2009 Hyundai Santa Fe
2009 Hyundai Santa Fe Expert Review: New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Larger compact SUV with room for seven.
The Hyundai Santa Fe is a practical-size vehicle for prowling the suburban savanna. It's the larger of Hyundai's two compact SUV's, large enough for three-row seating, which the smaller Tucson is not.
Technically, both vehicles are crossovers, meaning they are built like cars, using unibody construction, instead of the body-on-frame technique of a traditional truck. That could prove to be a disadvantage in, say, the Paris-to-Dakar rally; or while outmaneuvering an unwanted military incursion. But in most ways it's better for everyday driving. Compared to a truck-based SUV, a car-based crossover is generally lighter, smoother riding, and more responsive. Crossovers also tend to use less gas than truck-based SUVs. Still, with the right options, the Santa Fe can tow up to 3500 pounds.
The 2008 Santa Fe looks fresh, shapely and attractive. Completely redesigned for 2007, it shed the quirky lumpiness of the pre-2007 models. It's a little bigger than previously, and comes in five- and seven-passenger versions. Yet it retains Hyundai's value quotient. Underway, the Santa Fe handles well on winding, paved roads.
For 2008, a 605-watt Infinity Logic 7 audio system is now standard on the top-rung Santa Fe Limited. So is a power sunroof. And a new navigation system is optional.
More important, the Santa Fe delivers on safety, with six airbags and standard anti-lock brakes, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, stability control, and traction control. It has earned the Federal government's top five-star crash test rating for front and side impacts, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's (IIHS) Top Safety Pick, an award given to only 21 new vehicles. The Santa Fe is assembled in Montgomery, Alabama, at a plant that has been certified to the International Automotive Task Force's (IATF) most rigid quality management standard. More than half of the Hyundais sold in the U.S. are now manufactured here.
Hyundai is on a roll. Its vehicles are proving to have the reliability and quality people expect from Japanese cars. The Santa Fe could be a true alternative to the Toyota Highlander and other higher-priced crossovers.
The 2008 Hyundai Santa Fe comes in three trim levels: GLS, SE, and Limited. All-wheel drive is offered as an option ($1,700) on all three. All come with seating for five. SE and Limited offer seating for seven as part of various option packages.
The GLS ($21,150) is powered by a 185-hp 2.7-liter V6 engine. it comes standard with a five-speed manual gearbox. A four-speed automatic transmission with Shiftronic manual control is optional ($1,300). The GLS is well equipped with air conditioning, cloth upholstery, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, 112-watt AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system with six speakers, XM Satellite Radio, rocker panel moldings, power side mirrors, power windows, power door locks, remote keyless entry, 16-inch alloy wheels, and a roof rack with rails. The Popular Equipment Package ($595) adds premium cloth seats, steering wheel audio controls, automatic headlights, heated mirrors, driver seat lumbar support, and trip computer. The Premium Equipment Package ($2,100) includes all of the above, plus a power tilt-and-slide sunroof, heated front seats, and a leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.
The SE ($24,150) has a more powerful, 242-hp 3.3-liter V6; five-speed automatic transmission with Shiftronic; and 18-inch alloy wheels. In addition to the equipment found on the GLS, the SE adds premium-level cloth upholstery, electrochromic auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass, front fog lights, leather wrapped steering wheel (with audio controls) and shift knob, windshield wiper deicer, automatic headlights, heated mirrors, driver seat lumbar support. trip computer, and a chrome molding around the grille. The Premium Package for SE ($1,850) adds a power driver seat with power lumbar support, a power tilt/slide glass sunroof, heated front seats and HomeLink. The Touring Package ($1,500) upgrades to seven-passenger seating, with a fold-flat third-row seat and third-row auxiliary climate control, plus trailering equipment that includes a transmission cooler, heavy-duty radiator, and trailer pre-wiring. Thus equipped, the Santa Fe can tow up to 3,500 pounds.
The Limited ($28,100) comes with leather seating surfaces, heated front seats, power driver seat with power lumbar support, dual-zone automatic climate control with outside temperature display, and HomeLink. A chrome grille and exterior door handles, as well as a body-color hatch spoiler, distinguish the Limited. For 2008, a power tilt-and-slide glass sunroof is now standard as well, along with a 605-watt Infinity Logic 7 audio system with CD changer and 10 speakers. The Limited Touring Package ($3,150) adds seven-passenger seating, third-row auxiliary climate control, a rear seat entertainment system with an eight inch LCD monitor and 115-volt power outlet, and the trailering equipment described above. The Touring Package with Navigation ($3,350) adds an LG navigation system to the Limited Touring Package. The navigation system ($1,750) and rear-seat entertainment system ($1,750) are also available as stand-alone options.
All Santa Fe models come with Hyundai's bumper-to-bumper warranty of five years/60,000 miles, plus a powertrain warranty of 10 years/100,000 miles.
Safety features that come standard on all models include dual front airbags, front seat side-impact airbags (for torso protection), side curtain airbags (for head protection) and active front head restraints. Active safety features include antilock brakes with brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution, electronic stability control, traction control, and a tire-pressure monitoring system.
Compared to the previous-generation model (2006 and earlier), which was polarizing with its undulating lines, the new Hyundai Santa Fe blends in with other SUV/crossovers in its segment.
With its relatively long wheelbase and short overhangs, Hyundai says the Santa Fe now evokes the assertive grace of a speed skater. Certainly it has more the profile of a sporty station wagon than that of a traditional body-on-frame SUV. Some would say it looks like a smaller version of the Volkswagen Touareg, which is not a bad comparison.
The most noticeable attribute of the Santa Fe's front end is the complete absence of a bumper. Instead the front valence curves around from beneath the body to encompass the large grille and wrap around headlights. The hood slopes up toward the raked windshield, and the wedge shape continues along the lower edges of the side windows that sweep up dramatically toward the tailgate.
Even the rear has distinctively curved lines, with high taillight clusters that are partially mounted on the main body and the tailgate. The easy to see and easy to grab tailgate handle is definitely a Santa Fe design cue.
Although the current Santa Fe is slightly larger than the previous model, it looks smaller because its styling is more refined and less truck-like.
Pleasing is the best way to describe the interior of the Hyundai Santa Fe because it's trimmed in modern plastics with a soft-touch feel. All models feature blue accent lighting at night to illuminate the instruments, switches and the edges of the front cupholders. Even the base GLS has nice luxury touches that include realistic-looking (but faux) wood-trim accents across the width of the dashboard, surrounding the shifter, and along the door panels.
The gauges are mounted in a large instrument pod in front of the steering wheel. The radio and climate controls are well located in a center stack that is mounted high in the dashboard for easy reach and observation while driving.
New for 2008, the navigation system was developed exclusively for Hyundai by LG, a leading worldwide electronics manufacturer. The system provides coverage for the continental United States and includes touch-screen functionality, point-of-interest features, and audio-visual prompts.
According to Hyundai's measurements, headroom and legroom in the Santa Fe is greater in all rows than in competing models, thanks to a uniquely designed unibody that is not based off an existing car platform. That allowed the engineers to maximize interior space without compromise.
With the optional third row of seats folded down, there is a generous 34.2 cubic feet of storage space on an almost flat floor. Fold down the middle row of seats and there is 78.2 cubic feet of storage space. Although the Santa Fe is one of smallest midsize SUVs in exterior dimensions it is far from being the smallest inside, a tribute to its space-efficient design.
The air vents for the center row of seats are mounted in the B-pillar, which is much more effective than being mounted down low behind the center console, as in many vehicles.
Third-row seating in the Santa Fe is similar to that in other SUVs, so it's of limited use for anything other than carrying kids short distances. Setting up the third row for seating in the Santa Fe leaves a mere 10 cubic feet of cargo space, which is no more than you'll find in a cramped two-door coupe. If you really need to carry seven passengers and/or cargo, a minivan is better. Additionally, one loses the very practical hidden storage space under the rear floor when the vehicle is fitted with the optional third row of seats. In short, the Santa Fe can carry seven passengers but works better for five.
Nobody can really expect an SUV, even one built using a stiff unibody, to handle as well as a sedan. However, the Hyundai Santa Fe comes mighty close. Indeed, as long as you don't fling it around corners as if you're in a sports sedan, you'll have no complaints about the Santa Fe's handling.
Overall, the driving experience is transparent, meaning there is nothing outstanding, negatively or positively. The steering has a pleasant feel, neither too tight nor too loose, the brakes work well if not dramatically, the ride is smooth and the vehicle is quiet.
The GLS comes with the smaller of two available V6 engines and is available with a manual transmission, a rare combination in the U.S.
We drove a Santa Fe with all-wheel drive, and on dry pavement it did not feel any different from the front-drive model. All-wheel drive is designed to improve handling stability and traction on slippery surfaces. All Santa Fe models include electronic stability control with traction control.
The best value may be the front-drive SE model, which has the same high-tech aluminum engine and transmission as the Limited.
The Hyundai Santa Fe is only a little smaller than a Toyota Highlander, but it costs about $6,000 less. Judging from Hyundai's performance in J.D. Power and Associates quality studies, Hyundai's vehicles are right in there in terms of quality and reliability as well. If you're in the market for a suburban SUV, the capable and refined Santa Fe should be included on your shopping list.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent John Rettie drove the Hyundai Santa Fe in Santa Barbara.
Hyundai Santa Fe GLS Manual ($21,150); GLS Automatic ($22,450); SE ($24,150); Limited ($28,100).
Options As Tested
Limited Touring Package ($3,150) includes seven-passenger seating, third-row auxiliary climate control, rear seat entertainment, and trailering equipment.
Hyundai Santa Fe Limited ($28,100).
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