Hyundai's compact sport utility vehicle returns for its fifth season on the U.S. market with a selection of refinements. Styling changes include a new grille and taillights, refined bodyside cladding, a redesigned tailgate handle and restyled 16-inch alloy wheels. A new instrument cluster goes inside, and the LX model adds a power driver's seat.
Based on the front-wheel-drive Sonata sedan's platform, the Santa Fe is offered in two trim levels: GLS and LX. Although the Santa Fe is roughly the same size as the Honda CR-V, Hyundai's SUV is wider. Front- and all-wheel-drive versions are available. The all-wheel-drive system provides extra traction on slippery surfaces rather than serious offroad capabilities.
Built on a 103.1-inch wheelbase, the Santa Fe is 177.2 inches long overall and close to 66 inches tall. Bulging front fenders are one of the Santa Fe's distinguishing characteristics. The four-door SUV is equipped with a rear liftgate, and five-spoke alloy wheels hold 16-inch tires. A full-size spare tire is included.
Each Santa Fe holds up to five occupants with front bucket seats and a split three-place rear bench that folds for additional cargo space. Cargo volume behind the rear seat is 30.5 cubic feet, but capacity grows to 77.7 cubic feet when the backseat is folded down. Both models have a Monsoon six-speaker cassette/CD audio system, but the LX adds a six-CD changer. Leather seating surfaces and automatic climate control also are included in the top-of-the-line LX.
Under the Hood
The Santa Fe can be equipped with one of two V-6s. The GLS comes standard with a 2.7-liter V-6 that produces 170 horsepower and teams with a four-speed-automatic transmission. The 3.5-liter V-6, which is standard in the LX and optional in the GLS, generates 200 hp and 219 pounds-feet of torque and drives a five-speed automatic. Both transmissions have Shiftronic manual-shift capability.
Side-impact airbags and antilock brakes are standard in all Santa Fe models.
Ranking as one of the easiest small SUVs to drive, the Santa Fe handles adeptly and performs admirably. Its bulging fenders, which are uncommon on SUVs, actually make a difference in judging the vehicle's position. This SUV is appropriately spacious, and it runs quietly. You can also expect an appealing ride.
Though it is clearly stronger, the 3.5-liter V-6 doesn't boost performance quite as much as expected, and its automatic transmission may occasionally shift with a jerk. When driving through curves, the 3.5-liter Santa Fe can exhibit a slightly top-heavy sensation.