Driven - 2019 Hyundai Santro

Variant Driven: Sportz Auto

'Santro' is a name that needs no introduction in India. With 1.32 million out of the total 1.86 million units made finding customers across the country, this was the car that established Hyundai as a popular mainstream car-maker here. So, when Hyundai decided to bring the car back after a four year absence, you know the stakes are high. Does the new Santro meet the expectations? Will it satisfy the thousands of loyal owners waiting to upgrade to a newer and better model? Can it do what the Eon couldn't and take the fight to Maruti-Suzuki? In short, can the new Santro do what it's predecessor did all over again? 

We found out by spending a better part of the day on the top-end automatic variant.   

The Santro is still a quirky-looking car

The original Santro was actually derived from a car the South Koreans know as the Atos. Feedback from customer clinics in India where the car was showcased was apparently so bad Hyundai decided to give the car a nip and tuck along with a new name. Despite getting rid of the van-like rear end, the made-for-India Santro still wasn't a looker. It's bug-eyed headlights, toothy grille, tall-boy proportions and odd-ball derriere made it one quirky little car. 

The all-new Santro continues the tradition and is a fresh and modern take on the quirkiness it's predecessor made popular. 

Up front, high-set wraparound headlights that aren't disimilar to the old i10 give the new Santro a familiar look. A w-i-d-e grille - one that runs the full width of the car - is located right below and makes the car look broader than it actually is. Fog lamps and the registration plate are housed within the confines of the grille. Walk over to the sides and a pair of boomerang-shaped creases scream for attention. In what's a classic case of function being prioritized over form, the window line drops mid-way to make the interiors feel airy and less claustrophobic. Those who prefer clean profiles are likely to be put off with this busy design. At the rear, a pair of small trapezoidal taillights sit on either side of a sculpted hatch. The bumper gets a wide black insert that successfully breaks the monotony and adds a bit of flair.

Clearly, this is a love-it or hate-it design. While the design grew on me by the time I returned the car to it's owner, our photographer felt Hyundai could've done better. After all, the Grand i10 and i20 that share showroom space with the Santro look far more stylish and modern.

Interiors are a treat for the price

When you buy a Hyundai car, you sort of expect quality interiors with fit and finish that rival cars a segment or two higher. With the new Santro, the Korean car-maker has managed to deliver that, yet again. In fact, quality levels in the cabin are so impressive that the Celerio we used as a support car for the shoot felt downright cheap next to the Hyundai. Yes, there's cost cutting and we're getting to that a little later but whatever is in there is nicely put-together and likely to withstand abuse.

The moment you step in, you're bound to be impressed by the well-designed and neatly laid-out dashboard. Hyundai's designers seem to have taken inspiration from a host of places (and cars, obviously) to design this cabin. The two propeller-shaped air-conditioner vents are straight out of an A-Class while the brushed metal inserts on the steering wheel and around the gear lever and the central vents are painted 'Rose Gold' to rival the latest smartphones out there in the market. All the controls fall nicely on hand with the only major ergonomic flaw being the centrally-positioned power window switches. Be it the control stalks, the buttons on the steering wheel, the rotary knobs on the center console or even the re-circulation slider - every one of them is of decent quality and doesn't feel cheap. As always, Hyundai has raised the bar in this segment.

Thanks to the 'Tall Boy' design, the interiors are spacious and practical - two virtues that made the old Santro a smash hit in India. The front seats are soft and supportive and it's quite easy to get to a comfortable position. On the other hand, fixed steering wheel seriously limits the flexibility for the driver. The rear bench is easy to step in and out of and - by virtue of being wider than many of it's rivals - can accommodate three decently-sized adults easily. The seat isn't placed low like some other small cars, so there is decent under-thigh support too. While the floor is almost flat, the first-in-segment rear air-conditioner vents does intrude into the leg space of the fifth passenger. What spoils the show though are the absence of adjustable head restraints. Boot space is decent enough and should have no problems gobbling up a family's average weekend luggage.  

Instrument Cluster: 

As the saying goes, little things here and there make a big difference overall. Santro's instrument cluster fits that statement to the tee. It's a simple unit, yes, but it looks cool and, dare we say, racy. Two overlapping semicircles house a speedometer and a tachometer with an MID screen to the right displaying vital statistics. The irregular outline adds to the visual flair while classy white-on-black fonts are just perfect in terms of visibility.

Read-outs include two trip meters, instantaneous fuel efficiency, average fuel efficiency, distance to empty, engine run time and average speed. 

Infotainment System:

The Sportz and Asta trim levels get a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with four speakers as standard. Equipped with all sorts of connectivity options like BlueTooth, USB and Aux and capable of supporting Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and Mirror Link, this modern entertainment system is all that you'll ever need. Moreover, the system is intuitive, the display quality is good and there is no lag to the touch.

Apart from the usual entertainment and telephonic options, the touchscreen also serves as a display for the rear parking camera (exclusive to the Asta variant) and lets users customize a host of in-car settings too. While the audio quality is definitely superior to what's being offered by most of the Santro's rivals, we have a feeling the Harman-developed system in the Tiago sounds better. Whether we accept it or not, it's a fact that touchscreens are a source of distraction whilst driving. That's where Hyundai's thoughtful approach of providing physical knobs and buttons for frequently-used functions needs appreciation.    

It's built to a cost.. and that's evident

After all, the Santro is an entry-level hatchback that competes in a highly-competitive and cost-conscious segment where a few thousands make a big difference and affect purchasing decisions. Hyundai had to keep costs in check to have a stab at success in this highly-competitive segment. But, have they gone a bit too far in doing that?

When was the last time you saw a new car sporting outdated flap-type door handles? The Santro, unfortunately, has them. Except Asta, none of the variants get a rear defogger, washer or wiper. Alloy wheels have been given a miss, even on the Asta.

The spree continues inside too. The Santro doesn't get adjustable head restraints; they're not on the front seats and they're not on the rear. That's hard to digest, given it's predecessor had them way back in 1998. That apart, the power window switches placed on the floor console between the front seats, the absence of chrome 'H' logo on the steering wheel, the wheel itself that's not adjustable for reach or rake and the awful slider button for turning the re-circulation mode on indicates the bean counters have had the upper hand. 

Yes, the overall design and ambience of the cabin does make up a bit but that can only take you so far!

The Santro is 'Made in India, for India'

The Santro - or the Atos that it's based on - isn't a globall successful model for Hyundai. With three-fourths of it's sales coming from India alone, it isn't surprising the new Santro was conceived and developed keeping Indian buyer's tastes and preferences in mind. 

For instance, the habit of placing a devotional idol on the dashboard is quite prevalent in India. Hyundai has given a nice and flat dedicated spot for that. Sounds silly, you think? You're wrong, we know of someone who is struggling to find a spot for an idol in his new Innova Crysta's sloping dashboard. The center console, Hyundai claims, is designed to look like an elephant's trunk. Look at it again and you'll realize the resemblance. The first-in-segment rear air-conditioner vents are another example. In a hot and humid country like ours, that makes a huge difference. 

As weird as it looks from outside, that downward kink in the window line helps massively when you're seated in the rear seat. The additional quantity of light that it lets in, together with the beige-and-black seats, makes the interiors feel more airy and spacious than it actually is. 

An automatic or full safety? Choose one... 

Hyundai's strange strategy of not pairing it's top-end variants with auto transmissions continue with the new Santro. Despite being the top-end automatic variant, our car didn't have an airbag for the front passenger. Only the Asta variant - which doesn't come with an AMT - gets it. None of the other variants, be it manual or automatic, gets one. At a time when there is increased awareness on safety, this is a glaring miss. With Maruti-Suzuki moving the game ahead and Tata piling on the pressure, we expect some feature corrections - and possibly a price correction too - for the Santro very soon.​

You get 4 in a segment full of 3s

​In a segment brimming with cars that fell victim to the 3-cylinder madness​, Hyundai did a 'whiff-of-fresh-air’ moment when it brought in an additional cylinder under the hood of the Santro. What should have been a huge competitive advantage was cut short by Maruti-Suzuki when it launched the all-new Wagon-R last month with both 3- and 4-cylinder engine options. That was out of the blue and Hyundai, we think, wouldn't have expected that. 

​Coming back to the Santro, powering this little hatch is a 1.1-liter 4-cylinder engine from Hyundai's 'Epsilon' series. If that sounds familiar, that's because the same engine powered the old Santro as well as the i10. With a cast-iron cylinder block that has 3-valves per cylinder, this is an old-school motor - albeit with the addition of variable valve timing for improved power and fuel efficiency. Delivering 68 horsepower at 4,500 rpm and 99 Nm of torque at 5,500 rpm, the Santro settles well in the middle of the pack when it comes to power and torque figures.

Turn the key on and the benefits of an additional cylinder is immediately felt. Santro’s refinement at idle as well as in motion is impressive. Get going and the car responds with a gradual build-up of pace. Within the confines of the city, this little Hyundai will have no problems in keeping up with traffic. Those who have driven the old Santro would know that car was the king of the urban jungle, thanks to it's superb low-end torque and peppy nature. The new Santro, sadly, isn't the same. The low-end response is just adequate but the car redeems itself by coming to life once the needle crosses 2,000 rpm. An impressive mid-range and linear power delivery makes the Santro enjoyable within the confines of the city. And while doing so, the fuel efficiency is pretty good too. If you're an i10 automatic owner, you will be genuinely surprised by how efficient this wannabe automatic Hyundai is!

Give it the beans out on a highway and the motor comes short. This isn't an engine that likes revving closer to the red line. It sounds strained and it doesn't reward you for all that noise it generates. 

Yippee, finally there is an AMT that isn't jerky!

As mentioned before, the car we drove was paired to an Automated Manual Transmission that Hyundai calls 'Smart Auto'. And smart it is, given this unit has none of the jerky nature that AMTs in general and the ones from Maruti-Suzuki and Tata in particular are known for. No, this isn't as smooth as a conventional automatic gearbox or a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). But, for what is Hyundai's first-ever AMT and that too an in-house developed unit, this is quite a triumph. You do feel the shifts in lower gears and things get progressively smoother as you hit higher gears. With the upshifts happening early, it's clear Hyundai has tuned the unit for better fuel efficiency. But you can bypass that by pressing the throttle pedal hard. The car holds its gear until you hit 6,000 rpm before going up a ratio. 

For those looking for some action to their left hand, there is a manual mode as well. Slot the stick in 'D' and move it right to engage. Push the stick up to upshift and pull it down to come down a gear ratio. It's definitely more engaging to drive this way but then it beats the purpose of buying a car equipped with an AMT. Overall, for those looking for a stress-free and jerk-free drive in urban confines, we would recommend the Santro Smart Auto without hesitation. 

Ride and handling are par for the course

Despite being a strong package, old Santro's 'Achilles Heel' was it's bumpy low-speed ride quality. We are glad to tell you Hyundai has rectified that in the new Santro. With a McPherson strut up front and a coupled torsion beam setup at the rear, the suspension hardware is standard fare. Thanks to comfort-oriented tuning, the ride quality is absorbent and bumps and potholes are taken care of well at slow and medium speeds. At high speeds, you do feel the road irregularities more. Thankfully, the improvement in ride doesn't come at the expense of handling. The new Santro handles much better than it's predecessor too. Body roll is well controlled despite the car's height and it doesn't scare you during sudden lane changes. But then, let's not forget this isn't a point-and-shoot kind of enthusiast's car.

Specifications at a glance


> Length x Width x Height – 3,610 x 1,645 x 1,560 mm
> Wheelbase – 2,400 mm
> Ground Clearance – 165 mm
> Fuel Tank Capacity – 35 l


> Configuration – I4
> Displacement – 1,086 cc
> Max. Power – 68 BHP @ 5,500 RPM
> Max. Torque – 99 Nm @ 4,500 RPM
> Transmission – Smart Auto AMT
> Fuel Efficiency – 20.3 km/l

Other Hardware

> Front Suspension – McPherson Strut
> Rear Suspension – Coupled Torsion Beam Axle
> Front Brake – Disc
> Rear Brake – Drum
> Tyre Size – 165/70 R14

To sum up

After having spent the better part of a day with the car, it's hard not to be impressed with the new Santro. Here is an entry-level hatch that doesn't feel cheap. Hyundai's little car not only gets us a tight build, high-quality interiors and a slew of segment-first features but also an extremely-refined engine paired to a smooth AMT (if we can call one that!). Sure, there are some glaring misses like the absence of a passenger airbag across the range and the quirky styling but this is one car you can't go wrong with. 

Problem is, Maruti-Suzuki sensed it before any of us could and the new Wagon-R is their answer. The Santro will have it's task cut out against it's arch-rival!

Text & Editing: Aravind Ramesh
Photography: Bharath Rengaraj

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