2004 Hyundai Santa Fe
This 2004 review is representative of model years 2001 to 2006.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Americans are still interested in sport-utility vehicles, especially if they are reasonably priced.
Just look at Hyundai's first-ever SUV, the Santa Fe.
Introduced in the 2001 model year, the Santa Fe has set sales records each year since.
Company spokesman Mike Anson said the 101,278 Santa Fes sold in calendar 2003 were a 29.4 percent increase over the previous record of 78,279 set in calendar 2002. And he noted the 2003 sales were limited by supply as labor strikes in South Korea, where Santa Fes are built, reduced production during the year.
It doesn't take a lot of investigation to see why the Santa Fe continues to be popular.
With a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price of around $18,000 for a four-cylinder-powered, two-wheel-drive model with manual transmission and approximately $21,000 for a base V6, automatic model, the Santa Fe ranks as one of the most affordable SUVs on the market.
It's also one of the few to offer two V6s, and every Santa Fe comes standard with a 10-year/100,000-mile power train warranty. This warranty is just one example of how the Santa Fe follows Hyundai's pattern of including many features as standard equipment.
For example, every Santa Fe includes standard air conditioning, an AM/FM stereo with CD player and six speakers, three power outlets, power windows, outside mirrors and door locks, an illuminated and lockable glove box, cargo area lighting, overhead storage console and front-seat side airbags.
In comparison, the base, four-cylinder-powered, 2005 Ford Escape has a starting MSRP of more than $18,700 and doesn't include side airbags as standard equipment. The 2004 Toyota RAV4 starts at more than $18,300 and also doesn't include standard side airbags. Both prices are for two-wheel-drive SUVs with manual transmissions.
Still, this is one car-based SUV that looks rugged. Indeed, looking at Santa Fe, few consumers likely would guess its platform is a modified version of the one used for Hyundai's Sonata midsize car.
This foundation, combined with unibody construction and four-wheel independent suspension, provides a comfortable, relatively easy ride that's more car-like than truckish.
In the test four-door Santa Fe, with two-wheel-drive and top V6, I felt road bumps mostly mildly, with just a few vibrations coming through to passengers.
There are good views out of this tallish vehicle. Yet, even someone my size—5 feet 4—doesn't have to climb up to get inside or take a flying leap to get out. I did notice, though, the multiple sills at the driver doorway and the fact my leg brushed against the Santa Fe's outermost sill, which sometimes moistened my pant leg in rainy weather.
Cargo room, which tops out at 77.7 cubic feet with the rear seats folded down, is greater than that of the Escape and RAV4.
There's nothing fancy about the Santa Fe's interior. It's a pleasant area to be in, with a spacious feel and controls placed where drivers would expect to find them.
In the test vehicle, the leather seat trim had a hard, vinyl feel, rather than a soft, supple sensation, seats could have used some improved support and the shiny silver plastic trim around the gearshift lever was already scratched.
I also was surprised to feel cold air blowing out of the "automatic" air conditioning unit on occasion when I had the temperature set for a warm 76 degrees.
Back-seat riders have nice views out the sizable side windows, which open nearly all the way. There's a mostly flat floor back there, and the middle rider while lacking a head restraint, has a soft resting spot. Watch as you step in and out of the rear seat, as the entryway area for feet is not large, and riders enter and exit right next to the rear wheel well.
The Santa Fe's four head restraints can be adjusted and locked into place, but Hyundai does not offer the option of head-protection curtain airbags, which are appearing on increasing numbers of SUVs. For example, they are an option in the RAV4.
As I sat back in the back seat of the test Santa Fe, I had to watch that I didn't tangle my feet in the wiring under the driver's seat.
I liked that the rear seatbacks could be set to recline in a number of positions and the pull-down rear center armrest sat up some from the seat cushion, so I didn't have to slouch to use it.
As we traveled, I heard some road noise from the 16-inch tires, but it wasn't overly intrusive.
The two-wheel-drive tester regularly squealed its tires at startup as the power came through to the wheels. Traction control would kick in to manage the situation, but it usually wasn't until I had felt the tires slip.
The 200 horses and maximum torque of 219 lb-ft at 3500 rpm in this Santa Fe LX compares with 201 horses and 196 lb-ft at 4850 rpm from the top 3.0-liter V6 in the Escape.
The Santa Fe's other V6—a 2.7-liter, double overhead cam power plant mated to a four-speed automatic—produces 173 horsepower and 182 lb-ft of torque.
The base, 2.4-liter in-line four cylinder of the Santa Fe generates a rather meager 138 horses and 147 lb-ft of torque at 3000 rpm. It isn't expected to be around long after the 2004 model year.
Note the fuel economy in the rather heavy Santa Fe isn't as good as can be found in many other SUVs. For instance, the tester with two-wheel drive was rated at only 16 miles a gallon in city driving and 22 mpg on the highway. This compares with 19/25 mpg for a V6 Escape with two-wheel drive.
Hyundai is adding a second sport-utility vehicle to its line in summer 2004. The Hyundai Tucson will be a smaller SUV than the Santa Fe. Look for the Santa Fe to move upmarket some after the Tucson's arrival.