Vehicle Overview
Hyundai's compact sport utility vehicle received several refinements for the 2005 model year. Styling changes included a fresh grille and taillights, refined bodyside cladding, a redesigned tailgate handle and restyled 16-inch alloy wheels. A new instrument cluster went inside, and the LX model gained a power driver's seat.

Based on the company's front-wheel-drive Sonata sedan's platform, the Santa Fe again is offered in GLS trim. A new Limited trim level has replaced the LX for 2006. The Limited includes leather seating surfaces, heated front seats, a power driver's seat, automatic temperature control, an in-dash six-CD changer and a trip computer. An electrochromatic auto-dimming mirror with HomeLink universal transceiver has been added to the GLS 3.5 V6 model.

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.


Exterior
Design revisions for 2006 include a new all-black monochromatic color scheme, available for the Limited model. Built on a 103.1-inch wheelbase, the Santa Fe is 177.2 inches long overall and 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.

Interior
Each Santa Fe holds up to five people, with front bucket seats and a 60/40-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 Limited adds a six-CD changer. Leather seating surfaces and automatic climate control are also included in the top-of-the-line Limited.


Under the Hood
The Santa Fe can be equipped with one of two V-6 engines. The GLS comes with a 2.7-liter V-6 that produces an estimated 170 horsepower and teams with a four-speed-automatic transmission. The 3.5-liter V-6, which is standard in the Limited 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-shifting capability.

Safety
Side-impact airbags and antilock brakes are standard in all Santa Fe models.

Driving Impressions
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.