To all established car makers, Watch OUT, Hyundai is catching up quicker than you can imagine!
This small SUV was acquired as a rental vehicle with ~5,900 miles on the odometer at the time of pick up. It stayed with us for two days. We drove approximately ~720 miles. We gently rode the Santa Fe on the flat and straight I-5 from the Bay Area to Red Bluff. Then, ventured east via the twisty US-36 to US-89 and arrived at Lassen Volcanic National Park to check out the snow covered peaks at +8,500ft in mid July. On our return trip, we took the US-44 pass Susanville, stopped by the Silver Legacy’s crowded parking structure in Reno and to lose some changes in our pockets in the process. Depart back to the lovely Bay, and put the “pedal-to-metal” thru the more thrilling part of I-80 between Reno and Auburn. The entire trip in the Santa Fe was with 2 average size adults. The averaged fuel consumption was 20 mpg.
Hyundai introduced Santa Fe in 2000 model year in response to North America’s small SUV market, when it was flooded mainly with Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. This 2005 model remains its roots since its introduction in 2000, besides some minor cosmetics and equipment package changes. The Santa Fe was designed in Hyundai’s California design studio, and designed specifically for North America market. The GLS is the base model of the Santa Fe line up. A 200hp 3.5L V6 and a 5 speed automatic transmission can be equipped as an option. This GLS’ 2.7L 24 valve DOHC V6 engine is shared with Hyundai’s Sonata, and Tiburon. The engine is transversely mounted in the engine bay driving the transfer case via a 4 speed automatic transmission with overdrive. The transmission has Hyundai’s SHIFTRONIC control where it allows the driver manually select his/her preferred gear via the SHIFTRONIC mode on the shifter. The engine pumps out 170hp@6000rpm, and 181Ib-ft of torque@4000 rpm. Traction is provided by a set of P225/70R16 tires, this particular one came with BFGoodrich Radial Long Trail T/A. The chassis is based on a revised Sonata platform and is supported by independent MacPherson strut suspension with stabilizer bar in the front corners. The rear is supported by independent multi-link rear suspension with stabilizer bar. Stopping power is generated by front and rear disc brakes.
We were satisfied with what it has to offer as a small SUV and for its price tag. Considering for its size and weight, we found that the Santa Fe has emphasized the letter S in SUV – Sport. The more time we spent driving this 2005 Santa Fe the more we akin to it. Like another SUV, the higher seating position allows its occupants to glance the road further ahead – a premium attribute for today’s roadway in America, where the road is overly crowded with full size SUVs and pickups blocking the view. In comparison, the seating position is about as high as a Chevrolet TrailBlazer, but the Santa Fe just doesn’t drives like a dull full size SUV. The Santa Fe is agile but it is not a sporty sedan either however.
Our first concern is that the initial brake power/grip is a little weak, and it takes heavier effort on the pedal to initiate the brakes that are on the softer side. And the softness tends to delay a fraction of a second during any brake application. The initial brake effort might be transparent due to the 3,750Ib vehicle weight, however the brake effort should be able to offset by brake booster setting from the factory. Once we got used to the slight delay and heavier than normal brake pedal operating effort after a few hours of driving, there doesn’t seem to be a major concern for us. Braking is reasonably progressive despite the concerns we just mentioned. The pedal has a good solid feel, and offers confidence under hard and emergency braking. However, if you are willing to stomp or stand on the brakes, the brakes have sufficient stopping power and to boost braking confidence, the ABS operates smoothly.
The chassis and suspension setup is where this Santa Fe shines. The unibody platform is quite solid, and seems “heavily” revised to stiffen from the Sonata setup to accommodate for the bigger Santa Fe. Noticed the word “heavily” may be the answer to why this small in dimensions SUV weight 3,750Ibs. Hyundai must be using extra bracings or redundant members and extra welding to stiffen the chassis as major cost saving measure instead of redesigning a new platform, but the extra weights from those components becomes the Santa Fe’s major disadvantage in terms of power to weight ratio and previously mentioned initial brake feel. Suspension setup is nicely tuned, and provides hints of sporty aspects. It offers minimal to acceptable amount of body roll for a vehicle with this height and weight. The setup permits fairly accurate and genuine communication between the road and the driver. The ride may misbehave, or maybe a little jumpy on rougher pavement but it is all within the expectation of stiffer suspension and chassis tuning. We would definitely prefer a little bounciness in exchange of sporty handling attributes than driving like a Buick.
The typical rack-and-pinion power steering is precise and transfers proper feedback from the front tires to the driver with car-like manner, a well done compare to a typical SUV steering. Traction control and the AWD system work seamlessly and in harmony with the steering and suspension setup. The initial turn in is sharp and points the car to the exact direction under your command, and the steering turn into mild understand when approaching its limit. On mountain twisty roads, Santa Fe can easily out handle full size SUVs and capable of keeping up with average cars without losing its composure. At high speed, tight corners, when the vehicle weight loads to the outside turn of the vehicle, the rear suspension exhibits noticeable amount of body roll than the front suspension setup in which causing the vehicle to have a mild understand at these more dramatic situations. Perhaps, it is an attribute to let the driver know, this is not a sports car and it’s approaching its limit. We would hope to test the AWD system that is developed by Steyr-Daimler-Puch, an Austrian based four-wheel-drive specialist in which have developed various 4WD for various manufactures including Mercedes, and Land Rover, but condition during test drive doesn’t allow us to do so. Or the system is so cleverly designed and incorporated into the vehicle that we just didn’t notice its involvement no matter how hard we tried. All we knew is the Santa Fe is sure footed and has predictable control. Tires are quiet and provides acceptable grip for being SUV tires.
The 2.7L DOHC 24-valves V6 engine operates smoothly throughout its rev range with redline at 6500rpm. This engine can be also found in Hyundai’s Sonata, and Tiburon line up. This engine seems to labor to keep up speed from time to time, and doesn’t give the impression to be very free revving. The engine provides average power at level ground, but lacks the off the line punch. There isn’t any enthusiasm from the engine below 2,500rpm. Although midrange power is adequate but at incline, the engine struggles to accelerate with the 3,760Ibs vehicle weigh that it’s carrying. Passing on one lane traffic requires a thoughtful planning in advance. Interesting enough, the maximum torque output on this 2.7L V6 comes out 200rpm earlier in the sporty Tiburon at 3,800rpm instead of Santa Fe’s 4,000rpm. This doesn’t much too sense to us since the Santa Fe can totally use more low end torque. Good thing is that the 2.7L engine has the right note and its smoothness doesn’t deplete the driving pleasure further. The fuel consumption range from 19.6 to 21.8mpg, we were expecting a slightly better fuel consumption on a 2.7L engine.
The 4 speed automatic transmission shifts at ~6,000rpm at D, but willing to hit the 6,500rpm fuel cut in ShifTronic mode. The ShifTronic allows the driver manually select the desire gear, and the transmission will hold that gear regardless how long the driver has been hitting the fuel cut at the engine redline, and it will not automatically downshift to a lower gear. A very driver oriented feature where the driver has more control over its shifting especial when there isn’t enough low end muscle from the engine. The shifting is generally silky and relaxing but downshifts to lower gear at higher rpm at ShifTronic mode tends to be a bit harsh and it seems to be lazy at downshifting on its own in Drive. Gear ratio wise, a shorter first and second gear can definitely be useful on generating more valuable power from the engine.
The features in this GLS line up provide sufficient amenities for a long journey road trip. Air condition cools down the roomy interior efficiently. The interior presents with ample storage area. Noise isolation is excellent – road and wind noise are almost non existent. Engine note is evident at high rpm, fortunately the note sounds on the athletic side whether than noisy. The stock Monsoon sound system sounds good quality for a stock setup. We have no problem in finding our desired driving position, the seat and steering adjustment allows good adjustment, but we were hoping the steering has telescopic adjustment however the distance between the driver to the pedals, steering wheel, and center console buttons are all within reach. The Santa Fe also provides very good visibility in front mainly due to the bulged fenders to give the drive a reference on where exactly the front tires are, and excellent for maneuver into tight parking stalls. The backseat headrests tend to block rear view, but the relatively bigger side mirrors makes up for it. We didn’t notice any blind spot. Switchgears are very self explanatory, and intuitive – extremely user friendly and simple to use.
Workmanship is quite good but material usage or feel is a bit plastic like, but still better than GM’s plastic feel. Information on the gauge cluster are simple to read but legibility is affect by the cluster clear cover. 60% of the time during the day, the reflection on the cluster clear cover would greatly decrease the legibility of the cluster reading. The digital gear indicator is even hard to read under those situations. Instead of tilting the top of the clear cover toward the driver, the cover top of the cover is tilted away from the driver would probably reduce the glare generated by reflection. While we are talking about glaring, and reflections, the chrome shifter cover on the center console directly reflects sunlight into the driver’s eye under certain conditions.
Although the Santa Fe is considered to be small SUV, but it’s slightly larger dimension offers more cargo space than most of the SUVs in this category. The Elantra is capable of swallowing 30.5 cubic feet of cargo in its trunk. The cargo capacity can be increased to 77 cubic feet with the 60/40 split backseat folded down, however the backseats cannot be folded flat completely causing a ramp in the now extended cargo floor and headrests are required to be removed, but they do not seem to be a significant disadvantage. For someone who would prefer a bit more performance, the Santa Fe GLS with the optional 3.5L V6 will be highly recommended, and this option will be automatically equips with a 5 speed automatic transmission. With an extra gear in the transmission, the fuel consumption on the 3.5L will be identical to 2.7L’s. Even though, the 3.5L V6 is also offered in the more luxurious LX model, but the extra weight on the LX might offset the benefit of the bigger engine.
Performance & Acceleration: 5
Comment: Below average off the line acceleration, passing at slight incline requires careful planning. Vehicle overall weight is the overall enemy.
Comment: Smooth, with proper engine note. Not as free revving as one would expect. Take some patience to reach torque peak. Not enough low end torque to tow its own weight. The 2.7L should generate more than 181Ib-ft of torque.
Handling & Cornering: 7.5
Comment: A compliant “Feels Good” suspension and chassis setup that offers confidence.
Brake Feel: 7
Comment: Requires heavier pedal effort to initiate the braking. Braking power is not a concern however.
Ride Characteristic: 7.5
Comment: Very car like ride. Relays proper road feel to the driver.
Interior Comfort: 8
Comment: No complaints from driver or passengers. Glare reflection from dash clear-cover and chromed shift quadrant on sunny days.
Comment: Fairly well put together car. Rattle free. Dash material is a bit plastic like.
Comment: Very user friendly, offers more room than its competitors in the same segment.
Comment: No fancy electronics. Engine and transmission seems a little dated.
The small/compact size SUV segment has becoming more and more competitive over the past few years, and nowadays almost all major manufactory has at least one vehicle in this $21,000 to $25,000 compact SUV market. And the products have a great diversity – from unibody car based to pickup based body-on-frame, from a fuel conserving 4 cylinder engine to towing capable big displacement V6s. For a $23,000MSRP price tag, Hyundai is facing some tough competition in this segment with average pricing around $23,000 for a small/compact SUV. However, the uniqueness of the Santa Fe allows it to fall between the 4 cylinder based Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 to more SUV like Nissan Xterra. When the Santa Fe first came out in 2000, it fills in the gap between a small/compact SUV with V6, unibody design and a slightly bigger interior to a truck base, bigger engine SUV, while staying close to the average price in the small/compact SUV segment. In the previous test drive review, we mentioned the Hyundai Elantra as “Lack of characteristic and boring”, in this case for the Santa Fe, this statement is no longer valid. The Santa Fe, despite it’s half a decade old design and package, it still has its own uniqueness from the exterior design, its driving dynamic to how the vehicle is packaged. With the market now flooded with SUVs, it’s about time for Hyundai to redesign the Santa Fe to be even more competitive, but this first SUV ever created from Hyundai, it feels just about right. It’s not perfect but perfect for what it has to offer at its $23k price tag. Keep a close eye on the new 2nd generation 2006 Santa Fe. END