Introduction

Hyundai sure has changed. Today, Hyundai produces the eye-popping Tiburon sportster, the elegantly handsome XG350 and, not least, one of the curviest compact SUVs on the market, the Santa Fe.

The Santa Fe has what Hyundai Motor America's president calls a very high gawk factor. We think it's a good description. A year after its introduction, the Santa Fe never fails to draw our attention. But rather than gawk, we drove. And we liked how the Santa Fe drove, both on and off paved roads.

For 2002, Hyundai has beefed up Santa Fe's standard-equipment list.

Model Lineup

As before, the Hyundai Santa Fe comes in three flavors: base ($17,199), GLS ($19,599), and LX ($21,799).

The base model is offered with front-wheel drive only, and a 2.4-liter, 149-horsepower four-cylinder engine driving either a five-speed manual or (for $800 more) four-speed automatic transmission.

For 2002, even base models have four-wheel-disc brakes, power door locks, body cladding, and separate front tweeters for the stereo. Standard features include cloth seating, power-assisted steering, power door locks and windows, power heated outside mirrors, tilt steering wheel, AM/FM/CD stereo with six speakers, illuminated glove box, air conditioning, carpeted passenger and cargo areas, three power outlets (two front, one rear), a digital clock in an overhead console, rear seat heating and air conditioning ducts, eight-way manually adjustable driver's seat, and reclining rear seatbacks.

A $495 option package adds cruise control, remote keyless entry, a rear-window wiper-washer, cargo convenience net, retractable cargo cover and a first aid kit (comprising sunscreen, poison ivy balm, bandages and a thermal blanket).

The GLS model comes with all that, plus fog lamps, deluxe upholstery, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.

LX has leather upholstery and brushed stainless scuff plates. For 2002, the top-of-the-line LX also boasts ABS, traction control, automatic air conditioning, heated front seats, CD and cassette capability and an electrochromic rear-view mirror.

Powering the GLS and LX is a 2.7-liter V6, backed by a four-speed automatic transmission. Both up-market models are available with front-wheel drive or, for $1500 more, full-time four-wheel drive. All Santa Fe automatics come with Hyundai's Shiftronic manual override.

ABS with traction control is standard on the LX, optional on base and GLS.

All Hyundais come with one of the best warranty/service coverages in the business: 10 years/100,000 miles on the powertrain; five-years/60,000 miles bumper-to-bumper; five-years/60,000 miles on corrosion; and 24-hour roadside assistance for five-years with unlimited mileage.

Walkaround

Hyundai Santa Fe presents a visage that's softer, somewhat subdued than the demi-brutish, jutting-lower-jaw facade that's become so prevalent with today's quasi-off-roaders (see the Ford Escape, for example). Yet the Santa Fe still looks forceful. Hyundai has never designed a sport-utility before, so it wasn't constrained by a pre-existing image. New to the genre, Hyundai didn't have any mistakes to undo. And it hasn't made any.

Santa Fe's proportions are nicely balanced. The friendly front end blends smoothly into gentle flanks that suggest sufficient robustness for off-road capability, a capability that few owners will ever explore or even expect. Large wheel arches reinforce this robustness. The glasshouse is adequately sized. As on many smaller SUVs, the rear-door side windows leave about four inches of glass showing when rolled all the way down.

The Santa Fe's rear liftgate avoids the mistake made by the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, whose tail doors swing to the right, blocking curbside access. Hinging the hatch at the top provides a universal solution, and Hyundai's nifty, pistol-grip latch handle makes opening the gas-strutted liftgate a one-handed cinch. The inside-mounted pull-down grip makes closing it just as easy. When open, the liftgate easily clears six-foot foreheads.

Interior Features

Getting in and out of the Santa Fe is easy, thanks to its low step-in height. You don't have to climb up to get in or climb down to get out. And rear-seat passengers don't need to turn their feet sideways to clear the doorjamb.

Once in, the interior is friendly to the touch. Human-hand-sized controls for the stereo and HVAC offer easy adjustment. Climate controls look and feel and plasticky, though.

The seats are quite comfortable. Space-wise, the Santa Fe equals or betters the competition. Only the Ford Escape beats the Santa Fe by more than a half-inch in front-seat headroom or hip room.

Rear-seat headroom equals or beats all but the Suzuki Grand Vitara. Rear legroom in the Santa Fe equals or tops everyone's. But rear-seat passengers get head restraints and three-point seatbelts only at the outboard positions, and the shoulder-belt anchor loops are fixed, not adjustable. The restraining loops for rear-seat belt buckles don't seem very durable. And the rear seatback recline adjusters are awkward, consisting of fabric loops extending from the outer edge of the seatbacks. The easiest way to adjust them is to climb out and yank them until the seatback is where you think you want it. Rear-seat cupholders are molded into the door-mounted map pockets.

The Santa Fe offers as much or more cargo space than any other compact SUV except for the Ford Escape. A Nirvana of tie-down loops, as many as nine, is available for hauling stuff. Optional subfloor storage bins in the cargo area are a thoughtful feature, provided your stored items fit in their pre-configured shapes: In other words, nothing too tall, too wide or too thick.

Driving Impressions

The Hyundai Santa Fe offers excellent handling, with minimal top-heaviness in corners. The brakes are refreshingly responsive, even before the ABS steps in.

One thing we found was that we preferred driving the two-wheel-drive version. The front-drive Santa Fe proved to be much more fun, and more responsive, too, freed from the 203 pounds and whatever friction the 4WD system adds. EPA estimated fuel economy is 19/26 mpg city/highway for a front-wheel-drive V6 Santa Fe, and 19/23 for a V6 with four-wheel-drive.

The available 2.7-liter V6 produces 181 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. That's good power compared against the other V6-powered compact SUVs. Indeed, only the Ford Escape and Mazda Tribute, which come with a 200-horsepower 3.0-liter V6, offer more power in this class. The Santa Fe accelerates quicker than the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 with their four-cylinder engines.

Acceleration is a bit sluggish, however. Acceleration from a stoplight is, well, OK. It's about as quick as a Toyota RAV4, but it lags behind the CR-V, Tribute and Escape. Slam down the throttle when cruising and downshifts are prompt and smooth, but with somewhat less than fulfilling acceleration. We don't doubt the rated towing capacity, but suspect driving with a 1500-pound load would be less than exhilarating.

The Santa Fe's four-wheel-drive system is compact and clever, having been developed by Austrian four-wheel-drive specialists Steyr-Daimler-Puch. A planetary differential inside the front transaxle splits the drive torque three ways: equally between the front wheels, and 60/40 between the front and rear axles. The latter figure is not arbitrary, but based on the Santa Fe's 60/40 front-to-rear weight distribution. A viscous coupling overrides the differential if the wheels at either end begin to slip. None of this represents new technology, but the system combines proven engineering in innovative ways.

It was more than up to the task of some light off-road driving at sometime-motorcycle circuit in Southern California, even without the traction control system. The system appears to do a good job of sending the torque where it's needed. We jacked up the back tires, then stood on the accelerator, and our Santa Fe raced eagerly ahead.

Summary

Hyundai's first sport-utility vehicle looks good. It's fun to drive, particularly with a V6 and front-wheel drive. The optional four-wheel-drive system improves traction in slippery conditions, but places a burden on the V6 engine.

Overall, the new Hyundai Santa Fe is worth a look if you are already considering the Ford Escape, Mazda Tribute, Honda CR-V, Suzuki Grand Vitara or Toyota RAV4.

 


Model Line Overview

Model lineup: 2WD: Santa Fe ($17,199), GLS ($19,599), LX ($21,799) 4WD: GLS ($21,099), LX ($23,299)
Engines: 149-hp 2.4-liter dohc 16-valve inline-4; 181-hp 2.7-liter 24-valve V6
Transmissions: 5-speed manual, 4-speed automatic with Shiftronic override
Safety equipment (standard): dual front airbags with passenger-presence detection, front and rear seatbelt pretensioners (except rear center lap-only belt), front seat and rear outboard seat head restraints, side door beams
Safety equipment (optional): ABS, traction control
Basic warranty: 5 years/60,000 miles
Assembled in: Ulsan, South Korea

Specifications As Tested

Model tested (MSRP): GLS 2WD ($19,599)
Standard equipment: air conditioning; six-speaker AM/FM/cassette/CD stereo; power door locks, windows and outside mirrors; overhead console with digital clock; first aid kit; tilt-adjustable steering wheel; front passenger seat under-storage tray; 60/40 split reclining and folding rear seat with folding center armrest; under-floor cargo area storage bin; leather-wrapped steering wheel; engine crankcase skid plate; power steering; tachometer; 4-speed Shiftronic automatic transmission; in-glass radio antenna; foglamps
Options as tested (MSRP): ABS with traction control ($595)
Destination charge: ($495)
Gas guzzler tax: N/A
Price as tested (MSRP): $ 20,689
Layout: front-wheel drive
Engine: 2.7-liter dohc 24-valve V6
Horsepower (hp @ rpm): 181 @ 6000
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm): 177 @ 4000
Transmission: 4-speed Shiftronic automatic
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy: 19/26 mpg
Wheelbase: 103.1 in.
Length/width/height: 177.2/ 72.7/66.0 in.
Track, f/r: 60.7/60.7 in.
Turning circle: 37.1 ft.
Seating capacity: 5
Head/hip/leg room, f: 39.6/54.3/41.6 in.
Head/hip/leg room, m: N/A
Head/hip/leg room, r: 39.2/53.9/36.8 in.
Trunk volume: 78.0 cu. ft.
Payload: N/A
Towing capacity: 2700 (with trailer brakes and without ABS) Lbs.
Suspension, f: Independent
Suspension, r: Independent
Ground clearance: 7.4 in.
Curb weight: 3549 lbs.
Tires: 225/70R-15 BFG Long Trail T/A
Brakes, f/r: disc/disc with ABS
Fuel capacity: 17.2 gal.

 

 

Unless otherwise indicated, specifications refer to test vehicle.
All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSRP) effective as of August 15, 2001.
Prices do not include manufacturer's destination and delivery charges. N/A: Information not available or not applicable.
Manufacturer Info Sources: 1-800-826-CARS - www.hyundaiusa.com

Copyright © 1994-2003 New Car Test Drive, Inc.


 

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Copyright © 1994-2009 New Car Test Drive, Inc.

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