New for 2001, the Hyundai Santa Fe enters the rapidly expanding compact SUV class. Based on the Sonata mid-size car platform, the well-equipped Santa Fe offers a standard 2.7 litre V6 engine, 4-speed automatic ‘Shiftronic’ transmission, independent suspension, and full-time 4WD. The suggested retail price ranges between $25,250 and $29,250.
Expected value, unexpected refinement
As the underdog to long-established marques like Honda and Toyota, Hyundai is generally expected to offer more value than its competitors. Hyundai’s are usually priced lower than their competitors and/or include more standard equipment for the same price.
The all-new Hyundai Santa Fe compact sport-utility vehicle is a good example of this: it offers more standard features, including a standard V6 engine, for a lower price than other comparably-equipped compact SUV’s.
But there’s something else that this new sport-utility vehicle offers that’s somewhat unexpected: a level of refinement that is equal to, and sometimes superior to its competitors. This observation comes as a result of having driven all of the Santa Fe’s twelve compact SUV competitors, and spending almost two weeks driving the Santa Fe in everyday city and highway driving environments.
The Santa Fe’s 2.7 litre V6 engine is a powerful, smooth, free-revving engine that’s close to being the best V6 engine in its class (that honour, I believe goes to the new Suzuki XL7, but that’s another story). The Santa Fe also has a slick-shifting 4-speed automatic ‘Shiftronic’ transmission that can be shifted manually (the only one in a compact SUV), a solid, tight body, a comfortable ride, competent handling, and responsive steering.
There are things I don’t like about the Santa Fe, but it’s nice to know they got the major mechanical things right.
I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised. The Santa Fe uses the same platform and suspension as the recently-redesigned Sonata sedan which, as I previously reported, has a very smooth powertrain, comfortable ride and competent handling.
The Santa Fe’s styling is unusual. Some may find the bulging fenders and generous body curves a little overdone, but it’s certainly a distinctive design that successfully distances itself from other compact SUV’s. No one can accuse Hyundai of copying another vehicle’s design.
In terms of size, the Santa Fe is just a little smaller than the new Ford Escape and Mazda Tribute, but larger than the Subaru Forester and Toyota RAV4.
The Santa Fe’s five passenger interior is very roomy with plenty of headroom and lots of leg space for front and rear passengers. Step-in height is not high, but the protruding lower bodyside cladding invariable catches on your pants, or pantyhose, as you get out of the vehicle, leaving an unwanted stain on the back of your clothing.
The driver sits up high, and has a good view of the road ahead and behind. The Santa Fe’s instrument panel includes some traditional round gauges including a tachometer, and a boldly-styled centre console with large dials for the heater and ventilation system. All the controls are easy to use except the Clarion radio which requires a Sherlock Holmes’ magnifying glass to decipher the lettering on the tiny buttons. That said, this stereo produces great sound from its four speakers.
The seats are comfortable and the driver’s seat has a manual height adjustment controls for the front and rear of the seat cushion. Controls for lights are on the left stalk, and variable intermittent wipers on the right.
Between the front seats is a dual level armrest/storage bin with a shallow upper compartment and a deep but not lengthy lower compartment. There are two cupholders, one just ahead of the floor transmission lever, and the other behind it. An attractive brushed steel shiftgate surrounds the console shift lever.
Other features include a tilt steering wheel, cruise control buttons on steering wheel, a small open coin storage to left of the steering wheel, two powerpoints in the lower console, a handbrake lever just to right of driver’s seat, and large power window buttons on the doors.
Rear passengers have map pockets, two pull-out cupholders, and an ashtray. The rear seats are split 60/40 – the seat cushions pull up and the seatbacks fold down, creating an almost flat loading surface.
The rear lift-up hatchback door has a 47 inch wide opening, the cargo floor length with the rear seats down is 67 inches, and the width between the wheelhousings is 41 inches. There’s also a small storage bin on the right side of the cargo area, and hidden compartments underneath the cargo floor.
The rear hatch door is easy to lift up by pulling on a large door handle on the right side of the hatch door. The rear hatch also offers a separate glass liftgate which has a standard rear wiper, washer, and defroster.
As I mentioned, the 2.7 litre DOHC 24 valve V6 engine is more refined than other V6 engines in this class, though not as quiet as the 2.5 litre V6 in the Hyundai Sonata sedan – there’s a prominent ‘burble’ under acceleration. It doesn’t have the most horsepower in its class, but the 181 horsepower 2.7 litre V6 offers excellent urban/suburban performance characteristics – good off-the-line acceleration, adequate freeway-merging power, and a quiet, comfortable cruising engine speed.
The Shiftronic automatic transmission is licensed from Porsche’s Tiptronic technology. It operates as a four-speed automatic transmission, or when you move the shift lever into a special gate, it can be shifted sequentially – push forwards to upshift, back to downshift. The Santa Fe is the only compact sport-utility to offer this feature. Personally, I don’t find these transmissions very useful because automatic transmissions are much better shifting than they used to be. Still, in the Santa Fe, you do have a choice of shifting preferences.
A full-time four-wheel-drive system, which uses a viscous coupling to split engine torque 60/40 front to rear on normal road surfaces, provides extra grip on slippery surfaces by sending more torque to the front or rear axles depending on which end has more traction. Hyundai’s system is permanently engaged – you don’t have to switch from 2WD to 4WD. It’s most useful on snow, ice, gravel, mud, or very wet roads, and combined with a tall ground clearance, offers improved traction and mobility in situations where a car might not make it. The Santa Fe doesn’t offer a Low Range gear for serious off-roading, but the Santa Fe doesn’t pretend to be a Land Rover.
A fully independent suspension – MacPherson struts in front, double wishbones at the rear – gives the Santa Fe a compliant ride and car-like handling. If you’ve never driven one of these compact SUV’s before, you’ll be surprised at how easy they are to drive. The steering has a nice feel – not too stiff and not too slack, and the ride is smooth and comfortable. Standard four wheel disc brakes offer excellent braking performance, but ABS is available only on the uplevel GLS model.
Outward visibility is very good – the spare tire is mounted underneath, not on the tailgate where it can obstruct vision.
Prices and features
Santa Fe GL models, which start at $25,250 include the following standard equipment: 2.7 litre V6 engine, 4-speed automatic ‘Shiftronic’ transmission, full-time 4WD system, 16 inch tires and alloy wheels, two-tone paint/body cladding, AM/FM/CD with four speakers, tachometer, 60/40 split folding rear seat, power windows, power door locks and central locking, cruise control, heated outside mirrors, and dual de-powered front airbags with a front passenger detection system (airbag won’t inflate if a small child, or no one, is sitting in the front passenger seat).
Air conditioning is a dealer installed option, while anti-lock brakes are not available on the GL model – to get ABS and factory-installed air conditioning, you must move up to the GLS model which is priced at $29,250. The Santa Fe GLS also includes standard leather upholstery, leather-wrapped shifter and steering wheel, heated front seats, keyless entry and alarm, front foglamps, rear dark tinted windows, colour-coordinated door handles and outside mirrors, illuminated ignition keyhole, and rear luggage tray.
With a lengthy list of standard features, a pleasant driving experience, and standard 3 year/60,000 km warranty, and 5 year/100,000 km powertrain warranty, the Santa Fe has a lot going for it, even in a class with more than a dozen competitors.
|2001 Hyundai Santa Fe|
|Base price||(GL) $25,250|
|Price as tested||(GLS) $29,250|
|Type||4-door, 5 passenger compact sport utility vehicle|
|Layout||transverse front engine/all-wheel-drive|
|Engine||2.7 litre V6, DOHC, 24 valves|
|Horsepower||181 @ 6000 rpm|
|Torque||177 @ 4000 rpm|
|Transmission||4-speed automatic ‘Shiftronic’|
|Curb weight||1687 kg (3720 lb.)|
|Cargo capacity||864 litres (30.5 cu. ft.) seat up|
|2209 litres (78.0 cu. ft.) seat down|
|Max. towing||998 kg (2200 lb.)|
|Warranty||3 yrs/60,000 km|
|Powertrain warranty||5 yrs/100,000 km|