Hyundai is known for producing budget-friendly (dare I say cheap) vehicles. The Santa Fe is no exception. The entry-level model starts at just $17,999. My test vehicle is just one step up from there and arrived with only the standard features. My first impression is that it's a somewhat feminine, young-looking SUV sporting a curvaceous body.
First on my agenda is to test how easily the rear seats fold. They're very user-friendly and I'm able to operate them without referring to the owner's manual. With the amount of room in the cargo area I doubt I'll need to fold the seats again unless acting as a taxi pickup for my husband's latest home-improvement project. I love the opening mechanism for the cargo door. It's like squeezing the brake on a bicycle handlebar and is much easier to open than others I've used.
Upon installing my girls' car seats, I notice how much legroom there is in the back. A rear-facing infant seat fits perfectly without obstructing movement of the seat in front of it. The forward-facing car seat installs smoothly thanks to the adjustability of the rear seatback angle. It's a good thing I only have two children, though, because there's no way I could fit a third car seat back here. The center rear seat isn't appropriate for larger children either since it's only equipped with a lap belt. When not in use, the seat belt buckles actually buckle up into the seat. It's great not having to fumble around with loose buckles while trying to install the car seat Latch connectors.
Sliding into the driver's seat I'm excited by how well this SUV seems to conform to my 5-foot-2 stature. My 6-foot-2 husband, on the other hand, took it out for a drive and complained that there wasn't enough headroom and the brake and gas pedals were too close together. The seat belt adjusts effortlessly with one hand but the sun visors are too small to be entirely functional. With the rear headrests removed (Hyundai recommends removing them when installing car seats), my view of the road is seamless. I have fewer blind spots in this SUV than in any of my other recent test vehicles.
I'm impressed with how easy the Hyundai Santa Fe is to operate. The controls (including the thermostat adjusters and lock/unlock buttons) are large and clearly labeled. All you have to do is get in and drive. There's not a lot in the way of luxury amenities, but no one ever claimed this was a luxury SUV.
After a two-week test drive, the one thing that continues to baffle me is the Santa Fe's Shiftronic transmission function. It enables me to switch out of automatic into manual mode, where I can make rapid gearshifts. Why anyone would want to do this I don't know. It will, however, impress your teenage children, who might be tempted to use this vehicle in a drag race. With its responsive, peppy 3.5-liter engine, they'd probably come out on top, too.
The Hyundai Santa Fe 4WD GLS 3.5 may not go so far as creating peace throughout the world, but with its affordable price and high reliability rating from Consumer Reports it might create peace in your household.
*For more information on the Hyundai Santa Fe and its safety features, visit www.cars.com.