The midsize crossover utility segment is hot, and it's populated by vehicles such as the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape, Mazda Tribute and Mercury Mariner.
The all-wheel-drive Hyundai Santa Fe Limited is a serious contender because it has a 3.3-liter V-6, a third seat, a long list of safety and convenience features, and a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty. The top Limited gets a 605-watt Infinity audio system, a power sunroof and a navigation system.
The Santa Fe comes in three trim levels in front-wheel or all-wheel drive. Pricing for the GLS starts at $21,695, the SE at $24,695 and the Limited at $28,845.
The GLS comes with a 2.7-liter V-6 and a five-speed manual (the automatic is optional), while the SE and Limited have the larger 3.3-liter engine and a sportshift five-speed automatic. I drove an all-wheel-drive Limited from Hyundai's press pool.
The test vehicle was as quiet, smooth and well finished as any of its competitors, and better than some more expensive vehicles. Whereas some Hyundais have a significant price advantage over their competitors, the Santa Fe is roughly equal to its competitors.
The 3.3-liter engine delivers 242 horsepower and 226 pound-feet of torque. Compared to the smaller 2.7-liter engine, the 3.3-liter accelerates faster and feels more confident in passing or climbing hills. It has a fuel-economy rating of 17 miles per gallon in the city and 24 on the highway.
The Santa Fe also has six standard airbags, including side air curtains for all three rows of available seating. Vehicle stability control is standard, as are anti-lock brakes and traction control. A tire-pressure monitoring system is standard as well, but as so often happens with these monitoring systems, the slightest drop in pressure, such as one would find on a cold morning, causes a low-pressure alert that goes away after driving a while.
The Santa Fe offers seven-passenger seating with the optional third seat. Hyundai said the Santa Fe is 2.1 inches longer than a Lexus RX350 and that the leg-room in the third seat is greater than that of the Acura MDX, Honda Pilot or Volvo XC90. Second-row and third-row passengers benefit from dual rear heating ducts, vents on the B-pillars and rear fan controls.
A nice underfloor storage bin comes in models without the third seat.
The cabin of the Limited is most comfortable and surprisingly quiet. Wind and road noise are controlled well. Part of the reason for the lack of noise is a stiff unibody structure, but triple-sealed doors help, too.
Hyundai's attention to detail is evident throughout the interior. The gauges have blue backlighting, and the front cup holders also have blue lighting at night. Soft-touch, low-gloss surfaces are used throughout the interior. Convenience features include an available power driver's seat with power lumbar support, steering wheel audio controls, trip computer, heated side mirrors and a windshield wiper de-icing system.
The Limited has dual-zone climate controls for the driver and front seat passenger.
The base price of the test car was $30,545. Options included the navigation system, Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity and floor mats. The sticker price was $33,495.
Five years or 60,000 miles with a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
2009 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited
Engine: 3.3-liter, 242-hp V-6
Wheelbase: 106.3 inches
Curb weight: 4,121 pounds
Base price: $30,545
As driven: $33,495
Mpg rating: 17 city, 24 hwy.
Tom Strongman's e-mail address is email@example.com.