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An impressive combatant in the mini-SUV realm with more cabin room than competing models. Now, if we can only overlook its exuberantly, uh, different, sheetmetal.
Relatively inexpensive price, super warranty, roomy interior.
Unproven reliability, unimpressive four-wheeling capability, underwhelming powertrain performance.
Available Santa Fe Models
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For 2001, Hyundai comes to market with its very own sport-utility. The Santa Fe is based on a modified Sonata midsize car platform and is available with either front-wheel drive or full-time four-wheel drive with either a four-cylinder or V6 engine.
Hyundai dives headfirst into the teeming SUV pool with the introduction of the Santa Fe, a sport-ute based on the midsize Sonata platform. According to Hyundai, the Santa Fe will combine car-like drivability, steering, ride, handling and braking with a truck-like seating height and profile. An optional full-time four-wheel-drive system can be thrown in to sweeten the deal. What more could the average American consumer want, right?
Hyundai's ute will be offered in either front-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive configuration, in one of three trim levels. The Santa Fe GL with front-wheel drive is the only version with a four-cylinder engine; all others come with a V6. That means you're not likely to find anything but V6 models on the dealer's lot, with GL, GLS or LX trim.
That standard 2.4-liter inline four makes 150 horsepower and is mated to a five-speed manual transmission. A four-speed automatic with manual shift mode is optional on the GL, but is better matched to the 180-horsepower 2.7-liter V6. With roughly 3,500 pounds to tug around, neither engine could be called sprightly.
Hyundai's ute comes with MacPherson struts up front and a double-wishbone suspension at the rear to ensure a car-like ride. Rack-and-pinion power steering provides sharp response. Sized roughly equal to a Lexus RX 300, the Santa Fe qualifies as a midsize SUV according to our guidelines, but is likely to be cross-shopped against smaller models like the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.
Beyond beefy sport-ute cues like big wheels and aggressive front styling, the Santa Fe is designed to resemble the Tiburon Coupe and the Sonata Sedan. You decide if this was a wise move. The rounded body-side contours, according to Hyundai, recall a desert landscape, thus setting the Hyundai apart from other, more angular SUVs. We can tell you that with a scant 7.4 inches of maximum ground clearance, you'd better be sticking to well-traveled fire roads if you venture off the pavement and into Cactusville.
Inside, the Santa Fe offers safety features like second-generation depowered front airbags and seatbelt pre-tensioners. Other standard features include alloy wheels, air conditioning, power windows, dark-tinted glass, a CD player and a 60/40 split-folding rear seat. The driver seat has adjustable height and lumbar support for long-trek comfort, and the Santa Fe boasts 29 cubes of cargo capacity with the rear seat in use.
All V6 models have four-wheel disc brakes. Mid-level GLS models add oversized foglights, power door locks, cruise control, a first-aid kit and remote keyless entry to the standard equipment list. Leather seating comes with the LX. Options are bundled into packages, forcing buyers to spend more than they want for items like ABS and a limited-slip differential.
Naturally, the Santa Fe is backed by Hyundai's excellent 10-year/100,000 limited powertrain and 5-year/60,000-mile limited bumper-to-bumper warranties. Along with a 5-year roadside assistance program, the comprehensive coverage should reassure consumers, still put off by Hyundai's former reputation for shoddy quality, that the Santa Fe will hold up over time.
Santa Fe is a big step for Hyundai and should prove popular with budget-minded SUV buyers more interested in a roomy cargo hold and sure footing during a snowstorm than running their own version of the Baja 1000.
Laura's old car was costing her a small fortune every month for gas and repairs. She didn't even want to drive her kids to the park any more. But buying a new Kia Soul changed all that.