2001 Hyundai Santa Fe
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Hyundai has been offering pretty good cars in the past few years—after selling lots of junky autos in the late 1980s. But many might find it surprising that this big South Korean outfit has introduced a very competitive car-based sport-utility vehicle.
Called the Santa Fe, this 4-door sport ute is the very first truck from Hyundai. It has a classic American name that should have been snapped up by a U.S. automaker years ago.
In fact, the Santa Fe was partly designed in America with the U.S. market expressly in mind—inside and out. It's generally based on Hyundai's Sonata sedan and has front- or permanently engaged 4-wheel drive.
The Santa Fe is car-like in most respects, but still has the high seating and utility expected from a genuine sport utility.
An automaker can satisfy lots of buyers if it leaves the impression that its cars should cost more than they do. Hyundai has done just that with the Santa Fe, which looks, feels and drives as if it should be priced a few thousand dollars higher.
That should help sales in the increasingly crowded compact sport-utility market, which has new above-average entries such as the Ford Escape and Mazda Tribute.
Base Santa Fe prices range from $16,499 for the entry 4-cylinder model with a manual gearbox to $21,999 for the V6 model with an automatic transmission and 4-wheel drive. Options include anti-lock brakes and electronic traction control.
The entry model is powered by a 2.4-liter 149-horsepower 4-cylinder that works with a 5-speed manual transmission or an optional 4-speed automatic. The midrange GLS and top-line LX models only are offered with a 2.7-liter 181-horsepower V6 and a slick automatic. Called Shiftronic, the automatic can be used as a clutch-less manual transmission.
The weight even causes V6 models to be slow for a few seconds from a standing start, so Santa Fe owners should forget about quick, safe dashes across intersections. But 65-75 mph passing times are good with the V6, which quickly gains strength and allows relaxed highway cruising. It loafs at 2500 rpm at 65 mph.
The V6 has a large, rather unsightly plastic engine cover—at least it says the engine has double overhead camshafts and 24 valves. And even the hood's manual prop has an above-average design.
Fuel economy is pretty good with either the 4-cylinder or V6—ranging from an estimated 20 mpg in the city to 28 on the highway.
Car-like Road Manners
The 4-wheel-drive system was developed by Austria's highly respected Steyr-Puch outfit and has no levers to move or buttons to push. However, there's no low-range gearing for serious off-road driving.
Wider Than Rivals
It's always nice to see the ignition switch on the dashboard, which is where it's put on the Santa Fe, because it means a driver needn't grope to find it on the steering column. But the switch is too close to that column to be as convenient as it should be. And rear-door windows don't roll all the way down.
On the other hand, the gauges are easy to read and the controls work smoothly. Most controls are large, but some radio controls are too small—a common complaint with many compact sport utes.
All doors contain fairly large storage pockets, and there are plenty of cupholders. Visibility is good from the driver's seat, and the large rearview mirrors fold in if hit in a parking lot to keep accident costs down. Those mirrors are heated and power-assisted on the GLS and LX.
Large Cargo Area
The tailgate has a flip-up window and an easily grasped handle that allows it to be quickly opened. The handle slightly clutters the rear styling, but Hyundai wisely felt it would be a good idea to add it because it would make the Santa Fe more user friendly.
Such a move shows that the Santa Fe is the result of enlightened thinking.