Hyundai Santa Fe Review

Justin Berkowitz
by Justin Berkowitz

Back before gas prices scared SUV owners sensible, most CUV’s were “cute utes.” As the SUV exodus gathered pace, several abandoned truck makers figured SUV refugees were a bit half-assed not fully committed to downsizing. They built CUV’s that are only slightly smaller than their SUV’s, only without the towing capacity, off-road ability and, most importantly, extreme thirst. Never one to miss a trick, the transplants have been growing their CUV’s to nibble away at the same market. Case in point: the Hyundai Santa Fe.

The first generation Santa Fe did battle in the ultra competitive compact segment, squaring off against the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape. The new, second gen Santa Fe is larger, more powerful and more expensive. The mondo-model’s sights are firmly set on the new Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot. To see if the bigger, badder Santa Fe could has what it takes to take on the CUV superstars, I took one for a jaunt around the crossover’s spiritual homeland: the 'burbs.

In “The Planet of the Apes,” Charlton Heston asks a female ape if he can kiss her goodbye. "All right,” she concedes. “But you're so damned ugly." And there you have it. While the Santa Fe wants to help you escape the apes, it’s inescapably hideous. The headlights and grille are mounted too low, at the bottom of a sharply sloping bonnet. The profile is so derivative you could play spot the inference for hours. And the rear looks like an unholy union between a Subaru Forester and B9 Tribeca. In short, I wouldn't be surprised if the ghost of Salvador Dali designed the Santa Fe’s sheetmetal.

Take shelter from the horror (the horror) inside, and the spacious cabin reveals a multiple personality disorder. The detail man nailed all the cool bits: satin trim in all the right places, properly colored plastiwood, prudent placed buttonlogy and cool liquid crystal displays. And then the beancounters stepped in. The seat fabric is made out of polyester Halloween costumes. The switchgear offers all the tactile satisfaction of a single use camera. And the wheel-mounted buttons defy easy operation.

The Santa Fe’s got plenty of safety devices: anti lock brakes, traction and stability control; roof mounted side-curtain airbags, seatbelt pretensioners. The brand faithful elevated gadget count includes a not entirely execrable six-speaker boom box with MP3 compatibility. Surprisingly, electronic marriage protection (a.k.a. satellite navigation) is AWOL. Still, pony up a bit more green, and you can have a nice big sunroof, automatic climate control and a full compliment of Sharper Image-style toys.

In keeping with the new CUV XL paradigm, the Santa Fe’s third row seating is a flagrant violation of The Geneva Convention. Suitable for small children? Only if they're very very bad. (I've squirmed my way into the back of a Porsche 911 more easily– and it was more comfortable.) If you’re looking for a sprog carrier that isn’t a fuel-sucking SUV, GM’s badge-engineered XXL Lambda triplets or a big ass Honda Odyssey are a far better bet. Spec your Sante Fe for five, enjoy the humongous trunk and save $1300.

Prepare for a surprise: driving the Santa Fe doesn't suck. Crank over the DOHC V6 and it’s whisper quiet at idle (even more than a similarly equipped Sonata). Put the Santa Fe’s hammer down and smooth things happen. The [optional] 3.3-liter mill spools up with a pleasant sort of growl, and then pits all of its 242hp and 226 ft. lbs. of torque against the CUV’s 4000 lbs. Thanks to a superslick five-speed autobox, the resulting eight second-ish sprint to sixty is remarkable– although fairly slow in any absolute sense.

That said, if you’re in a hurry, hang onto that steering wheel. Unless you spring for the AWD model, slamming on the Santa Fe’s gas FedExes you a big old box of torque-steer. Driving at more sagacious speeds, the Santa Fe’s power-assisted rack and pinion tiller is like a draftsman’s pen: sharp and accurate. The brakes are also superb and the multi-link rear suspension keeps the beast tied down without degrading ride comfort. As a crossover for hauling Ikea boxes and tackling snowy driveways, not hooning with pistonhead bravado, the Santa Fe is an ideal device.

Captain Farago concluded that Hyundai's Sonata would succeed because it was so neutral, and he was right. The Santa Fe almost gets the same assessment, but for the genetically mutated styling. Still, the Santa Fe is cheap (my nicely equipped SE was only $26k), with a wikkid warranty. Ten years ago, those were the only reasons to buy a Hyundai. With the Sonata, they're an added bonus on top of an already good car. The Santa Fe’s appeal lies somewhere in between. In that sense, the new Santa Fe is a bit of a Korean line dancer: two steps forward, one step back.

Justin Berkowitz
Justin Berkowitz

Immensely bored law student. I've also got 3 dogs.

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  • Egn006 Egn006 on Oct 14, 2007

    I have driven all the suv's on the market in this class and this is by far the best in class hands down. You people are too hung up on the looks of the body. It is very close to the audi in looks and the interior is well above mitsu, honda and toyota.

  • Westcott Westcott on Oct 12, 2009

    This segment is not my cup of tea but when my mother totaled her Subaru Forester, it was time to do some homework. We went out Saturday and test drove the following: Nissan RAV4 Toyota Rouge (the Montero is its bigger brother) Subaru Forester Hyundai Santa Fe SE Honda CRX and tried to find a Mitsubishi Outlander The three most important criteria for my aging mother were visibility, ride comfort, and accessability. She loved her Forester and the new one is larger and rides better. Great visibilty but it did not win out in our test drive against the others. Came in third. The Toyota Rouge came in second. Nice power, nice ssmooth ride, but poor visibilty out the small and slanted rear window. The real shock to me was that there was more in common among the vehicles than differences. I have to admit to some bias going into this process and thought for sure the Toyota or the Honda would win this contest. Hyundai was the last one I considered to be the best for my mother's needs. I was pleasantly surprised and can now believe all the hype I have read about the Genesis and other products that have won favor with reviewers. The Santa Fe had the best fit and finish in the interior, nice power, great ride for the segment, brakes are more than adequate, and the visibilty and ride height just made my mother feel very comfortable. She does not like leather (she is adamant that she slips around too much) but the telscoping steering wheel and height adjustment was an added bonus. The remote keyless entry with alarm was also a plus. The option package four was primarily for the power seat convenience. It also was a breeze to park and maneuver which was high on my list for her. Throw in the awesome warranty and a sale price of $22,500 for the Santa Fe SE with option package 4 and you could not ask for a better all around deal.

  • Jonathan IMO the hatchback sedans like the Audi A5 Sportback, the Kia Stinger, and the already gone Buick Sportback are the answer to SUVs. The A5 and the AWD version of the Stinger being the better overall option IMO. I drive the A5, and love the depth and size of the trunk space as well as the low lift over. I've yet to find anything I need to carry that I can't, although I admit I don't carry things like drywall, building materials, etc. However, add in the fun to drive handling characteristics, there's almost no SUV that compares.
  • C-b65792653 I'm starting to wonder about Elon....again!!I see a parallel with Henry Ford who was the wealthiest industrialist at one time. Henry went off on a tangent with the peace ship for WWI, Ford TriMotor, invasive social engineering, etc. Once the economy went bad, the focus fell back to cars. Elon became one of the wealthiest industrialist in the 21st century. Then he went off with the space venture, boring holes in the ground venture, "X" (formerly Twitter), etc, etc, etc. Once Tesla hit a plateau and he realized his EVs were a commodity, he too is focused on his primary money making machine. Yet, I feel Elon is over reacting. Down sizing is the nature of the beast in the auto industry; you can't get around that. But hacking the Super Charger division is like cutting off your own leg. IIRC, GM and Ford were scheduled to sign on to the exclusive Tesla charging format. That would have doubled or tripled his charging opportunity. I wonder what those at the Renaissance Center and the Glass House are thinking now. As alluded to, there's blood in the water and other charging companies will fill the void. I believe other nations have standardized EV charging (EU & China). Elon had the chance to have his charging system as the default in North America. Now, he's dropped the ball. He's lost considerable influence on what the standardized format will eventually be. Tremendous opportunity lost. 🚗🚗🚗
  • Tassos I never used winter tires, and the last two decades I am driving almost only rear wheel drive cars, half of them in MI. I always bought all season tires for them, but the diff between touring and non touring flavors never came up. Does it make even the smallest bit of difference? (I will not read the lengthy article because I believe it does not).
  • Lou_BC ???
  • Lou_BC Mustang sedan? 4 doors? A quarterhorse?Ford nomenclature will become:F Series - Pickups Raptor - performance division Bronco - 4x4 SUV/CUVExplorer - police fleetsMustang- cars