The Hyundai Santa Fe offers a practical size, roomy interior, many worthwhile features, a combination of responsive performance and commendable fuel economy, an attractive price, and a terrific warranty. It's a good choice for dealing with urban and suburban traffic, taking the family on a vacation, or hauling random stuff from one spot to another.
The 2010 Santa Fe gets fresh styling, new engines, and the latest navigation technology.
The Santa Fe is what is known as a crossover utility vehicle (CUV), meaning it is built with unibody construction, instead of having the body-on-frame structure of a traditional truck or larger SUV. Compared to a truck-based SUV, a crossover is generally lighter, smoother riding, more responsive, and delivers better fuel economy.
The Santa Fe is an attractive vehicle with a sleek shape to its roomy configuration. It has four doors, a rear liftgate, and offers a lot of versatility for carrying people or cargo. It is available with front-wheel drive, or all-wheel drive for those who might need more traction.
There are significant enhancements to the Santa Fe for 2010. A new 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine replaces the previous 2.7-liter base V6, and delivers both better fuel economy and quicker acceleration. The former up-level 3.3-liter V6 has been replaced by a new 3.5-liter V6 that weighs less, develops a lot more power, is smoother, and returns better fuel economy. In addition, the automatic transmission for each engine has six speeds, which contributes to the improved fuel economy numbers.
Other changes for 2010 include exterior and appearance upgrades to the wheels, taillights and foglamps, bumpers and body-side moldings, and the grille. Inside, there have been refinements to the leather and cloth seating surfaces, an Eco Indicator (which lights up to indicate efficient driving habits) is standard on automatic-transmission models, there is touch-screen navigation with rear-view camera and XM NavTraffic, the side-curtain airbags have roll-over sensors, the Limited trim level has a standard CleanAir ionizer, and Bluetooth and steering-wheel audio controls are standard on all models.
The Santa Fe also delivers on safety, with six airbags and standard anti-lock brakes, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, Electronic Stability Control, and traction control.
Hyundai vehicles are proving to have commendable levels of reliability and quality, and the Santa Fe is a viable alternative to crossover utility vehicles from other manufacturers. Finally, it's manufactured in Montgomery, Alabama.
With its relatively long wheelbase and short overhangs, the Santa Fe has more the profile of a sporty station wagon than that of a traditional body-on-frame SUV. 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 handy and convenient.
The new wheels for 2010 are a five-spoke design, and the other exterior enhancements give the Santa Fe a look that says it might cost more than its actual price. The roof rack is also well integrated into the whole.
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.
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.
According to Hyundai's measurements, headroom and legroom in the Santa Fe is more than just competitive with other vehicles in its class, thanks to a uniquely designed unibody that is not based on an existing car platform. That allowed the engineers to maximize interior space.
Fold down the second 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 second 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.
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 base 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is quite a pleasant surprise. It has Continuously Variable Valve Timing on both the intake and exhaust valves, and a Variable Intake System that enhances engine breathing, and, as a result of these advanced technologies, delivers both better performance and superior fuel economy than the 2.7-liter V6 it replaces. For most drivers most of the time, the four-cylinder will be more than adequate and deliver great fuel economy in the bargain.
The new 3.5-liter V6 is also a very nice engine. It also has the Continuously Variable Valve Timing on both intake and exhaust, and a three-step Variable Intake System that enhances engine breathing and efficiency at both low and high engine speeds. The benefit is felt in both off-the-line acceleration and in passing performance. In addition, it also delivers better fuel economy than the previous 3.3-liter V6. Both these engines are big improvements and really enhance the viability of the Santa Fe in its competitive market segment.
The six-speed automatic transmission features SHIFTRONIC, which allows manual control of the gear selection, and it has an overdrive lock-up torque converter for improved highway fuel economy.
We drove a Santa Fe with all-wheel drive. It's electronically controlled and automatically sends power to the wheels with the best traction. For really slippery or off-road conditions, there is a driver-selectable all-wheel-drive lock that provides a fixed 50/50 torque split between the front and rear wheels. On dry pavement (not locked) 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, and the Hyundai system does that. In addition, all Santa Fe models include Electronic Stability Control (ESC) which includes the function of traction control.
The Hyundai Santa Fe is only a little smaller than a Toyota Highlander, but it costs a lot less. Judging from Hyundai's performance in J.D. Power and Associates quality studies, Hyundai's vehicles are right there in terms of quality and reliability as well. If you're in the market for a suburban utility vehicle, with a tidy size, good versatility, nice styling, responsive performance, commendable fuel economy, a generous list of appealing features, and an attractive price, the Santa Fe should be included on your shopping list.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent John Rettie drove the Hyundai Santa Fe in Santa Barbara.