We drive Hyundai’s latest car, the all-new Santro on the company's test track. Here are our first impressions.
WHAT IS IT?
The Hyundai Santro, much like its brand ambassador Shah Rukh Khan, is a car that needs no introduction. The car that started it all for Hyundai in India, the original Santro wasn’t very attractive looking, but it had a peppy responsive engine, was light and easy to drive and came with many segment-firsts. This eventually made it a household name in India.
Now Hyundai has brought its tall boy back; well, sort of. The new Santro certainly looks sharper than the Eon. Gone are the loose, flowing, 'fluidic' lines and in comes a sharp, almost sculpted look. Hyundai’s ‘cascading' grille takes centre stage on the front bumper. Stretched out and placed in a black surround, it gets a pair of neat fog lamps as well as a sporty 'V' shape. What's particularly interesting, however, is that the headlights and badge (in particular) have moved to the top of the bonnet, and this has resulted in a sporty, aggressive look. In addition, the headlamps are swept back, the fenders and doors are full of cuts and creases, and the slight kink in the window line helps give the new Santro a bit of an edgy look too.
While the new Santro carries forward the 'tall boy' DNA, it doesn’t seem particularly lofty, and this is thanks to the increase in length and width. The wheelbase now is 2,400mm, the car is 3,610mm long, and the wide track also means Hyundai has made sure there's plenty of space for passengers.
Under the hood is Hyundai’s updated 1.1-litre Epsilon petrol engine. It makes 69hp at 5,500rpm and 99Nm of torque at 4,500rpm, against the Eon's 1.0-litre unit that makes 69hp and 94Nm.
The new Santro is also the first Hyundai to feature an AMT gearbox. The engine also gets a 5-speed manual, and claimed fuel economy for both is an ARAI- certified 20.3kpl.
WHAT'S IT LIKE ON THE INSIDE?
As with most Hyundais, the cabin of the new Santro is well finished and generously appointed. It gets a dual-tone beige-on-black themed dash, it feels spacious and roomy and even quality levels, for the most part, are a step up on any of the competition. The dashboard’s key attraction, however, is the 7.0-inch touchscreen. What also impresses is that functionality is slick, the resolution is impressive and it even gets apps like Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Mirror Link and even Voice Recognition. And what also works well is the rubberised strip of shortcut keys at the base of the screen.
There’s just one USB port up front, and a single cupholder between the seats, but you do get a large glovebox and a small storage ledge above it. In addition, the door pockets up front are pretty large, and there are door pockets in the rear as well.
The instrument cluster also nicely finished. It houses a speedo in the middle and is flanked by an rpm meter and a multi-info display. The speedometer features a chequered-print, grey plaque design.
First-in-segment features include a reverse camera and rear air-con vents. Also nicely built is the gear lever, and the ‘bronzed’ highlights visible in places like the steering wheel, center console, and door pads work well together too. The manual air-con controls, however, feel plasticky to touch, and the plastic quality drops considerably in places too.
Seat comfort overall is good for a car in this class. The front seats feel comfortable with decent side bolstering and good thigh support, and the seating position for the driver is quite elevated, which is a good thing. Broader passengers, however, will find they need more shoulder support and you can't adjust the steering wheel or seat height. There is, however, quite a bit of seat travel for tall drivers. Seat comfort at the rear is impressive. And while the backrest feels slightly upright here, thigh support and legroom are quite generous.
WHAT'S IT LIKE TO DRIVE?
Start the engine up and the new Santro idles smoothly. Although 69hp seems sufficient on paper, the initial surge when you tap the accelerator isn't very strong. The engine, however, pulls in a linear manner from 2,000rpm and picks up pace smoothly after that; so keep the Santro in the mid-range and it will move along smartly. If you need a bit more power though, you need to go down a gear. And while it does feel sufficiently powerful for city driving, it is likely to feel out of breath on open roads. Also, if you extend the engine, the last 1,500rpm or so sounds very thrashy and loud. Not nice. What does help make it quite agreeable to drive is that the clutch is light and the gearbox feels easy to use.
There's also the option of a five-speed AMT gearbox. Unlike other AMTs you don’t feel that long pause and sudden jerk when you shift gears, and it even goes down a gear quite smoothly. It does take its time to shift gear at times, but all things considered, there is less head-nod than on other AMTs we’ve tested. There is a manual mode as well, and here too, Hyundai seems to have done a good job. First impressions clearly point to this being one of the slickest units yet.
Another pleasant surprise is that the steering has a nice weight to it, is pretty accurate and also centres well. Also, around corners, the car felt stable and sure-footed enough. As for the ride, we can’t go into much detail as we drove the Santro on a track, and so we’ll reserve judgment for when we get to drive it out on the road.
Hyundai has certainly thrown a lot into the new Santro. The cabin is large and well appointed, it comes with a host of first-in-class features, and the quality levels are impressive. While the engine may not be particularly responsive or peppy to drive, the car's light controls and nicely setup steering makes it well suited to city driving. And what’s particularly good is that the smooth AMT automatic could be the best yet. Expected to be priced in close proximity to the Maruti Celerio and the WagonR, the new Santro could carry on from where the older Santro left off.
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