Monday, May 21, 2007

Hyundai Santa Fe Crossover SUV Hits High Benchmarks

Hyundai Santa Fe Crossover SUV Hits High Benchmarks

By : Steve Schaefer :: Auto Editor : 5/15/07

Hyundai has established an enviable reputation for providing motorists with value for their money. While vehicle quality wasn’t stellar when the cars first appeared in America in the 1980s, today they match up pretty closely with top contenders in their respective market segments. The Santa Fe, Hyundai's midsize crossover SUV, is a good example of this growth and development.

Completely redone for 2007, it blends carlike styling with the tall utility of a gas-guzzling SUV, but with better mileage and more comfort. And, which vehicles did Hyundai use as benchmarks? They studied the entry-luxury Lexus RX, Acura MDX and Volvo XC90. Those are upscale players in the crossover segment, not economy contenders.

The new Santa Fe is larger than the previous model, stretching seven inches longer, an inch wider and nearly two inches taller. It feels spacious inside. You can even order third-row seating as an option.

What you get with the new Santa Fe is a moderately priced car that feels like more than it is. If anyone had an issue with the plastics in early Hyundais, the Santa Fe is a good example of how far the brand has come in 20 years. The black, tan and silver interior of my Silver Blue test vehicle was as elegant and well-fitted as any Honda or Toyota I've experienced, with a confidence of line and a solid, well-crafted feel. I saw some of those luxury SUV cues in there, too.

Despite being the entry level GLS model, my tester was filled with the things buyers want in a car — all standard. That includes daily conveniences and pleasures such as power windows, locks and mirrors (heated), air conditioning, cruise control, keyless entry, and 16-inch alloy wheels.

The Santa Fe also packs in real safety benefits like four-wheel disc brakes with antilock and Electronic Stability Control with Traction Control. Other safety standard features include a full complement of six airbags, a tire pressure monitor system and active head restraints.

That's just for starters. If you want more, Hyundai will gladly sell or lease you an SE model with a larger, more powerful engine, five-speed automatic transmission, 18-inch alloy wheels, and a few other goodies. Or step up to the top-of-the-line Limited, which adds leather-covered seats, heated up front and with power adjustments for the driver. The Limited also boasts dual-zone automatic climate control and a shiny chrome grille.

You can add the seven-passenger Touring package to any Santa Fe. Hyundai claims that its third row is one of the more commodious. You can also add an all-wheel-drive system, which, in a crossover, may prove to be unnecessary if offroading isn't in your plans.

Choose from two engines in the Santa Fe, both V6s and both improved over their predecessors. The standard 2.7-liter V6 has higher horsepower and torque than before — 185 and 183 respectively — and is more fuel efficient too, with EPA ratings of 21 City, 26 Highway versus 19/25 for the 2006. The 3.3-liter V6, standard in the SE and Limited models, boosts horsepower to 242, with 236 lb.-ft. of torque, keeping it competitive with the leading upscale crossovers. Mileage is 19 City, 24 Highway, an improvement over the previous 3.5-liter V6's 17/23 rating.

The EPA Green Vehicle Guide gives the standard engine with automatic transmission a 7 Air Pollution score and a 6 for the Greenhouse Gases score. That puts it in the top 20 percent of tested vehicles. The 3.3-liter V6 is almost as good, with a 7/5 rating. All Santa Fes are rated as Ultra Low Emission Vehicles (ULEV).

I found the 2.7-liter V6 perfectly capable for cruising the freeways and running around town. Hyundais are quiet these days, thanks to things such as laminated steel and triple-seal doors. It makes it easy to enjoy the standard AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system.

Prices for the new Santa Fe begin at just $21,145 for the GLS with manual five-speed transmission. You can add the automatic gearbox to the GLS for $1,200. The SE starts at $23,845 and the Limited starts at $26,145. Add all-wheel drive to any of them for $2,000. These prices do not include shipping charges.

The Hyundai story is a happy one, with a growing range of high-quality vehicles at reasonable prices, with a great warranty too. The new Santa Fe, assembled in Montgomery, Alabama, is another step in the company's upward direction.

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