It's human nature: Everyone wants to feel like a smart shopper -- like they've discovered a little-known product that delivers big-time bang for the buck. Perhaps something along the lines of the 2010 Hyundai Santa Fe, for example. While this affordable midsize crossover has struggled to achieve household-name status, a growing number of savvy buyers in recent years have found that the Santa Fe has some distinct advantages over its higher-profile competitors. Now, a few key improvements promise to make the 2010 model just that much more attractive.
While the Santa Fe's freshened exterior styling may be the most obvious change, the big news here is actually under the hood. The base engine is now a 175-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder that replaces last year's 185-hp 2.7-liter V6. It's paired to a new six-speed automatic transmission, and the combination provides significantly better fuel economy as well as quicker acceleration The optional 276-hp 3.5-liter V6 is also new; it, too, provides better performance and fuel economy compared to last year's 3.3-liter V6.
The Santa Fe's already long list of standard comfort and convenience features also grows a little longer for 2010. Some desirable extras -- like leather upholstery and a sunroof -- are still available only on the top-of-the-line Limited trim level, but Bluetooth hands-free cell phone connectivity, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and a USB audio jack have now trickled down to become standard across the model lineup. The optional touchscreen navigation system is also now offered on all three trim levels.
One notable deletion from the 2010 Hyundai Santa Fe's options list is the third-row seat. While going from a seven- to a five-passenger interior may put off some buyers, we don't consider it a great loss because that way-back seat was so cramped and difficult to access it was really only fit for small and nimble children.
While the Santa Fe has a lot going for it, it's not right for everybody. Those in search of a sportier driving experience would likely be happier with the Mazda CX-7 or Nissan Murano. If you're one of those folks who really needs a third-row seat, we'd suggest you check out roomier seven-passenger crossovers like the Chevrolet Traverse or Toyota Highlander.
That said, when you put these improvements together with an affordable MSRP, top crash test scores and a generous 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, the Santa Fe begins to look like a pretty smart purchase indeed.