Small Car, Big Ambitions

Small Car, Big Ambitions

Stylish: The all-new Santro. photos by Shameer Asif Me

The Indian car market is in one of the best times now with a lot of choices in each segment to choose from. We see a trend of more and more new segments cropping up every passing year and in another year, there are half a dozen choices in those segments already.

Hyundai has been one of the most interesting car makers the country has ever seen. For the past few years, we have been seeing Hyundai conquering all the segments – right from entry-level, small city hatches to premium SUVs, with their strategy of providing segment-best quality levels, first in segment features, competitive powertrain options, etc. Hyundai is one such company that has come out with some of the most feature-rich cars in each segment.

If there is one car for Hyundai’s survival in India, it is undoubtedly the Santro, the car that sowed the seed for the South Korean carmaker in India. Its the most practical tall boy design, with a good powertrain, led to it becoming a runaway success among Indian buyers. Fast forward 20 years, and now Hyundai is back in the game with the all-new Santro, in an all-new avatar or India’s Favourite Family Car, as they call it.

How does it look from outside?

The all-new Santro is based on the new K1 platform and doesn’t look like the old Santro in any way, apart from the tallboy stance which it manages to retain. It is shorter and wider than the old model. The styling is fresh, and Hyundai has tried to add some unique touches with the wide grille design, side profile with two signature ‘z’ shaped character lines, a kink in the rear window line, black panels in the rear bumper, etc. However, the design is not as clean or appealing and looks quirky from most angles, especially the front with that wide grille and the i10-inspired headlamps. There are no alloy wheels; only 13 or 14-inch steel rims, depending on the variant. The 14-inchers get stylish wheel caps!

However, the buyers of the segment seem to overlook all these aspects, and it is very important for them to have a well-built, practical cabin with decent comfort and features.

How does it look and feel from inside?

The dashboard layout somehow manages to be India’s favourite black-beige combination, while those propeller-shaped air vents with champagne gold accents add to the appeal. The steering unit looks familiar, as it comes from the Grand i10 with controls for the infotainment system, instrument cluster, telephony, and voice controls. It is good to hold and use with those contours in the right places. Hyundai has tried something unique with the positioning of the power window switches, which are now found below the gear lever, and it takes some time getting used to. A backlight for the switches is a miss. The variant with green exterior gets matching green inserts on the dashboard.

Owing to its dimensions and shape, the Santro is a spacious car with adequate comfort for five passengers. The seats are decently sized and comfortable. The boot space though not large is shaped well to be utilised properly. Storage spaces are plenty, with bottle holders on all four doors, space in the centre console and a cubby hole just above the glove box to hold a phone. The glovebox isn’t all that large and doesn’t get a cooling function.

The air-conditioner on the new Santro works really well and the segment-first rear A/C vents cool the cabin instantly. This makes it evident that Hyundai is clearly targeting people who drive with families often. However, the fact that the new Santro doesn’t get climate control on any of the variants is disappointing. Two more such misses are driver seat height-adjust and steering adjust! What Hyundai has done instead is set the seating position high so that the driver has good visibility, also aided by a large glass area all around.

However, for people who are really tall, it will be difficult to attain a good driving position.

Infotainment system

The all-new Santro is equipped with a 17.64cm touchscreen infotainment system with a plethora of options like FM, Bluetooth Connectivity, Voice Commands, Android Auto and Apple Carplay. This is the same unit found on other Hyundai cars with a very responsive touchscreen. Though navigation is missing, it gets reverse camera display, making it easier to park.
The sound quality from the audio system is decent enough, that you don’t really need an upgrade.

Although the Santro is all-new, it carries the same heart of the old Santro – the 1.1-litre Epsilon petrol engine from the Santro Xing. Though the engine is old, have no doubts, the 4-cylinder unit has one of the best NVH levels in the segment. It produces 69PS of power and 99Nm of torque (59PS & 84Nm in CNG) which is not segment leading. The Hyundai Santro’s ARAI certified fuel economy stands at 20.3-kmpl which is not segment-leading either. But what the Santro tries is to be comfortable for family runs, as the way power is transferred, it feels adequate for the size of the car.

The 5-speed manual gearbox and the light clutch provide a comfortable driving experience within the city or on the highway. The gear ratios complement the character of the engine well and the Santro has strong in-gear-acceleration. The AMT gearbox, a first for Hyundai, is also decent. Yes, there is a bit of jerk felt like all AMTs, but the convenience it offers can’t be ignored.

The Santro drives and handles like a typical Hyundai with plush ride quality at low speeds, light, and easy-to-use steering, good maneuverability in the city, etc. There is some amount of body roll due to its tall boy stance, the steering is devoid of any sort of feedback at high speeds. Braking performance is one of the best in the segment. This car is made for a purpose: ‘to be the favourite family car’, and it solves the purpose gracefully.

How safe is it?

Hyundai has offered ABS, EBD and Driver Airbags standard on all variants of the Santro and that makes it a safe buy. The top-end variant also gets passenger airbags. There is also an impact-sensing auto door lock/unlock. Priced from Rs 3.9 lakh for the base variant, the Santro gets five variants, two fuel, and two transmission options, leaving you with a total of nine options to choose from. With standard ABS and EBD, driver airbags, the convenience of an AMT gearbox and many firsts in the segment, like the 17.64-cm touchscreen infotainment system with voice recognition, rear A/C vents, rear parking camera, the Santro seems to be a smart choice for a first-time car buyer.

But think about this, the top of the line Santro which costs over 6.5 lakhs on-road doesn’t get features like alloy wheels, climate control A/C, steering wheel adjust, driver seat height adjust, and adjustable headrests. Instead, Hyundai has smartly focused on the infotainment system & rear A/C vent, etc, which tend to be more appealing to their target audience. The AMT is priced at a premium of Rs 61,000 and the CNG is priced at a premium of Rs 66,000. Hyundai certainly knows how to capitalise on the opportunity and their badge value!

So, is Hyundai smart or the Santro? We’ll leave it to you…

What do the numbers say?

Even before the launch, the Santro had already received over 15,000 bookings, which climbed to 30,000 in just a couple of days after the launch. We now have the first-month sales figures of the Santro, which stands at 8,535 units which follows the Maruti Suzuki Celerio’s 9,260 units and sits comfortably above the king of the segment – the Tata Tiago (7,549 units). We’ll have to wait and watch the Santro swallow the small car market ever-so-effortlessly.