We were surprised byHyundai's 2007 SantaFe. If you use your SUVto travel, you shoulddraw your attention to this automobile.The Hyundai designers in Californiatook into consideration long rides andoccasional rugged roads when designingits comfort—a complete change instyling that is more Euro-Americanwith an effective suspension choice. It isalso a popular size; the Mazda CX-7,Toyota Highlander, and the LexusRX350 all have similar dimensions.
Hyundai is clearly taking on Toyotawith this new Santa Fe, as it competesdirectly with the Highlander. The front-endstyling is distinctive and attractive,having the flavors of Porsche and Audi.The fog lights are low and well-positioned,and the black-out grille and trimgive the vehicle a tight look. The rearbumper has a pleasant integral step,making it easier to enter the rear of thevehicle, and the treatment around thetailpipe is noticeably European.
Power and Energy Choices
At the front of the car under thehood you have a choice of two 6-cylinderengines; both are all aluminum withvariable valve timing, and both enginesmeet stringent ultra-low emission vehiclestandards. With the small 2.7-literV6, you have an unusual choice of a 5-speed manual transmission or a 4-speedautomatic—Toyota's Highlander offersan automatic transmission only. Thelarger 3.3-liter V6 engine comes withonly a 5-speed automatic transmission.This car will find a special place forthose who love a manual transmission'sentertaining drive, yet need a roomyvehicle that seats seven.
The new Santa Fe is available withfront-or all-wheel drive. The all-wheeldrive system usually keeps the powerupfront, and a driver selectable lock isprovided that splits power evenly fromthe front to the rear for excellent traction.The automatic transmissions areprogrammed very well—they are quickto respond with a sporty feedback. Thequickness of the transmission makes avehicle like this enjoyable to drive.
Safety Features and Comfort
When it comes to safety, Hyundai isno slouch. The side curtain air bags arestandard on all Santa Fe models, yet onToyota's Highlander it's a specialoption. The side curtain airbag protectsall three rows, which, according to theInsurance Institute for Highway Safety,can reduce fatalities by more than 45%.
All Santa Fes come standard withstability control. The stability controlworks through the antilock brakingsystem (ABS). This particular ABSincludes an electronic brake force distributionthat adjusts the braking forceto all four wheels for the finest pressureresults in an emergency.
Sleek and Practical Interior
The look is more aggressive thanbefore, and the comfort and stylingcould be the best to date by Hyundai.The interior is available in cloth orleather, and access to the two seats inthe third row is substantially easierthan most vehicles. The third seats foldflat into the floor for carrying cargo,and the roof has a simple luggage rack.
The front seat passengers are coddledin a beautifully-cut seat with pleasantside bolsters. The blue lighting withblack faceplates and controls over theinstrument panel are simple and attractive.Over the next year, expect a complexnavigation system and XM radioto be added. You can plug your laptopright into the 110-volt outlet in front ofthe gearshift lever, and in front are two12-volt outlets as well—plenty ofpower. Like an elegant Lexus or BMW,there's an attractive soft blue glow, evenin the cup holders.
In these times of expensive petroleummany of us are considering how todownsize and drive cleaner fuels. Ifyou've been driving a V8 with threerows of seats, it's time to reconsider.This size of 6-cylinder vehicle is a wonderfulreplacement for a passenger car,a minivan, or another SUV. We expectsafety testing to show the Santa Fe tobe one of the better vehicles. This productpresents Hyundai as a powerfulchallenger to Toyota's historical dominance.When you compare the priceagainst the Highlander feature for feature,you'll come in thousands less.
Jean Swenson and Ashly Knapp are independent researchreporters and the founders of AutoAdvisor.com.