2008 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited AWD
2008 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited AWD. Click image to enlarge
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2008 Hyundai Santa Fe

Oshawa, Ontario – Originally the entry-level SUV in the Hyundai fleet, the Santa Fe’s movement up the company’s ladder was gradual. First it was joined in 2005 by the Tucson, which was relatively close to it in terms of size and appearance. But for 2007, it was redesigned into an entirely new vehicle that undergoes only slight changes to its trim lines for 2008.

The redesign also included the availability of a third row of seats, bringing the five-passenger Santa Fe up to the possibility of hauling seven people around. It’s not the best for hauling extra bodies, as those last two seats are very cramped and uncomfortable. But the good news is that they’re a stand-alone option, which means that, unlike many seven-passenger vehicles, you don’t have to tack on a number of other items in order to get them. They’re also only available on the Limited.

2008 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited AWD
2008 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited AWD. Click image to enlarge

The Santa Fe is available with a choice of engines, both V6 models: there’s a 2.7-litre that makes 185 horsepower and 183 ft-lb of torque, and my Limited tester’s 3.3-litre, producing 242 horses and 226 lb-ft. Both engines are available in GL and GLS trim, while the Limited uses the 3.3-litre only. The 2.7-litre starts with a five-speed manual in the GL and can be optioned to the four-speed automatic that’s the sole choice in the GLS; all versions of the 3.3-litre come with a five-speed automatic.

While the 2.7-litre is strictly front-wheel drive, the 3.3-litre can be optioned with an all-wheel system in the GL and GLS, and comes exclusively with it in the Limited. It’s an on-demand system that runs primarily in front-wheel until it detects slippage; at low speeds it can also be locked into 50/50 mode via a button on the console when you need some extra traction to get out of such situations as an unploughed driveway or muddy cottage road.

I’ve driven both engines, and found that the smaller V6 is a great choice for most applications: it’s a snappy performer, it hauls the Santa Fe up hills without too much effort, and it’s fairly quiet. The 3.3-litre does its job with even less fuss, especially if you tend to load your vehicle most of the time; its power is smooth and linear and it’ll move the Santa Fe out very well, either from a standing stop or when you need to pass that long line of trucks on the highway. The difference in fuel use isn’t all that much: the 2.7 is rated at 11.4 L/100 in the city and 8.3 on the highway with the automatic and FWD, while the 3.3 comes in at 12.2 and 8.4 when similarly equipped. My only complaint with my Limited’s 3.3-litre drivetrain was that the five-speed transmission frequently hunted for a gear when making its way up a hill.

2008 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited AWD
2008 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited AWD. Click image to enlarge

All models come with the same standard safety features of front seat-side and curtain airbags (which go all the way to the third row if necessary), anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution and brake assist, front active head restraints, and electronic stability control. In U.S. testing, the 2008 model earned the highest five-star front and side crash test ratings from NHTSA, and is a “Top Safety Pick” with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). It also scores high with Consumer Reports magazine, which calls it a “Top Pick” based on its independent road tests, and on the model’s predicted safety and reliability.

Losing its original bug-eyed expression and exaggerated curves, the Santa Fe’s styling has matured into a design that’s easy on the eye, but won’t stand out in a crowd; a large rear quarter window and dipping liftgate glass provides better visibility than expected in an SUV. The taillights swoop up into the fenders and mimic the shape of the headlights; 18-inch wheels fill the sharply delineated arches (all other trim lines get 16-inch wheels, with their correspondingly less-expensive tires). The large liftgate handle looks like you’d pull that door open sideways, but it’s hinged at the top.

2008 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited AWD
2008 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited AWD
2008 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited AWD
2008 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited AWD. Click image to enlarge

The interior styling and quality has also improved, and while the centre stack looks busy, the controls are simple and easy to use; my tester’s interior colour scheme featured grey-stained plastic wood, which looks much better than the garish brown stuff that accompanies the beige interior. As with the even more upscale Veracruz, the Santa Fe abandons Hyundai’s traditional green illumination in favour of a very attractive and pricier-looking shade of blue. Everything is backlit, including the audio and cruise control buttons mounted on the tilt-and-telescopic leather-wrapped wheel.

The seats – clad in leather on the GLS and Limited models – look good, but they could be better: they’re hard, and the cushions should be longer to afford some extra support under the thighs. Tall drivers may also find that the inherently tall seating position may put their foreheads closer to the roof than they’d prefer. An eight-way power driver’s seat is standard on the GLS and Limited, while a four-way power passenger seat is exclusive to the top-line Limited model.

With five-passenger seating, the cargo area is 103 cm long; fold the seats, accomplished without removing the head restraints, and it opens to 170 cm in length. The model also gets bonus points for taking the space that would be used for the third row, and installing a large, deep plastic compartment with movable dividers under the floor panel. There’s even a prop rod that automatically holds the lid open, so you’re not stuck trying to load it up with one hand while balancing the lid with the other. The only improvement for the cargo area would be an easy-clean plastic floor, but the carpeting probably helps to keep the Santa Fe’s noise level down.

I remember my base 2007 Santa Fe tester having a much noisier undercarriage and more cabin intrusion than this Limited version; the ride is firm, but it’s not unpleasant, and it takes fairly big potholes in stride before you start to feel what the wheels are meeting. While it’s hardly a sporty character, it reacts quickly and accurately to steering input, and doesn’t need constant correction to stay its course on the highway. Despite its height, it feels rigid and well-planted, and stays fairly flat when it’s taken around a corner.

2008 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited AWD
2008 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited AWD
2008 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited AWD. Click image to enlarge

The list of features puts air conditioning, CD/MP3 stereo, cruise control, power windows and locks, heated mirrors and variable intermittent wipers on all models; heated seats go on all but the 2.7-litre with manual transmission, which must mean that those who shift for themselves must be a heartier breed. The GLS models add such items as leather seats, power driver’s adjustment and a power sunroof, while the Limited tops out with dual-zone automatic climate control, six-CD stereo, auto-dimming rearview mirror with integrated compass, garage door opener, power passenger seat and chrome inserts in the outside door handles.

Prices range from $25,995 for the manual-equipped 2.7 GL to $36,945 for the seven-passenger Limited, and it seems like even more of a deal when it’s put up against the entry-level Tucson. That model in 2.7-litre Limited trim is similarly equipped to the Santa Fe 2.7 GLS, but the larger Santa Fe costs only $1,150 more. Of course, you don’t want to look south of the border, which has some different trim and option levels, but where the similar Santa Fe Limited is priced $5,445 less than its Canadian counterpart. A DVD player can be added as an accessory to the Santa Fe in Canada; in the U.S., a navigation system can be added as well that isn’t available up here.

Designed in California and built in Montgomery, Alabama, the Santa Fe is indicative of Hyundai’s new direction: relatively well-priced, without feeling cheap. The entry of the high-end and thirstier Veracruz was inadvertently timed to coincide with rising prices at the pumps, while the Tucson is getting long in the tooth and the last example I drove could have been screwed together much better. The Santa Fe slots in well between them; if your gas card’s equipped to handle an SUV, this one should be on your list.

Pricing: 2008 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited AWD

Base price: $35,245

Options: None
A/C tax: $100
Freight: $1,610
Price as tested: $36,955
Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives

Specifications
  • Specifications: 2008 Hyundai Santa Fe

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