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2018 Hyundai Santro Review

The Hyundai Santro is back and we have driven it in its manual and AMT variants. The Smart Auto option, wide & spacious cabin, and a tonne of features at the top-end make the all-new Santro the segment benchmark. Read our review to find out why.

The new Hyundai Santro impresses with its practicality and is a big step up from its predecessor expand View Photos
The new Hyundai Santro impresses with its practicality and is a big step up from its predecessor

The Hyundai Santro - 'sirf naam hi kaafi hain'. That really and truly applies to this car! The darling of many, the once popular and bestselling Santro is back in an all-new avatar. The second generation car brings many firsts to the segment, but unlike the previous Santro - which was the only B segment offering from the Korean carmaker - the new Santro has come at a time when there is plenty of sub-segmentation. So while the last Santro evolved to the i10, which in turn progressed to the Grand i10, the new Santro needs to now occupy a position that's one slot lower. So while the Grand i10 and Maruti Suzuki Swift took forward the erstwhile Santro vs. Zen battle, the new Santro needs to deal with the Celerio and Wagon R. Of course it also has the Tata Tiago to deal with, and to a certain extent - the Renault Kwid too. The Santro has been launched at competitive (though not aggressive) prices, and offers petrol/CNG as well as manual/AMT options. So plenty going for it then? You bet.

Also Read: New Hyundai Santro Launched In India


The Hyundai Santro slots in below the Grand i10 and takes on the likes of the Celerio, Wagon R and Tiago

I will jump straight into the extensive drive I have now had with the new Hyundai Santro. Yes my first drive impressions have already given you a slight sense of what it offers. But I want to now give you a more comprehensive review, having driven it for around 150 km. And yes I have tested both the manual and the AMT - though not the CNG! I have with me the Imperial Beige Sportz AMT model. And yes I was very sad not to get the Marina Blue as I had been previously promised.

ALSO SEE: 2018 Hyundai Santro Gallery


The 1.1-litre Epsilon engine on the new Hyundai Santro is responsive, if not electric, but does the job well

This golden beige is not my favourite for sure! The car sports Hyundai's old faithful 1.1 litre Epsilon engine, which makes 68 bhp and 99 Nm of peak torque. It's responsive though not electric, and does the job well enough also owing to the fact that the car is not heavy. This despite the fact that Hyundai says it uses a fair amount of high strength steel in its construction to make the car ready for the crash norms that kick in next year.


The Hyundai Santro impresses with its ride quality but the handling leaves a lot to be desired, especially at high speeds

The first thing that grabs you about the new Santro when you begin driving is how good the car's ride quality is. That perception only strengthens as you drive further. Handling is largely satisfactory - though things do get a bit disconcerting at higher speeds. The steering is good, but not stiff enough, and so it too lacks precision at higher speeds.

That's an old Hyundai problem that's reared its ugly head - even though recent models like the Verna have done so well on this front. While there are these obvious 'small-car' qualities that come through, there are certain things I would have liked to have been better executed. I'd have liked a little more power on the engine for starters! So let me tell you my big takeaway is then that ride quality. Now, it doesn't feel as small as it is, it doesn't feel as light as it is, and that's pretty much what's been the downer for this segment for any car - save the Tata Tiago.

Also Read: New Hyundai Santro vs Rivals: Price Comparison


The 2018 Hyundai Santro gets an in-house developed AMT unit

Or so we can hope anyway! But before I get into anything else let's first talk about the AMT. Hyundai's Smart Auto has been developed at the company's Korea headquarters, and is made in India - meaning you can surely expect it to show up on other models especially the next gen Xcent and Grand i10, and maybe even the upcoming subcompact SUV codenamed QXI. Why did Hyundai decide to make one in-house, unlike everyone else who went shopping to a vendor? Well at face value it may seem like a cost related thing. But think about it - you could always squeeze a vendor for a better cost - largely because the development costs have likely already been taken care of. So if it is not a cost issue, it could be about trying to get a better system than the competition, and then holding ownership over it to give you a greater advantage over said rivals. Now that's bit of a risk, since you may not actually end up with a better system.


Hyundai has spent $100 million over 3 years in the development of the 2018 Santro

The good news for Hyundai  - it has. Let me put it in context. When Maruti first came out with an AMT, I remember saying it's rudimentary but serves a purpose. Then Tata had its AMT, and I felt it's better - though only just. Things got even better when Renault jumped into the fray on the Kwid and Duster. And finally Mahindra got its AMT, which I felt was as smooth as it's going to get. I have to say that the Hyundai AMT is smoother. This is the closest an AMT can feel to an automatic. I don't mean to gush at all. The upshifts are quick, and yes - rather smooth. It's not quite as smooth as a regular automatic, but yes you feel very mild jerks as the gears change. Things aren't as refined on the way down - so when the AMT downshifts the jolts are there. But the throttle response is quite good despite that. And you're going to love it in city traffic - which is what it is primarily designed for anyway. The AMT's creep function also does work well.


The Hyundai Santro displays some over steer that shows up in high-speed cornering

While I am pleased that ABS is standard across variants, the car's Achilles heel is soft and squishy braking at higher speeds. In city driving you will be happy, but yes the car goes all over the place when you try and slam the brakes at triple digit speeds. Even the steering has to be grappled with to hold the line. There is also some over steer that shows up in high-speed cornering.

Also Read: 2018 Hyundai Santro: Variants Explained

They're still calling it a tallboy, even though the big focus is on the car's width. It is taller than some rivals. But not as tall as the last Santro. Wide though it certainly is. But I have to admit the first time I saw the Santro in the flesh without any camouflage I was a little disappointed. Given all the design boundaries that have been pushed by Hyundai off late, I'd expected the AH2 would be absolutely gorgeous - make-you-weak-in-the-knees kind of gorgeous. Didn't happen. But it's modern looking, and has some stylish elements.


The Hyundai Santro gets the cascade family grille up front

The cascade family grille up front, the raised hood line - with even the headlights and fog lights climbing much higher - which is new for Hyundai. You do see hints of the previous i10 and dare I say - the Celerio! And then you've got these character lines. Now I was told by someone at Hyundai India that the wedge shape on the front fender is a representation of elephant ears! But 'boomerang' is what they're going with officially! It's a bit strange and seems forced - not really adding anything to the design in my view.


The boomerang shaped design element on the front fender of the 2018 Hyundai Santro seems a bit forced

You also see another defining line coming into the rear door and fender - that's a bit better. The beltline has a dip at the rear window - the idea is to give the rear passengers a better sense of space. The other big disappointment is the taillight. It could have been so much nicer. Its just too simple, and while well executed, is just very old style. It doesn't really work for me. But the rear bumper with its two-tone and even the way the tailgate has been done - are both quite distinct and nice.


The cabin on the new Santro boasts good quality materials, better than a lot of cars in this segment

Hyundai has done a good job with the interior, because you get a sense of better quality and better layout than most budget entry cars, and the two-tone beige and black dash works. The outer ac vents in the dash have a propeller design. The central console and centrally mounted vents are meant to give you a sense of an elephant head -sort of Ganpati-like and so they're calling this the Indian touch! There' also a slight depression on the top of the dash at the centre so you can plant your favourite deity's image or small figurine there. The steering wheel, vent-surrounds, as well as the gearstick surround have been finished in a champagne gold colour. This is only on the Sportz and Asta though, and will be on all paint options. All except the Diana Green, where the top-end has all-black well-finished cabin with the same green accents and matching green seatbelts. I love it - and I hope Hyundai considers doing the same with the Marina Blue and Fiery Red too!

The instrument cluster looks smart, while the little screen comes with a host of some readouts

The instrument cluster is smart, it's got a little screen there, with some read-outs as well. It will tell you distance to empty, what gear you're in, and of course houses the odometer and trip settings. All four power window controls are inexplicably at the base of the gearstick. If Hyundai had said it was doing it purely for cost reasons, I would have respected that. But they say it's been done for 'family' convenience! To me that's a little crazy, and maybe a bit unsafe too. Of course rear passengers get their individual window controls Magna variant and up. It's great the Sportz and Asta get the touchscreen with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Mirror Link and voice commands. This means even though the AMT does not come in the Asta variant you still get that screen and its functions. But you don't get the reverse camera and parking sensors, or the passenger side airbag of course.


The top variants of the Hyundai Santro get the touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto

I want to say that I would have liked to see Hyundai take the bold step and offer dual airbags as standard - by besting the government mandated requirement and also blowing the competition sky high. Well to be fair the Datsun GO now has those as standard, so I guess kudos to Nissan for doing it. On the Santro you do get the driver side airbag and ABS (anti lock brakes) as standard. Even the auto door locking function as you drive away is restricted to the Asta only. At the rear the sense of space is what will grab you. Three adults will still find it a touch tight, but the lower window line, obvious width in the cabin and the rear AC vents are a huge plus for this small car segment. The seat is good with decent under-thigh support too. But you only get seatbelt pretensioners on the Asta. Boot space is a good 235 litres.


The Hyundai Santro comes with AC vents at the rear which is a segment first feature offering

Time now to switch to the manual Asta dressed in Diana Green. Yes definitely more my kind of colour. And there's that little surprise inside too with the black interior with green accents and belts. The manual gives you a better sense of control instantly. The gearbox is well mated to this engine and so the ratios are well worked out too. It is a 5 speed of course - the same unit that's coupled with the AMT in the Smart Auto.


The Hyundai Santro returns a fuel efficiency figure of 20.3 kmpl

The response is a lot more definitive and more instant, since you are not waiting for the AMT to kick in. Instead you're always controlling it yourself. So it becomes a lot sportier, and is more fun to drive. But that's nothing new, it's the case with every AMT vs. every manual counterpart! The Santro could have used the 1.2 or even the 0.8 Kappa. But Hyundai wanted to keep costs in check, offer good mileage, and also very clearly wanted to offer a 4-cylinder unit in the sea of 3-pots in this segment. So the 1.1 Epsilon gives you 68 bhp and 99 Nm of torque. The numbers read well, but the engine tends to get wheezy at high revs. On the CNG version the horsepower drops by 10.

Also Read: 2018 Hyundai Santro CNG: All You Need To Know


The new Hyundai Santro is zippy and fun much like its predecessor but the triple digit speeds do not go beyond 130 kmph

And as I stated at the start, this car's performance is not electric, but you will find it zippy and fun enough for its purpose. It gets to triple digit speeds easily enough but won't go past 130 kmph. That is more than enough frankly. Given that Hyundai has tuned it for efficiency, I had expected a slightly better mileage figure than 20.3 kmpl. But unlike my first impression of the AMT being wafty compared to the manual, today's drive of an actual production spec car (the first cars I drove were pre-production protos), I am satisfied they're not that different. That's just as well, since Hyundai says its pre-bookings that opened ahead of the launch already sees a 33 per cent demand for the AMT variants. I suspect as more people drive the car themselves, that percentage will likely rise.


The new Hyundai Santro does live up to its name and while some things could've been better, the hatchback is likely to become a runaway success

So the Santro is back. The legend with it. The car does live up to the name, even though there were some obvious things I feel could make it even better. Its likely to become a runaway success - for several reasons. The first - the Santro name will invite previous owners to take another look, either for themselves or someone in the family. The second is the fact that it is a Hyundai, which provides assurance and a sense of quality. And lastly the fact that rival products at present are not nearly as sophisticated or mature - meaning the car will likely pull a lot of first time buyers too. Now the question is will Hyundai up its target to only make 8-10,000 of these a month? Because initial bookings won't be the only reason the demand will likely stay much higher. I will end by saying this - 'Your move Maruti'.



Images: Rakesh Singh

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