Hyundai continues two efforts with the introduction of the 2007 Santa Fe sport utility vehicle: Its two-year, seven-vehicle product rollout, and its head-to-head assault on front-runner Toyota.
For 2007, the Santa Fe was bumped up from a compact SUV to a midsize in order to make way for the compact Tucson, a 2005 model year addition. The new Santa Fe grows seven inches in length and, more importantly, now offers seven seats on its Touring packages, all the better to compete with the Toyota Highlander. In profile it looks much like a Highlander but is slightly rounded at the rear edges, making the Santa Fe more attractive.
Although pricing has not been announced, Hyundai made a point of saying the Santa Fe will start several thousand dollars lower than the Highlander. Bargain hunters beware, though: The Santa Fe's lowest trim level will have a manual transmission paired with its smaller (183-horsepower) engine offering, which is not directly comparable to the Highlander's low-end option.
Throughout its current product rollout, Hyundai's vehicles have gradually looked more and more like refined, roadworthy machines rather than the plasticky econoboxes the company put out in the 1980s and '90s. The Santa Fe is the best effort yet, with lines that flow gracefully into each other. Hyundai toned down its typical fender flare, and now there's just enough to give the vehicle character.
The 2007 Santa Fe, built in the Montgomery, Ala., plant that produces the Sonata, is bigger all around than the previous generation. Its length is up to 184 inches, its width is up nearly two inches to 74.5, it gets an extra 1.5 inches in height to reach 68 inches tall and its wheelbase extends 3 inches to 106.
All those new exterior dimensions contribute to space for the seven seats available on Touring packages for the middle and top trim levels. The people in those seats were a clear priority in this vehicle, with such touches as an optional DVD player for the third row, dual climate zones and fan controls for the second and third rows.
Hyundai also says the third row has more legroom than an Acura MDX, Honda Pilot or Volvo XC90. The company promises a sedan-like ride — felt most prominently in the third row — out of this car-based SUV; that almost certainly means off-roading is unadvisable. If you have cargo needs, the third row splits 50/50, the second row splits 60/40 and both fold flat.
The gauges and controls appear to be clean and user-friendly, but they're nothing out of the ordinary for a family-style vehicle.
Under the Hood
Hyundai is offering two V-6 engines: the 183-hp, 2.7-liter Mu and the 238-hp, 3.3-liter Lambda. Mu has 180 pounds-feet of torque; Lambda has 220. All these numbers are preliminary estimates.
The 3.3-liter engine will mate with a five-speed-automatic transmission, while the 2.7-liter comes standard with a five-speed manual. An optional four-speed automatic is available for the 2.7-liter. Hyundai plans to build 40 percent of 2007 Santa Fes with the 2.7-liter, in keeping with the split on the current Santa Fe.
The Santa Fe will be available with front- or all-wheel drive.
The Santa Fe is well loaded with safety features: Six airbags, antilock brakes, electronic stability control, traction control, active front head restraints and a tire-pressure-monitoring system are standard on all trim levels.
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