2010 Hyundai Santa Fe Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
March 1, 2010

A new line of powertrains will help save fuel yet make the 2010 Hyundai Santa Fe more appealing than ever.

TheCarConnection.com hasn't yet driven the recently unveiled 2010 Hyundai Santa Fe, which gets revised powertrains and some appearance upgrades for 2010. However, we're presenting you the rest of the story here based on previous drives of the otherwise unchanged Santa Fe, including highlights from other expert reviews as well to provide you with the most information available. We'll be updating this with firsthand driving impressions as soon as possible.

The Santa Fe has been instrumental in representing the sea change in Hyundai quality in recent years and the way in which its reputation has vastly improved. The current-generation Santa Fe was introduced in 2007, growing to a small mid-size crossover vehicle that's more comfortable and refined than the version it replaced. For 2010 it finally gets more powerful, fuel-efficient powertrains that put it on a level playing ground with key rivals from Japan and the United States.

The 2010 Hyundai Santa Fe doesn't look that much different than the 2009 model. The bumpers are smoothed over very slightly, and there's a new grille and different wheel designs on the outside. Inside the Santa Fe has an upgraded look to some of the materials, a new range of colors, and new features, including steering-wheel audio controls for all models. The interior of the 2010 Hyundai Santa Fe makes a nice design statement that both breaks from Euro-worship and doesn't quite fit the mold with other Japanese-brand crossovers; every surface and seam is a little curved, and "flowing" would be the best word to describe the instrument-panel look. But that can't help mask that the Santa Fe is just a little bit on the bland side in nearly every styling respect, inside and out; it's inoffensive, but not at all memorable.

All-new powertrains are the big news in the 2010 Hyundai Santa Fe. The new Theta II 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine in the Santa Fe makes 175 horsepower and has improved fuel economy (up to 20 mpg city, 28 highway), while the new 3.5-liter Lambda V-6 engine makes 276 horsepower and has EPA ratings of 20/26 mpg—an improvement of 18 percent in the city and 8 percent on the highway. A new six-speed automatic transmission comes with either engine for the Santa Fe. Front-wheel drive is standard, with an optional electronically controlled all-wheel-drive system that can send power to whichever wheels have the best traction or locked 50/50 between front and rear wheels for light off-road conditions.

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The 2010 Santa Fe has a reasonably roomy interior that's spacious enough for four adults; five can fit in a pinch, though they'll jostle shoulders. Hyundai used to offer a third-row seat on the Santa Fe, but that's been discontinued for 2010 (wisely, as it was tight even for small kids). This leaves impressive cargo space in back, with a flat floor created if you fold the seats forward. Hyundai upgrades trim and upholstery materials for 2010, though the design itself doesn't change. The steering wheel now adjusts for tilt and telescopically on all models, however. Overall, the Santa Fe's driving feel is surprisingly capable and somewhat sporty compared to that of other crossovers, with a quiet, well-controlled ride.

Safety ratings are top-notch for the 2010 Hyundai Santa Fe; it earns "good" ratings across the board from the IIHS in frontal, side, and rear tests, and top five-star results from the federal government in frontal impact. Standard safety features on the Santa Fe include electronic stability control, electronic brake force distribution, side and side-curtain airbags, and active head restraints. New for 2010 are rollover sensors for the side-curtain airbags, along with auto-fold backseat head restraints for the outboard positions.

The Santa Fe is very well equipped in terms of standard features, but it doesn't offer the library of options that's available on some rivals. Standard across the model line (and on the base GLS) are air conditioning, power windows and locks, keyless entry, 17-inch alloy wheels, and a 120-watt sound system with six speakers and an iPod/USB interface. The SE model adds a rear spoiler, upgraded power driver's seat, leather-and-cloth seats, fog lamps, larger wheels, and upgraded trim, while the top-of-the-line Limited gets dual-zone climate control, leather seats (heated in front), chrome accents, a sunroof, and a HomeLink garage-door opener. Optional on the SE and Limited is a navigation system with rearview camera. Finally, Hyundai's long 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty erases worries.

8

2010 Hyundai Santa Fe

Styling

The 2010 Hyundai Santa Fe isn't downright anonymous, but there's nothing distinctive, new, or trendy here.

The 2010 Hyundai Santa Fe doesn't look that much different than the 2009 model. The bumpers are smoothed over very slightly, and there's a new grille and different wheel designs on the outside. Inside the Santa Fe has an upgraded look to some of the materials, a new range of colors, and some new features, including steering-wheel audio controls for all models.

The interior of the 2010 Hyundai Santa Fe makes a nice design statement that both breaks from Euro-worship and doesn't quite fit the mold with other Japanese-brand crossovers; every surface and seam is a little curved, and "flowing" would be the best word to describe the instrument-panel look. But that can't mask that the Santa Fe is just a little bit on the bland side in nearly every styling respect, inside and out; it's inoffensive, but not at all memorable.

Overall, Hyundai gets kudos for looking "more and more like refined machines and less like the plasticky econoboxes the company put out in the 1980s and '90s,” contends Cars.com, adding that it has "lines that flow gracefully into each other."

7

2010 Hyundai Santa Fe

Performance

All-new direct-injection engines and a new automatic transmission should make the 2010 Santa Fe more responsive than ever—a good match to its already surefooted handling.

All-new powertrains are the big news in the 2010 Hyundai Santa Fe. The new Theta II 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine in the Santa Fe makes 175 horsepower and has improved fuel economy (up to 20 mpg city, 28 highway), while the new 3.5-liter Lambda V-6 engine produces 276 horsepower and achieves EPA ratings of 20/26 mpg—an improvement of 18 percent in the city and 8 percent on the highway. A new six-speed automatic transmission comes with either engine for the Santa Fe. Front-wheel drive is standard, with an optional electronically controlled all-wheel-drive system that can send power to whichever wheels have the best traction or locked 50/50 between front and rear wheels for light off-road conditions.

At the time we assembled this review, no professional review sources had yet driven the 2010 Santa Fe, so we can't comment on the powertrain. Since most of the Santa Fe's other mechanical underpinnings are carried over, we anticipate that the Santa Fe will keep its excellent road manners.

"Don't count on doing any serious off-road driving," says Car and Driver—advice that no doubt holds true for the new model. "The all-wheel-drive system does not have low-range gearing."

8

2010 Hyundai Santa Fe

Comfort & Quality

Comfort and utility are strengths for the 2010 Hyundai Santa Fe; upgraded materials should add some class this year to the interior.

The 2010 Santa Fe has a reasonably roomy interior that's spacious enough for four adults; five can fit in a pinch, though they'll jostle shoulders.

This leaves impressive cargo space in back, with a flat floor created if you fold the seats forward. The steering wheel now adjusts for tilt and telescopically on all models now, so a wide range of driver sizes should be able to get comfortable.

Cars.com reports that the Santa Fe offers "a cargo area of 78.2 cubic feet," and notes that "the second row splits 60/40 and both fold flat." ConsumerGuide asserts that the Hyundai Santa Fe "offers impressive room, build quality, and standard safety features."

Unlike other compact crossovers, the Santa Fe is spacious and comfortable in the rear seat area. Automotive.com also reports the "headroom and legroom in the Santa Fe is greater in all rows than in competing models." Hyundai used to offer a third-row seat on the Santa Fe, but that's been discontinued for 2010 (wisely, as it was tight even for small kids).

Overall, the Santa Fe's driving feel is surprisingly capable and somewhat sporty compared to that of other crossovers, with a ride that's well controlled and quiet. ConsumerGuide notes that "road rumble is apparent over some surfaces."

Automotive.com notes how Santa Fe includes "realistic-looking (but faux) wood-trim accents across the width of the dashboard, surrounding the shifter, and along the door panels."
"The faux metal and wood trim is convincing, the headliner is handsome, and no plastics look cheap," says ConsumerGuide. TheCarConnection.com disagrees somewhat, thinking of trim and materials as a weakness; Hyundai upgrades trim and upholstery for 2010, though the design itself doesn't change.

9

2010 Hyundai Santa Fe

Safety

The 2010 Hyundai Santa Fe has all the expected features in this class of vehicle, plus an excellent crash-test record.

Safety ratings are top-notch for the 2010 Hyundai Santa Fe; it earns "good" ratings across the board from the IIHS in frontal, side, and rear tests, and top five-star results from the federal government in frontal impact.

Standard safety features on the Santa Fe include electronic stability control, electronic brake force distribution, side and side-curtain airbags, and active head restraints. New for 2010 are rollover sensors for the side-curtain airbags, along with auto-fold backseat head restraints for the outboard positions.

ConsumerGuide says the "styling slightly interferes with visibility to right rear and directly astern." But TheCarConnection.com notes that the Santa Fe is among the better crossover designs for rearward visibility.

8

2010 Hyundai Santa Fe

Features

The 2010 Hyundai Santa Fe offers most—though not all—of the features a tech-smart shopper would want in a responsibly sized crossover.

The Santa Fe is very well equipped in terms of standard features, but it doesn't offer the library of options available on some rivals.

Standard across the model line (and on the base GLS) are air conditioning, power windows and locks, keyless entry, 17-inch alloy wheels, and a 120-watt sound system with six speakers and an iPod/USB interface.

Edmunds says, "All trim levels are well-stocked with standard convenience and safety features."

The SE model adds a rear spoiler, an upgraded power driver's seat, leather-and-cloth seats, fog lamps, larger wheels, and upgraded trim, while the top-of-the-line Limited gets dual-zone climate control, leather seats (heated in front), chrome accents, a sunroof, and a HomeLink garage-door opener.

Optional on the SE and Limited is a navigation system with rearview camera. Finally, Hyundai's long 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty erases worries. Cars.com also notes that an "optional DVD player for the third row, dual climate zones and fan controls for the second and third rows" are available.

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