Saturday, May 26, 2007


The Santa Fe, which was introduced as a 2001 model, has been steadily updated over the years in both small ways—relocating the clock from an overhead position to the dashboard—and large ways such as fitting standard side-impact airbags.

This year, the Santa Fe adds a new Limited trim level, which includes leather upholstery, heated front seats, a power driver’s seat, automatic temperature control, an in-dash six-CD changer, automatic light control, and a trip computer. A new standard feature on the GLS 3.5 is an electrochromic auto-dimming rearview mirror with a HomeLink universal transceiver. Exterior design changes for the 2006 model year include a new all-black monochromatic color scheme available on the Limited.

The Santa Fe—which comes in GLS and Limited trim levels—can be equipped with a 170-hp, 2.7-liter V-6 or a 200-hp (219 lb-ft of torque), 3.5-liter DOHC V-6. Models with the big motor come with a five-speed automatic transmission, anti-lock brakes with traction control, an electronic four-wheel-drive system, and a suspension upgraded to handle the extra power.

The big V-6 engine puts the Santa Fe on a par with the higher-powered sport-utes in its class, but it is unlikely that the Hyundai will top them in performance since it is considerably heavier than most of its competition. For example, a well-equipped version scales in at about 3750 pounds, nearly a quarter-ton more than a Honda CR-V.

The Santa Fe’s chassis is a heavily revised Sonata unit-body platform, which puts it into the so-called crossover category of SUVs. As such, it makes no pretension of heavy-duty off-roading but is more of a tall station wagon with an SUV look that’s somewhat unconventional: From the cowl forward, the Santa Fe is more sports sedan than sport-ute, with a snouty grill and bubble fenders. The curvy motif extends to the interior, with its wraparound dashboard. The large, simply rendered instruments are logically located, and the central pod with its radio and climate controls is equally easy to use. The Santa Fe’s seats are as comfortable as anything else in the class, and there are sufficient storage spaces as well as lots of amenities such as cup holders and power points.

With a strut front suspension and a trailing-arm and multilink rear suspension, the Santa Fe provides a comfortable ride, and it steers and tracks well with no tendency toward wander or play in the wheel. On a rutted and bumpy off-road course with some steep climbs and tight turns, a four-wheel-drive Santa Fe performed admirably, using its 8.1-inch ground clearance to good advantage.

The Santa Fe has been steadily carving out a compelling presence in the diminutive end of the SUV market by hewing faithfully to Hyundai’s strategy of offering good-looking, well-equipped vehicles at a competitive price and backing them with a killer warranty (10 years/100,000 miles powertrain coverage).

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