Getting into a car for the first time, the first place you'll reach for a shifter is the center console. That's how almost all cars have been built for decades now, with dash and column shifters becoming a rarity. But the 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe moves its shifter back to the steering column, and it's for a reason that could foreshadow other cars making the move.
Why Hyundai chose this about-face in design was explained both by its vice president of design, SangYup Lee, and by the head of engineering at Hyundai-Kia Technical Center, Chadd Price. There are really multiple reasons and multiple benefits for the shift. It makes the driving interface more efficient, but also optimizes how interior space can be used.
"As far as driving-related and powertrain-related [controls go], we want to locate everything around the steering wheel," Lee told us. "So, you don't need to get distracted looking left and right. Therefore, the shifting by wire, we put on the [steering] column. Rotate forward and backward, very easy to use."
"Obviously, having shifting by wire on the column, we've freed up lots of space over here on the console area," he continued.
Again, while less distraction is good enough reasoning on its own, it's not the only logic behind the decision. Relocating the shifter lets you rethink how the center console is used, freeing up space for extra features or just more storage. In the Santa Fe's case, that can include USB ports, a wireless charging pad, and of course, a bigger console box.
"On this vehicle, we said we wanna trade off to going to the column because we do get that extra storage space," Price said. "Is there a little bit of a learning curve? Of course there's going to be some learning curve with a new type of shifter. But what we found was customers, once they tried it, once they did it a couple times, they didn't really have any issues going forward."
With that trade-off, of more concentrated driving controls yet increased console space, it's easy to see this design decision carrying over to future Genesis, Hyundai, and Kia vehicles. Don't know how that'll work with something like the GV60's crystal ball, unless they start making the entire steering column out of crystal. Hey, that's an idea...
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