Hyundai Santa Fe upgraded, but still a great value
The newest Hyundai Santa Fe is a mid-size crossover SUV that is equal to any vehicle in its class in refinement, comfort, space, and performance. This shouldn't be surprising, as it was designed with a close look at the most popular entry-luxury crossovers, not merely its price-level competition.
If the name is familiar, the vehicle itself was completely new for the 2007 model year. While it's still a unibody-construction front- or all-wheel drive crossover with fully-independent suspension, the second-generation Santa Fe is built on a unique platform designed for specific crossover SUV use, not originally as a sedan. Interior space was a design priority, and more than merely adequate room for an optional third-row seat was part of the design spec. It's larger in every dimension than the original, enough to now be considered mid-size rather than compact.
ower is from one of two V6 engines, of 2.7 and 3.3 liters displacement. The 2.7 has been upgraded over its similarly-sized predecessor, and offers more power - now 185 horsepower - and improved fuel economy. The 3.3 is lighter, cleaner, and more efficient than the old 3.5, and produces 242 horsepower, 42 more than the 3.5. Both are ULEV-rated.
Styling is also new, derived from the HCD9 Talus concept vehicle. The Santa Fe was designed at Hyundai's Irvine, CA facility especially for the U.S. market, and it's built at Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama, in Montgomery, Alabama.
Trim levels are GLS, SE, and Limited. The GLS is in no way a decontented "entry-level" model, as it has the 2.7-liter V6, four-wheel antilock disc brakes with electronic stability control, alloy wheels, power windows, mirrors, and door locks with remote entry, a full complement of airbags, a six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system, a roof rack, and a tire pressure monitoring system among its standard features. The SE adds the 3.3-liter engine and five-speed automatic, 18-inch alloy wheels, and upgraded interior and exterior trim and more available options, while the premium Limited model adds leather, dual-zone climate control, fancier exterior trim, and upgraded option packages. All may be had in five- or seven-passenger configuration.
Unusually for a press-fleet vehicle, where fully-optioned premium models are the norm, the 2007 Santa Fe I recently drove was a front-drive GLS automatic with only carpeted floor mats on its option list. But it was far from bare-bones basic. Manageably-sized on the outside, it had plenty of space inside, with all of the multiple-configuration versatility and access expected in a crossover. It was quiet and comfortable on the road, with good power for its intended uses and all of the safety and conveniences anyone really needs as standard equipment. At an MSRP of just over $22,000, it could be bought strictly on price, but the Santa Fe has far more than a low price in its favor. It compares favorably with any mid-size, middle-class crossover made today.
2008 update: tis that time of year again, when the new models are just around the corner. Because the Santa Fe was all-new for 2007, don't expect major changes for '08.
Appearance: With the Santa Fe, Hyundai's Southern California stylists have created a contemporary design that is distinctive and stylish. The grille and headlight shapes found in other Hyundai cars are further refined, for a cohesive company look. The gently-sculpted body shape is well-defined by means of angular edges to the fenders and hood and a free-flowing character line on each side. Moderately-flared wheel arches blend into lower side bodywork that hints at SUV cladding, but is really just sheetmetal. A roof rack is standard issue on all models. The fender line rises toward the rear, for a sporty stance, and this is further developed in the side window shape. The rear styling is crossover conservative, highlighted by taillights that mimic the shape of the headlights.
Comfort: The second-generation Santa Fe seems to have been designed from the inside out. My GLS test example was roomy, quiet, and comfortable for both front and second-row passengers. It didn't have the third row, but the Santa Fe is large enough inside that the third row should be useful for children or small adults. Seat comfort is good, and in the GLS interior materials are honest synthetics - but soft-touch materials, multiple textures, close panel tolerances, and attention to detail make the Santa Fe's interior a pleasant place. The instrument panel is styled in the contemporary upscale manner, with a dark anti-glare top separated from the lighter interior color by silvery plastic and faux wood trim. The center stack, with controls for the audio and climate control systems, is placed a little closer to the front passengers for ease of use. Interior storage is good, with a locking glovebox and useful center console and door storage. The rear seat holds two comfortably, with room for a third person in the center for short periods of time. The rear seat folds 60/40 for cargo, and liftover to the load floor is not too high.
Safety: All Santa Fe models have six standard airbags - dual front, front side, and full-length side curtains that extend far enough back for third-row protection. Brakes are four-wheel disc, with four-channel antilock and electronic brake-force distribution. Both traction control and electronic stability control are standard in all Santa Fe models, as is a tire-pressure monitoring system.
Ride and handling: Increased rigidity of the new Santa Fe unibody means a quieter interior and improved ride and handling characteristics. The suspension - fully-independent by means of MacPherson struts in front and a multilink system in the rear - was tuned for American roads and tastes, meaning that it's fairly soft but well-damped and deals with poor road surfaces well. Steering effort is not too light, and as expected, the Santa Fe feels like a car, not a truck. It's not really meant for serious off-road use, but 8.1 inches of clearance and reasonable approach and departure angles mean painless driving over road debris, steep driveways, and other hazards of city life.
Performance: Even with the 2.7-liter V6, the Santa Fe has more than merely adequate power for its intended use. In front-wheel drive trim, the GLS weighs around 3800 pounds, and the engine's 185 horsepower (at 6000 rpm) and 183 lb-ft of torque (at 4000 rpm) are up to the task, although manual use of the "Shiftronic" four-speed automatic transmission will get better performance, especially at high highway speeds. In that respect, the Santa Fe GLS is little different from its competition, and in normal driving "D" works just fine, thank you. Variable cam phasing and a variable intake system help broaden the torque band and lower emissions, as well as improve both power and fuel economy. And for those who can shift for themselves, a five-speed manual transmission is standard in the GLS, for less cost than the automatic.
Published 10/06/07, Copyright © 2007 Maryland Gazette,
Glen Burnie, Md.