He: “What’re you driving this week?”
Me: “2014 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited”
He: “I hate crossovers. People should just buy wagons. In Europe…blahblahblah…diesel…estate….shooting brake…nomnomnom…where’s the bar?”
Koo-Koo-Ka-Choo, my friend The Walrus doesn’t get it.
I avoided conflict by changing the subject, but I should have told him this: “The 2014 Santa Fe Limited is not for you. Neither is that brown E-Class wagon you will never afford. If you like the European way of life so much, move there. They have funny underwear, so enjoy your man-panties. Over here, the crossover is sticking around for a while.”
The math is simple. People want crossovers. Car companies make money by building what people want. That means lots of crossover choices. The end.
Besides, if wagons all of a sudden became the next big thing, people would hate them. That’s how it used to be. If you hate crossovers or offer the “if you want a truck, get a truck, if you want a wagon, get a wagon” argument, they’re not for you. Crossovers like the 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe are for THEM.
THEY are the folks with kids and dogs and fully-scheduled weekends. Rising stars who not only need to spend money, but have money to spend. Of course the Santa Fe isn’t likely at the top of any driving enthusiast’s list, but it ticks all the boxes for the Alternadult.
That word mashup is Hyundai’s own creation to describe the Persona used during the development of the Santa Fe. If that’s led you to ask “what’s a Persona?”, here we go.
Personas are a way to humanize your target audience, and they’re widely used by makers of consumer goods. For example, Ford created 28 year old Antonella, a Roman club rat to help focus development of the Verve, a concept car that previewed the current generation Fiesta. That’s probably why it’s got neat little cubbies for your stash of Molly.
From toothpaste and orange juice (reverse that order for less gag reflex) to tablets and even tableware, bringing the demographic information to life gives everyone a bag of bones to develop products for and determine how to get them to buy. Personas are why bloviating car reviewers are peeing into the wind when it comes to crossovers. Hyundai did its homework, and it appears to be working. Just count the Santa Fes the next time you’re at the grocery store on a weekend.
Hyundai wants to boost its sales by 10 percent for 2014, and the Santa Fe is key to that. I’m noticing more of these because they’re selling well. Santa Fe sales are up significantly; 36 percent in October 2013, and nearly 20,000 more Santa Fes have found buyers this year.
So who is this Alternadult and why develop a vehicle for them? After all, the selfish-ass Baby Boomers are still exerting big influence over the car business. Here’s what Hyundai has to say about it:
Hyundai has historically done well with younger singles and older families, but an opportunity existed to create a vehicle that would capture younger, higher income families. We knew that Santa Fe could be that relevant and modern product for this emerging persona.
Translation: There was a lucrative hole in the Hyundai customer demographic. Poor youngsters and value-minded older families are steady, even loyal business, but that vast, meaty middle is where the money is drifted deep enough to shovel. These people have needs and the means to address them in a way that tickles their wants at the same time.
The target for Santa Fe was someone we ultimately referred to as the “Alternadult.” They are Gen Xers who were “latch key kids” and gained independence early. That spirit of independence has brought them success in life; they are doing well for themselves but also have a strong family focus. For them, a successful life is measured by more than just money, it is also about being there for their kids to pass along their values and their passions. Exploring and learning together with their kids is key. It’s also important that their kids ultimately be “street smart” as well as “book smart.”
This persona needed a product that could deliver on all fronts and enable their active, family-centric lifestyle: distinctive styling, technology, quality, craftsmanship, a sense of premium-ness without stuffiness, spaciousness, and safety. That is what inspired Hyundai to set out to create a product that would deliver an uncompromised combination of class-leading design and technology, quality, durability, and functionality. It challenges what a CUV can and should be, uniting functional utility and style and sophistication – both interior and exterior.
So, the Alternadults are occupying the space in the marketplace Boomers did 30 years ago. Remember the early 1980s? Minivans. Crossovers are the minivan of the post-Baby-Boom middle-ager. For a family buyer who needs to take three different sub-ten-year-olds to two different schools for 9 months of the year and then traipse to soccer, gymnastics, and dance all back-to-back on the weekend, the Hyundai Santa Fe Limited delivers.
Don’t start with how your beloved Panther-platform Fords and fundamentally-horrible W-body Impalas with bench seats would work a treat for that. Because no. Families want more than just enough seats. They want space for the stuff of everyday life, plus maybe a dog with extra-humid breath, too. You know, features that make it easy to go over hill and dale, and wrap it in some style, too, please.
Part of the draw of the Santa Fe is the way it’s drawn. The crisp lines look expensive, and because it looks great in a vaguely-European luxury kind of way, and it’s outfitted well, it’s easier to have higher regard for the Santa Fe Limited. It’s a get up that’s equally stylish tailgating, or in the parking garage at Nordstrom, or with “SENIORS 2013 YEAAAAHAHHHH” written all over the windows. That’s good design. It looks like a million bucks but it sure doesn’t cost it.
That doesn’t mean the Santa Fe Limited is exactly inexpensive. Mention that you’re driving a $41,000 Hyundai and people will roll their terrible eyes and gnash their terrible teeth. Of course, any Hyundai costing that much is loaded. The Santa Fe Limited starts at $35,540 with all-wheel drive. The same basic vehicle with fewer standard features and front-wheel drive is the $29,800 Santa Fe GLS. Regardless of trim, a 290 hp 3.3 liter V6 is your prime mover, the only transmission is a six-speed automatic, and all-wheel drive is a $1750 upgrade over front-wheel drive.
The Hyundai thing has long been the automotive version of a Golden Corral gut-busting dinner. Instead of steak, lobster, orca and mollusk for $9.95, the Santa Fe Limited I drove was a three-row crossover that will play nice and can stand up to the corrosive effects of children for $41,155. With features by the pound, the Santa Fe is very good at fending off competitors.
The Limited trim level’s standard features outfit you like a $40,000 vehicle for about $35,000. The Santa Fe Limited I drove also carried the Technology package, a $4,850 hunk of HIDs, LEDs, touchscreen navigation, ventilated seats, Infinity audio, panoramic roof, 115-volt outlet and parking assist that slides the price across the $40,000 threshold.
This used to be where the Hyundai story ended, “you get a lot of stuff for less money in a vehicle that’s also generally less good.” That is no longer the case. The Santa Fe is a strong competitor on price, and the technology and features you get are mature and well-developed. The touchscreen navigation is easy to use and the audio and climate systems have a mild learning curve compared to systems like MyFordTouch. The touchscreen doesn’t dim quite enough to satisfy me for night driving, but you can easily shut the display off to reduce cabin light pollution. The mind does wander to consider how long the leather-wrapped steering wheel is going to feel nice in your grip and just when the seats are going to start getting scruffy or the trim marred up, but the Santa Fe packs one of the nicer interiors in the class.
The 3.3 liter V6 has spirited enthusiasm, especially when you let it rev, and the six-speed auto is generally unobtrusive, The transmission thinks too much in situations you’d expect it to just bang through the gears, like merging onto a highway. There seemed to be some extra dithering going on with power delivery. THEY are probably not going to notice that, but I did, and I’m one of THEM. The Santa Fe isn’t going to win you any pinks, and it may feel winded if you drive the larger-engined competition back-to-back, but on its own, it’s at least solidly adequate if you don’t mind waiting.
Another historical Hyundai shortcoming has been chassis tuning. The Santa Fe does not feel like the ‘92 Buick LeSabre was the benchmark, nor does it crash over bumps like previous attempts at chassis discipline. The structure feels more solid than ever before and the ride and handling balance is good. There’s the occasional jarring impact, stuff that doesn’t happen in the crushingly-heavy GM Lambdas, Camry-based Toyota Highlander or Ford Explorer. The Santa Fe is lighter on its feet and more economical than the GM three-rows, miles ahead of the departing 2013 Highlander in terms of cabin materials and fit and finish, and more space-efficient than the Volvo XC90-based Explorer and its blatant built-to-a-cost first impression.
The closest competitor for the Santa Fe is probably the Nissan Pathfinder. Both have grown to fit the same niche of easy-living three-row. The Pathfinder returns better fuel economy thanks in part to a more hateful CVT centric driving experience. The Santa Fe is a winner in most other measures, from styling to price/features to driving dynamics. There’s something more like steering feel in the Santa Fe, partially due to the FlexSteer selectable assist, and it feels less like a relaxed-fit metal box than the Pathfinder.
You can love wagons all you want, you can hate crossovers even more, but in terms of being in the right place at the right time with the right product, Hyundai has a solid entry with the Santa Fe. In Limited trim, feature-conscious buyers have a place to go that’s not fraught with penalties for seeking value. It’s feature-packed in an environment where it’s hip to get more for your dollar. The Santa Fe even gets high marks for resale value. It’s nothing that’s going to send you over the moon when you drive it, but I didn’t hate life behind its wheel. It’s certaily set up as an ideal life-support vehicle for its Alternadult target, and at least now I have a markety-speak thing to call myself.