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
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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