I just drove a new 2010 Hyundai Santa Fe and I have to say I was more impressed than I thought I'd be, and for reasons that would have never occurred to me. When I was a young lad, who still had some youth to misspend, there was this South Korean car company that came in offering a lot of car for not a lot of money. You may recall the Pony, much like you'd recall a horrible, disastrous first date. Hyundai picked up where Toyota and Honda had left off in the ‘70s, by offering inexpensive motorized misery--poor quality in every single aspect. That Pony left a long-lasting bad taste in many consumers' mouths but that was over well 20 years ago.
Hyundai is now right near the top of the heap globally. Why? Because they make good products. After hiring away many of Toyota's top quality and engineering folks, which allegedly incurred a cease-and-desist letter from Toyota, Hyundai learned the hard way how you have to get the big things right for people to take you seriously--and they did. All that is left from my point of view are some small things.
So let's get back to the Santa Fe. I have stated on many occasions I am not an SUV kind of guy, but I can appreciate why people like these vehicles. In addition to the bounty of great features that are standard here, and the solid warranty (are you listening Germany?), here is why I think the Santa Fe should be on your shopping list if you like SUVs.
This vehicle isn't small, it sits high, something SUV drivers want, and it's wide, with good space front and back and plenty of headroom. Back seat space was also good, and comfy--enough for three across for sure. The rear seats are a tad low, but nothing off-putting. The cargo area is positively massive, and Hyundai being clever folk added a good sized sub-cargo bay with a well-finished cover where you can store stuff away from prying eyes--and it’s accessed easily too. More than enough for the Costco run every month. Space is a luxury, and the Santa Fe has lots of it.
The interior shapes and fittings were pleasing too, the blue back-lighting being one of my favorite things (reminds of the Volkswagen dashboard blue from the last generation Golf). It is really easy on the eyes. The layout of everything was simple and clear as well, and you could get in and not have to hunt for every button. And the steering wheel buttons were also logical and had a good tactile feel to them, which I appreciate. In short, the inside is a nice place to spend time.
Hyundai has learned to make a good engine and transmission over the years, and the vehicle’s 3.5-liter DOHC V-6 is solid. Not too loud, good torque (the real measure of strength in my books), and smooth. And when I put my boot into it the Santa Fe moved forward with a shove in the back. I kept up with all the other SUVs and cars easily. The five-speed automatic was also quite nice, but if you jumped on the gas when rolling (very slowly) through a stop sign, you could catch the computer napping and it didn't downshift as quickly as it should. But for most drivers this is an engine-transmission combo that will never let you down--power to move and to pass. Why they have a manual shift feature is a mystery. Waste of development dollars that should have gone elsewhere.
Ride and Handling
Handling for SUVs usually comes in as number 22 on the priority list after "ensure that the cup holders are big enough for a one-gallon beverage." When I walked up to the Santa Fe (in a lovely shade of dark blue), what caught my eye first were the big aluminum wheels--18 inches--that gave the car some presence. Turns out that they were attached to a chassis that deftly handled the potholed and barely paved arteries of the backwards city I live in. The ride was really nice, the steering was very decent for this kind of car, and I was expecting some bucking and bouncing around, but there wasn't any. And when I decided to take a few corners at elevated speeds, this thing wasn't sloppy, at all. I'd say the smooth ride and handling impressed me the most--odd for an SUV.