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Landing at the small end of mid-size, the 2011 Hyundai Santa Fe is a good, value-priced vehicle for small families. Looking a bit closer, while its performance and appearance are by no means exciting, the Santa Fe has impressive cabin comfort and standard features—along with top-notch safety.
Last year, Hyundai rolled out all-new powertrains for the Santa Fe, and we're glad they didn't wait; these new engines and transmissions not only give the Santa Fe better responsiveness and acceleration but also improved fuel economy. The 2.4-liter Theta II four-cylinder engine in the Santa Fe makes 175 horsepower, and it has enough power to move this tall wagon rapidly—albeit with a little indecision from the transmission. The 3.5-liter Lambda V-6 engine makes 276 horsepower feels strong and smooth, even if it isn't as sweet as Toyota's V-6 in the Highlander or even GM's in the Chevrolet Equinox. 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.
With its in-between dimensions, the 2011 Hyundai Santa Fe is a few inches longer than the likes of the Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4, and Just three inches short of the Toyota Highlander. Yet it sticks to a two-row layout (the third row was discontinued last year), to seat up to five. Seating in the Santa Fe is pretty good all around, although the seats have odd contouring and rather short cushions; five can fit in a pinch in the backseat, though they'll jostle shoulders.
Trim and interior materials received an upgrade last year, though they're still closer to par for the class than representative of what you see in Hyundai's all-new vehicles. Ride quality is on the soft side, but well controlled, and the cabin generally stays pretty quiet—though with noteworthy road noise on some surfaces.
The options list for the Hyundai Santa Fe looks remarkably empty. That's because of the way Hyundai sells vehicles—with a limited number of trims and builds—but it's also because nearly everything comes standard. The entry Santa Fe GLS includes a number of features that cost extra in this class—or at least aren't typically included in base models—such as Bluetooth, keyless entry, cruise, and USB and iPod inputs. Top Limited models get full leather upholstery, a sunroof, and dual-zone climate control, plus 605-watt Infinity surround-sound audio.
- Strong acceleration (V-6)
- Nice size for families
- Cargo space
- Lots of standard features
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- Rubbery, vague steering
- Indecisive automatic transmission
- Unexciting styling