On the Road – when GEMA & Tranny mated
How could an inline-4 engine cope with an SUV of this statue leave us head scratching at first?
The old 2.7L V-6 already left us wanted more. “…the engine struggles to accelerate the weight it’s carrying…. Passing…requires a thoughtful planning…,” quoted from our 2005 Santa Fe review. We concluded that, “…the optional 3.5L V6 will be highly recommended.”
Compared to the 1st gen, this Santa Fe has grown 6.9 inches in length, 1.8 inches in width, 2 inches in height. As the result, the base model weighs in at lofty 3725Ibs although it is lighter by ~66Ibs compare to 2009MY but compared to an equivalently equipped 1st gen’s 3549Ibs, it is still a 5% gain. Yet, the 2010MY has lost 11% in displacement & 5% output.
It is quite obvious of the intentions for the Santa Fe: 1) buy more time until the next model, 2) to please EPA’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy by replacing the dated engine with more efficient unit that offers similar output.
The equipped I-4 is to achieve better fuel economy with the use of 6-speed AT to maximize every single available engine power. During our trip to the high mountains with four adults and trunk load of weekend getaway belongings, the averaged fuel economy was ~24mpg with worst and best at 20.9 and 26.7mpg, respectively – relatively close to EPA rating. The 1st gen was best at only 20mpg combined.
Trade off to the reasonable gas mileage, the G4KC engine is certainly underpowered for the long haul. “Lackluster acceleration, feels more like an underpowered Corolla when getting onto freeway. Engine is underpowered for its weight,” was bolded, underlined and highlighted in our log book.
However, Hyundai has claimed this model can out accelerate from 0 to 60mph the 2009MY with the 2.7L! Marketing hype?
Otherwise, the Santa Fe feels like it has sufficient power for around town driving nonetheless that is mainly contributed by the very different throttle maps, particularly the low gears. With each gear change, the throttle-feel is different. This causes artificial experience and cannot make you really feel like you are part of the car. Granted it is an SUV, the throttle should not appear to have a mind of its own. The first three low gears have aggressive throttle maps to fool your sensation and compensate for its insufficient power; i.e. 10% pedal input is 50% of throttle opening. Then the top gear has very lazy pedal feel to promote fuel economy; 50% pedal input is 10% throttle opening.
The good news is though; the engine is smooth in operation, rev smoothly to the 6,500rpm redline. It feels more refine and sounds more solid than the 2.7L V6 it has replaced. Engine noise, vibration and harshness emitted to the passenger compartment are minimal.
The transmission is eager to shift, intelligently select the proper gear and hold the gear willingly. The Shiftronic manual shift mode is responsive. Shifting is allowed at the will of the driver, and do not give out the annoying beeps found in the stubborn Lexuses.
Given the widened range of gear ratios, the transmission allows the engine revs @ ~2,400 rpm in top gear at 70mph. Provided the frugal engine output, the 6th gear is a pure overdrive for fuel economy considerations only. “…a tall 6th gear was used to help fuel economy, acceleration from 6th gear was virtually impossible even on a very modest uphill, must kick down to 5th gear,” stated in the test log.
Overall, it is a great transmission that feels on par to its competitors that cost more. The only drawback on the transmission is again due to the non-linear throttle maps; it exaggerates the issue of artificial throttle feel. Each gear change requires throttle adjustment to avoid too abrupt of speed change.
Engine power is transferred by a set of P235/65R17, Kumho Solus KL21, crossover/SUV touring all-season tires. The Solus are quiet and offer good grip, “…tires had more than expected grip, it was hard to make them squeal on freeway ramps, especially with this underpowered engine,” per test log.
The Santa Fe’s uni-body chassis is derivsdaed from the Hyundai Sonata platform, and similarly supported by MacPherson struts in front and independent multi-link design in the rear with stabilizer bars 25mm & 15mm front and rear, respectively. This car-based platform is supportive and despite its size and weight, body control is excellent and rides just like a car. It can tackle corners willingly and confidently once you get used to the slight delay in steering response.
The hydraulic-assisted rack-and-pinion steering offers good feedback and road feel considering the tires’ 6” tall sidewall. In general, it feels precise with minimal freeplay. The steering effort is a bit on the overboost side and the on-center feel is somewhat artificial. Once pass this spongy zone, the steering becomes more accurate. It takes some time for the soft bushings to deflect and the sidewalls to flex before the weight of this two tons beast to act upon the pavement to allow directional change. However, Santa Fe is not a sports car. The steering of the Santa Fe is more than fine in the SUV perspective.
Stopping power is generated by 4-wheel disc brakes with 11.8” ventilated discs in front, and 11.9” solid discs in the rear; with Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Traction Control (TCS), 4-wheel anti-lock braking system (ABS) with Electronic Brake-Force Distribution (EBD), and Brake Assist. The brakes have good feel with linearity throughout the pedal travel. It does not have the annoying tip-in aggressiveness.
Interior quality is only average for an import brand. Dashboard is filled with hard plastic. It is a downgrade from the usual Korean-built Hyundai quality we are accustomed to recently. This, made in Montgomery, Alabama, Santa Fe has un-even panel gaps on the center console. The plastic pieces have rough edges from the imprecise molding. “…cheap-feel plastic material. But it’s still better than domestics,” per test log.
The interior is generally ergonomically friendly. Switchgears are intuitive to use except for the steering wheel mounted controls. They are all lined up on the same line with no difference in size or texture. Attention is taken from the road to use those buttons which has defeating the purpose of this supposedly convenient feature.
The compartment under the trunk floor cover is quite handy for storage, able to keep valuables out of sight. The vents in the B-pillars are very nice. It does a great job circulating the air in this vast rear passenger, and cargo space. It is an un-common feature for a car at this price. The vents are extra beneficial in this case because the interior smell had been quite strong – one of the strongest new-car-smell ever experienced.
Seats provide good thigh support even for our long trip. Rear seats are theater style (higher than the front) to provide good forward visibility for the rear occupants. Proper driving position is easily achieved with the eight-way adjustment with lumber support on the driver seat.
IPOD/USB/AUX ports are located in front of the shifter, below the center console especially with the AC adapter in the same location. They are extremely user friendly and we applause Hyundai for making them as a standard feature.
Hyundai has been constantly improving its products. Every time I step into one, we felt like it has got more refinement than the previous one. Some minor things are still leaving you demanding for more; i.e. the variable intermittent switch for the windshield wiper is labeled in reverse – long interval wiping is the short marker on the lever!
Another disappointment is from the non-telescopic steering column for a car in this class – evidence of cost cutting? Kinda contradicts with Hyundai’s fully equipped standard feature image. Cost cutting to pay for union workers? However, the 2010MY brochure stated that telescopic adjustment is standard.
Handling & Ride Characteristics
Brake Performance & Feel
Comfort & Workmanship
Features & Technologies
Will I buy one factor
My recommendation factor
All-in-all, the 2nd generation has made significant improvement over the 1st generation. Like most Hyundai’s currently available at the market, they are nicely put together, well equipped, good to drive. But something is still missing in the Santa Fe… soul and the uniqueness/image of the brand.
Soul searching is not an easy task. Engineering is objective. To capture something subjective takes time. With the rapid growth of Hyundai/Kia, should they rattle the cage with their recent success while some manufacturers are folding and consolidating?
Hopefully with the Genesis and Genesis Coupe, Hyundai would find its soul. Apparently they are moving in that direction. Keep an eye on the 2010 Tuscon.
The prediction is Hyundai/Kia has a bright future ahead considering the current state of economy, and the infamous recalls of Toyota’s bread-and-butter products.
What is still true, “To all established car makers, Watch Out, Hyundai is catching up quicker than you can imagine,” was the quick summary of our 2004 Elantra, and 2005 Santa Fe reviews.