The Santa Fe is Hyundai’s entry in the mid-size crossover utility vehicle market, competing against vehicles such as the Toyota Highlander, Ford Edge, Mazda CX-7, and Honda Pilot. It is available with two V-6 engines: a 2.7-liter that makes 185 hp and 183 lb-ft of torque and a 3.3-liter that’s good for 242 hp and 226 lb-ft. The 2.7-liter is mated to a standard five-speed manual transmission or optional four-speed automatic; the larger, 3.3-liter V-6 uses a five-speed automatic exclusively. All Santa Fes are front-wheel drive to start, with the option of an all-wheel-drive system across the board. The base GLS has two rows of seating that accommodates five passengers; the SE and the Limited have an available third row to give seven-passenger capability. Towing capacity is rated at 3500 pounds for the SE and Limited models. The V-6 engines return similar gas mileage. The 2.7-liter gets 17 mpg city and 24 mpg highway with front-wheel drive and the five-speed manual transmission and 18/24 with the automatic; it gets 17/23 with four-wheel drive and either transmission. The 3.3-liter returns 17 mpg city and 24 mpg highway no matter how many wheels are driven or which transmission is selected.
The Santa Fe’s strengths are value, a comfortable ride, and a high-quality interior that is better than most of its Japanese rivals. Against that, the interior space is merely decent, with 34.2 cubic feet of luggage space behind the second-row seats and 78.2 with the seats folded, comparable to the space in a Toyota RAV4 but smaller than a Highlander’s. In essence, the Santa Fe straddles those smaller and mid-size CUVs on price and interior space. But it feels underpowered—particularly in 2.7-liter GLS form—isn’t very capable off-road, and is roly-poly around corners. In a recent comparison test, an all-wheel-drive Santa Fe was good enough to nose out a Ford Edge, Mazda CX-7, and Dodge Journey for second place, although it trailed the winning Nissan Murano by a good margin.
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What’s New for 2009
Hyundai has added upgraded audio systems along with standard USB/iPod auxiliary inputs this year. Also, the SE Touring package adds a power driver’s seat and a HomeLink transmitter. A trailer-prep package and roof cross rails are standard on SE and Limited models.
Highlights and Recommendations
The base GLS trim level starts at about $22,000, substantially undercutting its mid-size SUV rivals. For the money, it’s a bargain, with standard stability control and anti-lock brakes, a six-speaker stereo with USB/iPod inputs, power windows and door locks, keyless entry, and air conditioning.
The SE costs an additional three or so grand, and it gains the 3.3-liter V-6, 18-inch wheels in place of 16-inchers, auto on/off headlamps, heated mirrors, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls. The uplevel Limited brings more features into the mix, such as leather seating, heated front seats, a power sunroof, a 10-speaker stereo, a power driver’s seat, and automatic climate control—all for less than $30,000. All-wheel drive is optional on all trim levels and costs roughly $2000.
The Santa Fe is reasonably well equipped no matter which trim level you choose, so options aren’t totally necessary. But the Premium package, which bundles heated seats and a sunroof among other niceties, is a good way to luxe up GLS and SE Santa Fes for two or so grand. If you want nav or rear-seat entertainment, you’ll need to jump to the Limited, but at about $1800 for each, you might be better off buying stand-alone units, especially if you want both: they’re not available together.
The Santa Fe has a five-star crash rating for frontal and side impacts from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and is also an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Pick. All Santa Fe models are fitted with electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes, as well as front, front side, and curtain airbags.