What's New for 2008
The 2008 Hyundai Santa Fe receives minor changes. The Limited trim pads its standard equipment roster with the high-power Infinity Logic 7 CD changer audio system and a sunroof, while SE models now include standard premium seat cloth.
One of the fastest growing and most popular vehicle types recently, midsize crossover SUVs have become America's favored choice for family transportation. Better driving and more fuel efficient than traditional truck-based sport utilities and hipper than minivans, these vehicles are well suited for daily life. One particularly well-executed and value-laden example is the 2008 Hyundai Santa Fe.
Coming off a full redesign last year, the latest Santa Fe is roomier, more powerful and more luxurious in feel than before, with a better balance between ride and handling dynamics. Especially relevant for families, its stiffer body structure also contributes to a greater margin of safety, as evidenced by its impressive crash test scores. More rakish-looking and with a longer wheelbase, the Santa Fe now features more room in every direction, plus the option of third-row seating. It's clear that cabin design was a major focus for Hyundai this time around, as the Santa Fe boasts an attractive layout constructed of high-quality materials. Underneath, this light-duty hauler has most bases covered with two available V6 engines and the option of front- or all-wheel drive.
Overall, there's a lot to like about Hyundai's midsize crossover. It looks luxurious both inside and out and might even be confused for a Lexus. The list of standard equipment is impressive, especially when one factors in price. If there's a downside, it's that the Santa Fe isn't as pleasurable to drive as other top models in this segment. As such, shoppers with a priority for driver enjoyment might want to look at the Mazda CX-7, Mitsubishi Outlander or Toyota RAV4 V6. But the majority of families who simply desire a spacious midsize SUV that packs lots of value -- including great warranty coverage -- will be well served by the 2008 Hyundai Santa Fe.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Hyundai Santa Fe midsize crossover sport-utility is available in three trim levels: base GLS, SE and Limited. The GLS starts off with 16-inch alloy wheels, full power accessories, keyless entry, cruise control and a CD/MP3 player. The midlevel SE trim features a larger V6 engine, 18-inch alloy wheels, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, automatic headlights, a trip computer and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls. The top-of-the-line Santa Fe Limited adds leather upholstery, heated front seats, a power driver seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, a sunroof and a premium Infinity audio system with a six-CD changer.
Some of the Limited's extra features are offered as options on the GLS and SE. Other options include a third-row seat with auxiliary rear climate controls, Bluetooth and towing preparation. An optional navigation system and a rear-seat entertainment system are offered on the Santa Fe Limited only.
Powertrains and Performance
Santa Fe GLS models come with a 2.7-liter V6 that produces 185 horsepower and 183 pound-feet of torque. The SE and Limited feature a larger 3.3-liter V6 good for 242 hp and 226 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard with the base engine, and a four-speed automatic is optional. The larger V6 comes standard with a five-speed automatic transmission.
All Santa Fe models are offered with either front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive powertrains. The electronically controlled AWD system automatically routes power to the wheels with the best traction. For improved performance in slippery or off-road conditions, a driver-selectable AWD lock provides a fixed 50/50 torque split between front and rear wheels. Properly equipped, the Santa Fe can tow up to 3,500 pounds. EPA-estimated fuel economy is pretty much identical for both engines; a 2008 AWD model with the 3.3-liter V6 has a 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway rating, about average for this segment.
The 2008 Hyundai Santa Fe offers an impressive array of standard safety features including antilock disc brakes (with brake assist), traction control, stability control, front seat side airbags, full-length head curtain airbags and active front-seat head restraints. In government crash tests, the Santa Fe received a perfect five stars for protection in frontal and side impacts. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, the Santa Fe earned a "Top Safety Pick" award and the highest possible rating of "Good" in both frontal-offset and side-impact tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
Hyundai focused on interior design with the second-generation Santa Fe, and it shows, with an attractive dashboard and quality materials throughout. The Santa Fe can seat up to seven passengers with the optional third-row seat. Like most models in this segment, however, it's really only suitable for children. The second row is notably above average in terms of comfort.
The split rear seats can be folded flat in both rows, and the Santa Fe splits the difference between smaller and larger crossover SUVs with 78 cubic feet of maximum cargo room. Upscale touches like blue instrument lighting and adjustable B-pillar air vents create an inviting atmosphere. The driving position can be awkward for some, as the front seats are mounted overly high, and the short bottom cushions offer minimal thigh support for taller adults.
The 2008 Hyundai Santa Fe is perfectly adequate for daily suburban duty, but certain aspects of the driving experience are disappointing. The small V6 in the base GLS model works hard at times to deal with moving this 2-ton SUV. We suggest stepping up to the SE and Limited's larger V6 if you're planning on regularly hauling passengers or cargo. The five-speed automatic transmission coupled with this engine generally works well, though at times it can be slow to downshift for quick passing or merging maneuvers.
On the move, the Santa Fe's handling is predictable and safe. The highway ride can be overly harsh at times on models equipped with the 18-inch wheels. We've also taken issue with brake pedal feel; it can be a bit soft during hard braking, and overall braking distances on a Santa Fe we tested were longer than average for this class of vehicle.