Putting the CR-V and RAV4 on notice.
by Jill Amadio
What does it take to get some respect in the American automotive marketplace? Hyundai says it finally figured that out last year, and is throwing in an extra model this year to ensure sales continue to spiral upward. That extra model sends Hyundai leaping feet first into the sport-utility market with a brand new model called Santa Fe.
Focusing its marketing efforts on a message that conveys high-value, quality, style, and competence, Hyundai is placing its new sport ute into the XUV category - crossover utility vehicle, a combination of car, wagon and truck. The newest of the new generation of car-based crossovers, the Santa Fe appears to have all the benefits of an SUV and a station wagon.
Built on the company's largest sedan platform, the Sonata, to take advantage of carlike driveability, steering, ride, handling and braking, the Santa Fe has trucklike command seating and the traction of full-time four-wheel drive. For on-roaders, that means comfort, visibility and a feeling of safety on the highway, and for off-roaders, enough grip to get you up, down and over high-grade dusty dirt roads without claiming to be a hardcore off-roader.
Styled by a team of designers from California, Korea and Germany, the elegant front has a strong, European look with nicely balanced projector headlights and foglamps. Bodyside contours are less traditionally SUV-angular and more like a passenger car, while the eight-inch ground clearance and large tires let you know this is indeed built for trucking along rivers and setting up camp.
A mini-ute challenge?
The Santa Fe is Hyundai's first product designed specifically for the tastes and needs of American customers. "We saw that this SUV market was defined by chunky, truck-platformed models such as the Cherokee, Xterra, Wrangler, Explorer, 4Runner and the Blazer," said Hyundai's U.S. president Finnbar O'Neil, "and even though these vehicles sell well, we found they have a high level of dissatisfaction with certain characteristics that relate to their frame design."
Is the Santa Fe taking on the CR-V and the RAV4? Definitely not. As for the Escape and Tribute, some of the Hyundai XUV's dimensions are larger than both, with a best-in-class cargo volume and better ground clearance, though the wheelbases are competitive. Luxury hybrid SUVs were studied, too, but Hyundai is not in the luxury-class segment, so they sought a solution somewhere in the middle that they believe shares the strengths of both SUVs and passenger cars. The result: an affordable luxury version of hybrids with size, power, cargo capacity, fuel economy, comfort, feature availability and all-weather traction.
Hyundai's target market is a practical buyer with limited means, 60 percent male, who places a high priority on hardware and appearance and who can't afford the premium brands but likes to make a statement, as they say in GQ and Vogue.
Two engines are available, the standard 2.4-liter, in-line four-cylinder with 150 horsepower and the 2.7-liter V-6 with 185 horsepower. A five-speed manual transmission is standard with the base engine, and the V-6 is teamed with a Shiftronic automatic that has a manual shift overdrive. The 4WD system has a viscous coupling transfer case. Power steering is standard.
The Santa Fe has a MacPherson strut front suspension with coil springs, gas-filled chicks absorbers and an anti-roll bar. The rear suspension is a fully independent trailing arm with multi-links, coil springs, and gas-filled shock absorbers.
The cornerstone of Hyundai's XUV strategy is pricing, from $18,000 for the 2WD to $23,000 for full-time 4WD. The top price includes just under $5000 in options, many of them styling bits and pieces, if you want the full Monty. But with a well-equipped interior and standard features that include tinted glass, roof rack side rails, skid plate in the 4WD version and an in-glass radio antenna, there's not much more to buy. Fuel economy is expected to be around 23 city/28 highway with the smaller engine and manual transmission. And don't forget Hyundai's best-in-the-industry bumper-to-bumper coverage for five years/60,000 and 10 years/100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty.
The Santa Fe will be in dealer showrooms around August. Stay tuned for a full driving report in the coming weeks.
2001 HYUNDAI SANTA FE
Engine: 2.4-liter in-line four-cylinder, 150 hp; 2.7-liter V-6, 185 hp
Transmission: five-speed manual
Wheelbase: 103.1 in
Length: 177.2 in
Width: 71.7 in
Height: 65.9 in
Weight: 3455 lb
Fuel economy: 23 city / 28 hwy
Major standard features:
© 2000 The Car Connection