The Koreans are no longer pushovers when it come to automotive manufacturing. This is one country that has cut its niche in all segments of vehicle offerings that has continued to appeal to car freaks the world over. That reminds one of the Hyundai brand, particularly the Santa Fe.
From the moment it was launched in the 2001 model year, the Santa Fe has been one of Hyundai’s bestsellers. It has helped push the brand past its image and has also further boosted the brand’s luxury convenience features. In case you do not know, the Santa Fe Sport with its full flavour replaces the unmemorable Veracruz in the lineup. Hyundai hasn’t decided whether to count the two Santa Fes as one in its sales charts.
Both the predecessor Veracruz and the current Santa Fe share the same clean exterior design, although with subtle changes to the lower front fascia and grille mesh. By comparison, Santa Fe’s wheelbase is 3.8 inches longer than the Sport’s; it’s 8.5 inches longer overall, and it has a spare 38.6 cubic feet of interior space. With the slidable, reclining second row slid no more than halfway back, there’s adequate third-row legroom, as well as headroom, for adults during relatively short trips.
In place of the Sport’s four-cylinder and turbo four options is one engine, the venerable 290-hp, 3.3-litre V-6. It’s enough for the sub-two-ton front-wheel-drive Santa Fe, although the heavier all-wheel-drive model strains a bit on steep hills. Hyundai claims a best-in-class 5,000-pound towing capacity.
To have room for seven, order the standard GLS with its second-row bench seat. The fancier Limited, with perforated leather seats, has captain’s chairs in the middle, cutting the body count.
Within the automotive circles, large mid-size CUVs essentially are regarded as tall mid-size station wagons with a mission to deliver exciting driving pleasures to occupants who are on a corporate family trip cruising on smooth highways and street roads.
No doubt, occupants will have to be satisfied with the large booth capacity for loading baggage or mountain bikes on the roof. The new big-bodied Santa Fe is equal to the segment’s status quo. Comparatively, it does not have the Mazda CX-9’s impressive chassis balance, but better than the aged Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, and the Ford Explorer.
To make the best of the Santa Fe, skip the nineteen- and go for the base eighteen-inch wheels. This piece of advice is very important because automotive manufacturing experts have come to realise that high unsprung weight never does a big crossover any favour.
In this application, the engineers have amplified the body motion and head toss and chassis that they couldn’t completely eliminate, but at least it rides far better than the Veracruz. The outside rear wheel seems prone to creating an extra little bit of rebound when coming out of a twisty road’s dip.
On motion, there is more road-impact harshness with the nineteen-inch alloy wheels but with no payoff in handling which in a way makes Santa Fe appropriately cushy in the corners. The bigger tyre option transmits more road noise. Auto buffs or critics are rather of the opinion that Hyundai’s choice of home-market Hankooks instead of pricier Michelins or Goodyears doesn’t help matters in giving prospective customers array of tyres to choose from.
Engineers have taken advantage of the electric power steering to add a three-level steering-effort button. Let’s just say differences among “comfort”, “normal”, and “sport” are “subtle”. The amount of steering feel, in any setting, is not bad for an EPS system, though, and you can feel enough road grain to indicate that it might give decent feedback on slippery roads, which we didn’t encounter in SoCal.
The wood-grain dash applique, for instance, seems to have come from the 1970s. Specifically, the GLS’s standard cloth seats are attractive and feel sturdy enough for long-term ownership, while the perforated leather in the Limited version does not present it as a luxury car, but it also looks good. They’re heated upfront but not cooled, which isn’t very Hyundai-like.
One could see the Santa Fe Limited as a kind of upscale crossover complementing the Genesis sedan in Hyundai showrooms. The automaker decided not to offer, even optionally, the active cruise control system.
Overall, the Santa Fe’s cabin is about as quiet and comfortable as the best of the competition. The interior has a familiar modern mix of textures and materials that look tightly screwed together, although some of the dashboard and door-panel plastics feel cheap by modern standards.