For its second year on the market, Hyundais sport utility vehicle is basically unchanged. The Santa Fe is based on the front-drive Sonata sedan platform, and rivals include such car-based SUVs as the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester and Toyota RAV4. Having an SUV in the lineup will help South Koreas largest auto company maintain its impressive sales increases.
In spring 2001, the Santa Fe earned a Good crash-test rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, beating the Escape and RAV4. As part of the California Fuel Cell Partnership, Hyundais Technical Center has been working on developing a Santa Fe that runs on a hydrogen fuel cell, but thats a long way off for SUV buyers.
Roughly the same size as Hondas first-generation CR-V, the Santa Fe is 177.2 inches long and close to 66 inches tall, on a 103-inch wheelbase. Fords Escape has the same wheelbase but is 4 inches shorter overall. Bulging front fenders are similar to those on the Tiburon sports coupe. A four-door SUV with a rear liftgate, the Santa Fe rides on standard 16-inch tires.
The Santa Fe holds five occupants with front buckets and a three-place split rear bench that folds for additional cargo space. Cargo volume behind the rear seat is 29 cubic feet. Standard equipment includes air conditioning, a CD player and power windows. The step-up GLS edition adds such features as heated power mirrors, power locks, remote keyless entry, fog lights and a cassette/CD stereo system. Leather upholstery is optional.
Under the Hood
A 2.7-liter V-6 engine produces 181 horsepower and teams with a four-speed-automatic transmission in the GL V6, GLS and LX models. The automatic transmission has manual-shifting capability. Used in the base GL edition, the Santa Fes 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is rated at 149 hp and is hooked to a standard five-speed-manual transmission.
Front-wheel drive and permanently engaged all-wheel drive are available, the latter of which is intended to provide extra grip on slippery highway surfaces rather than use on serious offroad treks. All-wheel drive sends 60 percent of the power to the front wheels and 40 percent to the rear. No Low range is available. Antilock brakes are optional, and side-impact airbags are not available.
One of the friendliest and easiest of the smaller SUVs to drive, the Santa Fe handles adeptly and performs admirably. Its bulging fenders, which are uncommon on SUVs, make a difference in judging the vehicles position. The Santa Fe is appropriately spacious and quiet-running and also delivers an appealing ride.