2007 Hyundai Santa Fe Review

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John Pearley Huffman John Pearley Huffman Editor
July 14, 2006




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At some point in time the fundamental ordinariness of Hyundai products will become unremarkable. That point is coming, but it isn’t here yet. Because the most the most fascinating thing about the new second-generation Hyundai Santa Fe sorta-SUV is what a competent and thoroughly conventional machine it is. There are no glaring flaws in its design, it seems well made, and operates dang near imperceptibly. It’s just one more well-conceived Hyundai. After this, the expectation has to be that all future Hyundais will be at least as good.


With any luck when the Chinese cars finally get here at least some of them will be horribly crappy and we’ll have something to make fun of again.


The middle of everything


Hyundai will be building the unibody Santa Fe in Korea for most of the rest of the world and most of those will have diesel engines under their hoods. But the Santa Fes for North America will come from Hyundai’s new plant in Montgomery, Ala., and they’ll all have gasoline-burning V-6s under their hoods.


The base $20,945 front-drive Santa Fe GLS comes with a 185-horsepower, 2.7-liter, DOHC, 24-valve V-6 driving either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transaxle. Opting for all-wheel drive adds $1200 to the GLS’ price but most everything else stays them same. The mainstream SE ($23,645 with front-drive, $25,645 when all the wheels churn) and upscale Limited ($25,945 front- and $27,945 all-wheel drive) both use a 242-horsepower, 3.3-liter, DOHC, 24-valve V-6 driving a five-speed automatic transaxle equipped with Hyundai’s “Shiftronic” manual shifting scheme.


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With a 106.3-inch wheelbase (3.2 inches longer than the first Santa Fe’s) and 184.1-inch overall length (6.9 inches lengthier than before), Hyundai puts exactly the same space between the new Santa Fe’s front and rear axles as Honda does between the Pilot’s. However the Brand H (Honda) machine is 3.9 inches longer overall and more than two inches wider. And a look at the respective manufacturers’ claimed curb weights shows the Honda weighing at least 400 pounds more than the Hyundai.


So, no surprise, the 3.3-liter V-6-powered Santa Fe feels a bit tidier and more athletic than the Pilot even if the Honda’s 3.5-liter VTEC V-6 (rated at 244 horsepower) has an eagerness missing from the Hyundai powerplant. That impression is further enhanced by a well-sorted all-independent suspension consisting of MacPherson struts in front and a trailing arm system in the back, relatively quick rack-and-pinion steering, P235/60R18 tires around appropriate diameter alloy wheels and effective four-wheel disc brakes with standard ABS and electronic brake force distribution.


Hyundai’s particularly proud of the Santa Fe’s electronic stability and traction control systems and justly so. Because the best thing any of those systems can do is keep the vehicle shiny side up without bothering the driver while they’re doing it. And it was impossible to tell those systems were operating in the Santa Fe even when the machine was pushed towards the edge of its performance envelope.


In sum the mechanical essence of the new Santa Fe is very much typical of other vehicles in its class. And while that’s less than thrilling, it’s not bad at all.


And a lot of the middle


The 2007 Santa Fe is available with room for either five- or seven-passengers, though only five-passenger versions were on hand for evaluation at the press introduction. The interior itself is tastefully appointed in a contemporary airbag-in-every-nook-and-cranny motif; the phony wood verges on plausibility, the console mounted shifter works with some precision and there’s still too much hard plastic on the dash for the vehicle’s own good. Every instrument is easy to read, every control works with a satisfying tactile feedback, and the seats seem well stitched together.


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For the record, every 2007 Santa Fe comes with front airbags, side impact airbags for the driver and front passenger, and roof-mounted side curtain airbags. Since Hyundai didn’t encourage us to roll the Santa Fe during the test drive, we take them at their word that all those bags will do what they’re supposed to when they're blown.


Having noted all that, the bottom seat cushions on both the front buckets and the rear bench seat seem short; as if Hyundai were willing to give up some critical thigh support in order to generate an artificially large legroom number. Beyond that the front seats seem to be mounted rather high above the cockpit floor too. So while Hyundai says the Santa Fe has 42.6 inches of front leg room available, most drivers will probably find the claimed 41.4 inches in the Honda Pilot more accommodating and comfortable. Of course the Santa Fe isn’t uncomfortable and the flopping, folding and angling seats are flexible enough in configuration to swallow up plenty of cargo and passengers in dozens of different ways.


Just a little weird


About the worst thing that can be said about the Santa Fe is that not everyone will love the way it looks – that nose has more Durante in it than Durango. But there are probably plenty who won’t mind it at all, and considering this SUV’s keen price, long warranty and obvious quality, the logic of its value will be impossible for many buyers to ignore.


The next perfectly acceptable Hyundai won’t be a surprise at all. So Hyundai’s next challenge is to build something that’s so good it flat-out shocks the world.


2007 Hyundai Santa Fe SE AWD

Base price: $25,645

Engine: 3.3-liter V-6, 244 hp

Drivetrain: Five-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive

Length x width x height: 184.1 x 74.4 x 67.9 in

Wheelbase: 106.3 in

Curb weight: 4022 lb

Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 19/24 mpg

Safety equipment: Dual front, side and curtain airbags; four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes

Major standard equipment: Power windows/locks/mirrors; cruise control; CD player; keyless entry

Warranty: Five years/60,000 miles

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