2002 Hyundai Santa Fe
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
The Hyundai Santa Fe continues to surprise potential compact sport-utility vehicle buyers with its affordability, roominess, high equipment level and stylishness.
Hyundai knows the Santa Fe is in a tough market segment, with rivals such as the new Saturn Vue, fairly new Ford Escape and similar Mazda Tribute—and the revamped Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester and Toyota RAV4.
So, from the get-go, Hyundai has given the Santa Fe a high level of equipment and generous warranties: 5-year/60,000-mile basic coverage and 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain coverage.
Introduced as a 2001 model, the Santa Fe has especially handsome compact sport-utility styling and a rugged, rather romantic All-American name that, surprisingly, wasn't snapped up by American automakers years ago.
In fact, the Santa Fe is the first vehicle that South Korea's thriving Hyundai designed, engineered and made expressly for the North American market.
All Santa Fe trims now have 4-wheel disc brakes for surer stops. Power door locks and body colored mirrors and door handles also are standard for all trims. And the base Santa Fe now has side cladding and a richer sound quality for its stereo system.
Higher-line trims get AM/FM/CD stereo systems upgraded with a cassette. Upgrades to the LX include anti-lock brakes with traction control, automatic temperature control and heated front seats.
Based on Auto Model
The base 4-cylinder trim comes only with front-wheel drive, while the GLS and LX have a V6, along with front-wheel drive or an all-wheel-drive system.
That system is a good one, reacting nicely as road conditions demand. It was developed by Austria's highly regarded Steyr-Daimler-Puch civilian-military outfit. The system has no levers or buttons to push, but lacks low-range gearing for challenging off-road driving.
After all, the Santa Fe is a smooth operator, not an especially tough one.
The dual overhead camshaft 2.4-liter 4-cylinder and 2.7-liter V6 engines are sophisticated. The 149-horsepower 4-cylinder works best with the standard 5-speed manual transmission, but also is offered with a responsive 4-speed automatic. That transmission has a manual shift feature and works best with the 181-horsepower V6.
The 4-cylinder is most suited for in-town use. The V6 provides decent acceleration both in town and on highways, but could use a slightly larger engine with another 20 horsepower to be more competitive with vehicles such as the 201-horsepower Ford Escape.
Why more power? Because the Santa Fe is fairly heavy for its size at approximately 3,500 pounds and lots of revs are needed for the best acceleration, especially with a full load of passengers or cargo. However, the V6 is smooth and fairly quiet during hard acceleration.
Fuel economy is pretty good for a roomy compact sport utility: 20-21 mpg in the city and 27-28 on highways with the 4-cylinder and 19 in the city and 23-25 on highways with the V6, depending on if it has front-wheel drive or the less economical all-wheel drive.
The steering is precise, with a good amount of road feel. Handling is decent, but this is no BMW X5 high-performance sport utility so the Santa Fe exhibits a fair amount of body sway when driven hard through curves. Driven normally, the Santa Fe is quite agile.
The all-independent suspension provides a cushy ride. And braking is good during routine driving.
Average Interior Materials
The ignition switch is on the dashboard, not buried on the steering column. But that switch is too close to the steering column to be as convenient to reach as it should be.
Easy in and out
The front bucket seats are broad and supportive, and there are easily read gauges and large, nicely positioned controls. There are plenty of storage areas, including front and rear door pockets, and front cupholders can hold hefty beverage containers.
Impressive Back Seat
There is a large, wide opening for the big cargo area and the rear seat easily folds forward to appreciably increase cargo space. The tailgate has a flip-up window and an especially large handle that lets it be quickly opened.
The hood is held up by smooth hydraulic struts, not a prop rod, and fluid filler areas are easily reached.
The Santa Fe has been a hit from the start and has quickly established Hyundai as a serious player in the sport-utility market—a development that significantly enhances its competitiveness.