Thursday, May 22, 2008

Hyundai's value-packed SUV is impressive

Santa Fe delivers more power, fresh exterior

Whenever I drive a Hyundai product, like my recent testing of the 2008 Santa Fe, I'm reminded of how impressive this Korean automaker's transformation has been since they first started selling automobiles in the U.S.

Today, Hyundai offers well-built, nicely styled vehicles that include a long list of standard features and one of the best warranties in the business.

Like its siblings, the 2008 Hyundai Santa Fe is packed with value. It's been a few years since I last drove a Santa Fe and it's encouraging to realize how dramatically improved the current product is. And that's considering how likable the previous generation was.

The Santa Fe received a major revision last year giving it more interior room, a better ride, and more power under the hood.

Looking at Santa Fe's exterior, the design is modern, aerodynamic and unmistakably Hyundai thanks to its tall front fascia and aggressive grille.

The roof line is sleek and appears lower than past model years, yet plenty of headroom remains for all passengers.

For 2008, the top-of-the-line Santa Fe Limited model gets even better, adding a 605-watt Infinity Logic 7 audio system and power sunroof to the long list of standard equipment and an all-new navigation system to the list of optional equipment.

Combine this with a roomy, well-crafted interior, optional third-row seat and it's easy to see that the Santa Fe continues to raise the bar in the crossover segment.

The 2008 Hyundai Santa Fe midsize crossover sport-utility is available in three trim levels: base GLS, SE and Limited. The GLS (pricing begins around $21K) includes a V-6 engine, 16-inch alloy wheels, full power accessories, keyless entry, cruise control, four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock, Electronic Stability Control (ESC), side and curtain airbags and a CD/MP3 player.

Stepping up to the SE (pricing begins around $24K) adds a larger V-6 engine, 18-inch alloy wheels, auto headlamps, front fog lamps, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, trip computer, and compass.

The top-of-the-line Limited (pricing begins around $28K) adds a LED-style center high-mounted stop lamp, leather upholstery, heated front seats, eight-way power driver seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, premium Infinity audio system with 6-CD changer and sunroof.

Some of the Limited's goodies are available as options in the GLS and SE. A third-row seat is optional in SE and Limited models. Also, Limited buyers can opt for a navigation system and/or rear entertainment system.

Powering GLS models is a 2.7-liter V-6 that produces 185 horsepower. You can get the GLS with a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission powering either the front wheels (FWD) or all four wheels (AWD).

SE and Limited models feature a 3.3-liter V-6 engine good for 242 horsepower mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. Both models are also offered in FWD and AWD. When properly equipped, the 2008 Hyundai Santa Fe is capable of towing up to 3,500 pounds.

Santa Fe's available electronically controlled all-wheel-drive system automatically routes power to the wheels with the best traction. A driver-selectable AWD lock provides a fixed 50/50 torque split between front and rear wheels, which can improve performance in slippery conditions.

My Santa Fe Limited AWD tester delivered a nice, well-mannered ride. Acceleration from the larger V-6 is very good at all speeds and the five-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly. At night, I especially liked the blue backlighting for the instruments. And the luxurious tone of my Limited tester's interior was further augmented with stylish and comfortable perforated leather seats.

Overall, the Santa Fe is very likable. But I did note one dislike. Hyundai doesn't offer a rear cargo shade, not even in the Limited model I drove. Still, I wouldn't let that stop me from enjoying the many rewards.

2008 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited AWD
Engine: 3.3-liter (242 hp) V-6
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Drive type: AWD
Fuel economy: 17 city/24 highway
Base price: $29,600
As tested: $31,470 (includes $0 for destination)
Web site:

May 17, 2008
BY IRA SIEGEL SouthtownStar Auto Writer

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