Taking a look at Hyundai’s 2010 model line, the South Korean automaker seems to have a car that should satisfy the needs of most any car buyer. The fact that Hyundai accomplished this feat in under a decade is startling, but when did this all start? In 2000, Hyundai had three sedans and a coupe. Starting in 2001, Hyundai introduced the Santa Fe, a small sport ute. The Santa Fe was a success, and a second generation followed in 2007. Today, the Santa Fe is positioned between the smaller Tuscon and larger Veracruz, but remains Hyundai’s best selling SUV. For 2010, the Santa received a refresh, but has Hyundai managed to bridge the gap to the competition?
The exterior of the Santa Fe sports a new grill and tail lights-minor stuff, but parked side by side, it does keep the car looking fresh. Our test car was finished in a rich looking Pacific Blue Pearl, which was pleasing to look at, but dark colors seem to obscure the gentle curves and character lines of the car. Checking out brighter colored Santa Fe’s was like looking at a different car-even in subdued silver, it pops in a way our test car did not. The Santa Fe is clean and simple in appearance-all trim is either body color or black, and the only chrome you will find is on the Hyundai symbol and Santa Fe name tag.
For years, the automotive press has described Hyundai’s as feature-laden cars, but always a few steps behind the competition in terms of fit and finish. With the Santa Fe, this is no longer the case. Hyundai now stands on even ground with the competition, while still offering an impressive list of equipment. Bluetooth, steering wheel controls and USB audio jacks are now standard on all Santa Fe’s. Build quality, and the feel and texture of the materials were excellent. Our SE test car came standard with a unique cloth/leather interior. No hard plastics were to be found, and the mix of ‘wood’ trim, chrome bits and painted aluminum all contributed to an interior that was fairly rich looking for this price point. Sound quality from the standard stereo was quite good and the XM satellite radio was a welcome standard feature. Other thoughtful features like his and hers sunglasses holders, and cupholders designed to ‘hug’ cups of different sizes also impressed.
While the quality and features rival the best of the Santa Fe’s competition, the interior does have a few flaws. It took a couple of days until I was finally able to find a comfortable driving position, something I can usually achieve in about half a minute in other cars. And despite the contrast of cloth and leather, ‘wood’ and ‘aluminum’ Ã‚Â trim, the Santa Fe’s interior was dreadfully dark, and with the color our test car had, black is your option. Even the gauge cluster was dark. Many manufacturers have gauges that light up when you start the car, and Hyundai would be wise to include this on the Santa Fe. The Santa Fe is the only car I’ve driven on a sunny day where I could see the instruments better with the lights on than off.
The big news for the 2010 Santa Fe is found under the hood. The base GLS offers a 2.4L four rated at 175hp, which can be paired with a six-speed manual Ã‚Â (FWD only) or automatic. The SE and Limited models come standard with a new 3.5L V-6 rated at 276hp, coupled to a six-speed automatic. The new V-6 offers more power and greater fuel economy than the engine it replaces. I found the V-6 to have plenty of oomph, good passing power, but was smooth in operation-never intrusive. Honda and Toyota have reason to be concerned how close Hyundai has come to offer a V-6 that is nearly as refined as theirs. The new six-speed automatic is seamless in operation. A V-6 Santa Fe can tow up to 3,500 lbs. Our test car was a front-wheel drive model. Living in New England as I do, I would insist on all-wheel drive, which is a $1,900 option on the SE.
As for ride and handling, I hesitate the call the Santa Fe typical SUV, as the ride is a little firmer than say, a Chevy Equinox. From the driver’s seat, you get a decent amount of road feel, but Hyundai engineers still put the emphasis on comfort. Overall, the Santa Fe is easy and predictable to drive with no surprises.
Our front-wheel drive Santa Fe SE came with an as-tested price of $26,915, which included a respectable standard equipment list. The Santa Fe is priced at a very appealing price point. If a Honda CRV is a size too small, and the Pilot is too large and expensive, the Santa Fe is a perfect fit. Hyundai has managed to package a new, smooth V-6 with just right proportions that all combine for a compelling choice for most families. With the Santa Fe, Hyundai has shed its bargain-bin status for good, and is a no-excuses, legitimate threat to the competition.