Previously the only SUV in Hyundai’s line-up, the 2005 Santa Fe now shares the spot with the all-new Tucson. Only slightly smaller, the Tucson seems at first to be an unnecessary duplication. But the Santa Fe will bulk up to a seven-passenger in 2006, and bow out of the compact SUV line-up entirely.

Changes for 2005 include a minor facelift to the grille, taillights and bumper, a redesigned instrument cluster, new seat fabrics, and a cupholder in the rear armrest. All models receive a CD/MP3 player with six speakers. ABS and traction control are now optional on the front-wheel-drive V6, and standard on the smaller V6 models with all-wheel-drive.

The 7-year/120,000 km powertrain warranty initiated on the 2004 models has been quietly dropped back to 5-year/100,000 km. As before, it still pales next to the 10-year powertrain warranty given American buyers.

The Santa Fe comes with three engine choices: a 2.4-litre inline four-cylinder, a 2.7-litre V6, and a 3.5-litre V6. The two smaller engines are also used on the Hyundai Sonata.

The four-cylinder comes exclusively as front-wheel-drive, while the 2.7-litre can be optioned to a full-time AWD system. The 3.5-litre comes only with an electronic part-time AWD system.

The base GL 2.4-litre comes with a five-speed manual and includes 16-inch aluminum wheels, CD/MP3 stereo with six speakers, power locks, windows and heated mirrors, rear intermittent wiper, and speed-sensitive variable intermittent front wipers. A package of air conditioning, keyless entry and privacy glass is optional.

In two-wheel-drive form, the GL 2.7 V6 adds four-speed automatic, air conditioning, cruise control, and keyless remote; new for 2005, ABS and traction control are available as an option. In AWD, the GL also adds new-for-2005 fog lights, ABS and traction control as standard equipment.

The 2.7 V6 AWD is also available in GLS trim, which adds leather heated seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and power sunroof. Traction control and an electronic compass become standard equipment for 2005.

The 3.5 V6 comes in GLS trim line only, and includes five-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode, automatic temperature control, power driver’s seat, chrome door handles and retractable cargo cover.

Among compact SUVs, the Santa Fe has long been an excellent choice, offering a smooth ride, excellent visibility, car-like handling and room to carry five adults comfortably. The four-cylinder, while somewhat anemic on the highway, works just fine as an in-town grocery-getter. In everyday use, the mid-range V6 is preferable to the thirstier 3.5; unless you’re hauling heavy cargo on a regular basis, the lower buy-in and operating costs favour the 2.7-litre.

Still, the all-new Tucson presents a very good business case. The size difference is hardly noticeable once you’re inside, and in 2.7-litre FWD form, the price is lower for more standard features – including standard ABS and stability control – than the Santa Fe.

The Santa Fe is built in Ulsan, South Korea.

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