flexible too and in normal D mode, the gearbox shifts up gears much earlier, so progress is relaxed, but adequately rapid. Thanks to its linear power delivery, the big Hyundai feels easy to drive in traffic as well. The gearshifts, though smooth, are a bit slow and remind you that refinement and comfort have been given more priority than ultimate performance. It helps that you can shift gears manually when you need that sudden acceleration for quick overtaking. Performance is strong, with 100kph coming up in a rapid 9.53sec, which is as fast as many sedans.
The Koleos, on the other hand, is powered by a smaller 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, producing 170bhp of power and mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox. What is clear when you drive both of them is that the Renault lacks the punch of the Hyundai. The engine feels a tad weak before that characteristic strong surge of a turbo-diesel comes in. Because of some throttle lag, the Koleos takes time to gain momentum from low speeds. Still, the automatic gearbox does a good job of minimising it and, once on the move, performance is quite strong. The Renault engine feels best when at medium speeds, because when you rev it past 3800rpm, there’s a distinct vibration that creeps into the cabin and the motor sounds quite harsh. The gearbox is also too relaxed for spirited driving but shifting to manual mode enhances the experience dramatically.
Ride & handling
The Hyundai’s soft suspension deals well with speed-breakers and potholes, a boon on Indian roads. But, as you pick up the pace, the inconsistency in the way the Santa Fe’s suspension works becomes obvious. Over patchy roads, the Santa Fe’s rear tends to bob up and down a bit, especially when fully-loaded. There is some body roll too. The adjustable steering, which is nice in the city, has an unevenness in the way it responds, which can be disconcerting. It must be said that the Santa Fe handles and rides much better than the old car, however. The Hyundai doesn’t have the ultimate stability or body control of the Koleos and there’s always an unsettled edge to it when you’re going fast.
The Koleos feels a lot more nimble and agile on its feet in comparison to the Santa Fe. The electric steering is a delight to use and its compact dimensions and great visibility makes it an ideal city runabout. Though the steering is precise and consistent, we would have preferred more weight and feel at higher speeds. Around bends, the Koleos exhibits more sedan-like traits and body roll is kept to a minimum. Renault has also managed to make the Koleos’ ride supple. Most bumps are seamlessly absorbed at low speeds and ride is comfortable and pliant as you go faster as well. The Koleos, however, lacks the solid build of the Hyundai. As a result, the Santa Fe feels more grown up.
What are they like inside?
The Santa Fe’s interiors reflect the exterior’s impressive design. The door pads are well sculpted and so is the multi-layered dash. The steering wheel looks and feels great, while the instruments are clear and easy to read. Even fit and finish is really good, and this means the cabin will live up to the hefty price Hyundai is asking. Thanks to the large dimensions, there’s lots of space on the inside. There’s plenty of legroom for the first two rows and the large seats offer good support. The wide rear seat and the near-flat floor also means three people sit in great comfort. The front seats are supportive and wide, making even long journeys comfortable. The 12-way powered driver’s seat makes finding the perfect driving position easy too.
Unlike the Renault, the Hyundai also gets a third-row bench, which adds to its practicality. But access to the third row is not at all convenient, the middle seat only slides forward and cannot be flipped forward to ensure easy entry, so you have to clamber over it. Once settled, however, it is at par with most seven-seat SUVs, which means it is only good for children or very flexible, small and tolerant adults. There is some evidence of cost cutting – although the driver’s seat is powered, the front passenger has to make do with manual adjustment, there’s no sunroof and the touchscreen on the centre console is tiny.
While the Renault Koleos is spacious enough in its own right, it doesn’t feel as roomy as the Santa Fe. However, ingress and egress is a breeze, there’s head- and leg-room aplenty for all passengers and the cabin. Though not as wide as the Hyundai, the rear has enough space to seat three adults in comfort. Also, the rear seat may look a bit too flat but is really comfortable, with great back and thigh support. Likewise, the front seats, which get lumbar-support adjustment, are also comfy enough for long distances.
It’s the Koleos’ very plasticky cabin that disappoints. Some bits, like the well-finished door handles and curvy instrument binnacle, do look nice, but elsewhere, the large expanse of hard plastics seems straight out of a budget hatchback.
The dashboard itself is quite functional, but there are small niggles like the air-con controls that are a bit low for comfortable access; then there’s the music system controls that are quite small and feel quite rudimentary. Plus, the unusual positioning of the audio controls on the steering column (they are out of sight) takes some time getting used to.
With no third row of seats to eat into, the Renault Koleos has plenty of space for cargo. The boot is cleverly shaped and can gobble up a lot more luggage than its 450-litre capacity suggests. Folding down the 60:40 split rear seat increases the carrying capacity to 1,064 litres.
Buying & owning
The Santa Fe is available in three variants, with prices starting from Rs 25.08 lakh for the base 2WD manual variant and going up to Rs 27.89 lakh for the 4WD automatic. A point worth mentioning is that the 4X4 version only comes with an automatic gearbox. The Hyundai comes with a 36-month/unlimited warranty.
The Koleos is available in three variants, and the top 4X4 automatic retails for Rs 24.97 lakh. Renault is offering a 48-months/80,000km warranty on this SUV. Renault’s aftersales and service is not a patch on the wide service network Hyundai offers. But the Koleos promises to be more efficient according to the ARAI claimed figures (all prices, ex-showroom, Delhi).
Equipment & safety
Like all Hyundais, the Santa Fe 4WD AT comes loaded with a bevy of features. It gets a 12-way adjustable driver’s seat and a touchscreen six-speaker audio system with MP3, aux-in and Bluetooth compatibility. It also gets heated wing mirrors, rain sensing wipers, HID headlamps, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear knob. On the safety front, you get downhill brake control, brake assist, rollover sensor, rear view camera, parking sensors and a traction control system.
The Renault Koleos comes with a fabulous five-speaker Bose audio system with radio, aux-in, MP3 and Bluetooth compatibility that even has an amplifier, subwoofer and two tweeters. It gets rear parking sensors and hill-descent Control. Only the Koleos gets a six-way electronically adjustable driver’s seat and a four-way electronically adjustable passenger seat.
Both these SUVs come equipped with leather seats, cruise control, push-button start and steering-mounted audio controls. They also get driver and passenger airbags, curtain airbags, electronic stability control along with ABS, EBD, front-side airbags and Hill-start assist.