'07 Santa Fe offers safety, style, affordabilitySunday, December 10, 2006
By ANN M. JOB
Newhouse News Service
Hyundai did it again.
The newly revamped, 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe sport utility vehicle is so well-appointed with safety features and standard amenities and has such pleasant V6 power that it can make consumers wonder why they'd pay more for another crossover SUV.
How much more?
Well, given that the newly styled and larger Santa Fe starts at $22,795 for a base, two-wheel-drive model with automatic transmission and $23,595 for an all-wheel-drive version, any mainstream, family-size SUV over $25,000 ought to force some comparison shopping.
Granted, a Hyundai badge may not be as impressive as a Toyota. The Santa Fe isn't as expressive as a Dodge SUV, either.
The Santa Fe doesn't have a V8, like some Ford SUVs offer, and it doesn't have the kind of off-road capability of a Jeep.
But for American drivers who stay on-road or at most travel dirt roads and paths, the new Santa Fe has appealing style, a five-star, federal government safety rating and, perhaps most importantly, an attainable price.
Don't worry. The Santa Fe doesn't look cheap. Headlights remind me of Audi, and rear-end styling is reminiscent of that on a BMW X3.
For 2007, the mid-size Santa Fe also is slightly bigger than before and offers third-row seats for the first time for a maximum of seven passengers.
The base and buzzy four-cylinder engine is gone. For 2007, there's a new, top V6 with 242 horsepower and a base, 185-horsepower V6. Both have higher fuel economy ratings than the predecessor V6s.
The best mileage rating for a 2007 Santa Fe with automatic transmission and two-wheel drive is 21 miles a gallon in city driving and 26 mpg on the highway, up from 19/25 mpg for a comparable 2006 Santa Fe. This is for a two-wheel-drive model with base, 2.7-liter V6.
The best mileage rating for an all-wheel-drive, 2007 Santa Fe also is up - to 19/25 mpg. This is the same rating as a two-wheel-drive, 2007 Toyota Highlander with larger displacement V6, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
I wouldn't have been so complimentary about a Hyundai decades ago.
South Korea-based Hyundai started selling cars in the United States in the 1980s. But quality was poor, and the brand got a reputation for cheap, less-than-durable models.
Officials sought to invigorate the brand and correct things in the 1990s, culminating in a best-in-the-industry new-car warranty that the company hoped would encourage shoppers to try Hyundai again.
This warranty - with limited, bumper-to-bumper coverage for five years/60,000 miles and limited power train coverage for 10 years/100,000 miles - still comes with every new Hyundai, including the 2007 Santa Fe. So does a five-year/60,000-mile roadside assistance program.
Better yet, this year's Initial Quality Study measuring complaints from car owners after three months of ownership by automotive researcher J.D. Power and Associates showed Hyundai now is third best in the industry, behind Porsche and Lexus.
But Hyundai's older models still bring down the brand in longer-term ownership issues. In Power's Dependability Study this year, which measured com- plaints after three years of ownership, Hyundai still ranked below average.
Company officials respond that as older models are replaced by newer ones, the overall dependability results will go up, too.
Certainly, the fit and finish and operation of the test, 2007 Santa Fe GLS built at Hyundai's new Montgomery, Ala., factory was laudable.
This was a base model with carpeted cargo and floor mats - a bit pricey at $90 - as the only option, so the sticker total was $22,885.
The base V6 wasn't overbearing in its power, yet it responded quickly to get the Santa Fe merging into traffic and passing others.
I just wish the four-speed automatic was a five speed, which could boost fuel economy further.
The ride was quieter than I expected. Hyundai boasts that at highway speed, the Santa Fe is quieter than Toyota's Highlander.
Many road bumps were nicely kept away from passengers. This second-generation Santa Fe has a new platform and new MacPherson strut front suspension.
But there was an occasional "grunch" sound that came from the front left wheel area when I'd pull into my driveway, and on potholed roads I sometimes wished for a tad more sophisticated suspension.
Standard tires on Santa Fes with the base engine are 16 inches in diameter. Buyers of the larger V6 get more noticeable 18-inchers.
Steering was mainstream in its feel, neither twitchy nor loose.
The Santa Fe sits up decently above the pavement. So at 5 feet 4, I had to boost myself a bit to get onto the cloth driver seat, but it wasn't a big chore. And I liked that I could see several cars ahead of me in traffic as I sat behind the wheel.
I also appreciated that even in the base Santa Fe has "active" front head restraints that help reduce whiplash injuries in a rear-end crash.
Other standard safety features are curtain airbags, side-mounted, front-seat airbags, traction control, stability control and anti-lock brakes.
But Hyundai doesn't offer, even as an option, a backup assist system to help drivers see what's behind them, and visibility is limited back there.
All Santa Fes, however, can be fitted with the optional third row for approximately $1,300.
Note that third-row leg room is more than what's in the third row of the Acura MDX, so kids and adults can sit back there.
Maximum cargo space is a competitive 78.2 cubic feet.