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2010 Hyundai Santa Fe GLS FWD Review

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2010 Hyundai Santa Fe

SEE ALSO: Hyundai Buyers Guide


2010 Hyundai Santa Fe GLS FWD

My, how times have changed. In the late 1980s, when it first started selling cars here, "Hyundai" was not a good word. Early Hyundais were cheap, in the most pejorative meaning of that word. They were among the most inexpensive four-wheeled vehicles available, but "quality" was a concept seemingly absent.

That was a long time ago. Today, Hyundais are as good as any car made, and better than most. How'd the company change? Simply -- by correcting its mistakes, and building a better product. And then an even better one. From humble beginnings, the Hyundai line now encompasses niches from the subcompact Elantra to the luxury-oriented Genesis in sedans, the sports-oriented Genesis Coupe, and a full range of crossovers from compact Tucson, mid-sized Santa Fe, and larger Veracruz. Coming soon is the Equus, aimed squarely at premium luxury cars like the Lexus LS and Mercedes-Benz S-Class.

Still, the Hyundai lineup is primarily affordable middle class. The Santa Fe is a fine example, and a mainstay. It offers a convenient not-too-big, not-too-small size, a choice of four-cylinder or V6 power, with front- or all-wheel drive. And it has some significant revisions for 2010 -- a mild restyling on the outside is nothing unusual for a mid-product cycle vehicle, but new engines are. And both offerings -- a 175-horsepower 2.4-liter inline four and a 276-hp V6 -- are new, and matched to six-speed automatic transmissions with "Shiftronic" manual-mode. The "base model" GLS, four-cylinder only, can be had with a six-speed manual. The fancier SE comes with the V6, and the ability to tow up to 3500 pounds. The Limited is available with either engine, and adds leather seating and other upscale accouterments to the SE's equipment level. A touch-screen interface navigation system with integrated backup camera is offered for all models.

Usual press fleet specification is top of the line. The Santa Fe with which I've spent the last week was a four-cylinder automatic front-wheel drive GLS. No complaints -- it was and is an honest, affordable workhorse family wagon. Power was never lacking, even in fast highway merges or on steep hills, and the four-wheel antilock disc brakes worked very well. Strong winds were ignored, not always the case with crossovers. The high seating position offers a good view of the road. The interior has everything you need for comfort and convenience, even a good audio system with XM satellite radio and USB and minijack ports for external audio player -- all box-stock, standard, no expensive option package necessary. It's not merely an indifferent piece frosted with "features"; the Hyundai Santa Fe is, even in "base model" trim, a very good vehicle -- that just happens to be built in the USA, near Montgomery, Alabama. And Hyundai's improving position in the automotive world has not given the company any attitude -- the price is still low, but low price is not the main reason to be interested.

APPEARANCE: The Santa Fe's 2010 styling refresh changes details but not the overall look of the vehicle. Which is "contemporary crossover", a medium-sized rounded two-box design with more height and ground clearance than a wagon. At the front, the grille and bumper are ever so slightly changed, most apparently around the foglamps. At the rear, the bumper has been re-shaped and the taillights revised.

COMFORT: Inside, the Santa Fe is pleasant, honest, and, even at GLS level, more stylish than might be expected. Materials are all synthetic, but of high quality and assembled to close tolerances. Remote keyless entry (with a real key), power windows and mirrors, and air conditioning are standard fare, as is woodgrain trim with matte-finished binding -- a nice upscale touch, and better-looking than most plastic "wood" trim. Front seats are manually-adjustable, the driver's for cushion height, with soft but supportive padding and cloth upholstery. The GLS's steering wheel rim may be rubberized plastic, but the wheel adjusts (manually) for both tilt and reach, and features cruise, audio, and phone controls. Instruments are easily visible, with no glare problems. The slightly protruding center stack houses AM/FM/XM/6CD/auxiliary input audio and climate control systems in easy reach, with minijack and USB/iPod inputs at the front of the console next to a power point -- and ashtray and lighter. Simple cupholders in the console, a two-layer console box, locking glove box, and storage pockets in all four doors, with bottle holders add convenience, as do visor extensions. There is even a small covered storage space on top of the dash, good for toll and parking change. Rear seat passengers get a nearly-flat floor and 60/40 split folding seatback -- with each section separately adjustable for back angle. There is good space for two adults, with a center armrest, or a third, smaller, person between. The cargo area offers plenty of space, and since the space-saver spare tire is mounted outside and underneath, as in a truck, there is extra covered storage under the load floor.

SAFETY: The Santa Fe gets a five-star rating from NHTSA for frontal crash protection and four stars for rollover protection. It's also one of the least expensive vehicles to insure. All models have front, front seat side, and side-curtain airbags with rollover sensors. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes, with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and brake assist (BA) and electronic stability control are also found in all models, as are front seat active head restraints and a tire pressure monitoring system.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Unlike many competitors, the Santa Fe is built on a unibody chassis structure built expressly for crossover use, not modified sedan underpinnings. Its fully-independent MacPherson strut front, multilink rear suspension system is tuned moderately softly, for comfort even on poor roads, and a wide track gives it both improved stability on the road and extra interior space. Tall, with a moderately high center of gravity and that comfort-oriented suspension, the Santa Fe does show body roll in corners, but that is as expected. Want a Hyundai that's quick in the twisties? Genesis Coupe! This one is quiet inside, and stable in gusty crosswinds. A tight 35.4-foot turning circle helps maneuverability, and the Santa Fe is not too big to park easily.

PERFORMANCE: Four cylinders is all you really need, if it's Hyundai's new second-generation Theta engine in a Santa Fe. A dual overhead cam, 16-valve design with continuous cam phasing on both cams, its 175 horsepower (at 6000 rpm) and, more importantly, 169 lb-ft of torque at 3750, right in the useful midrange, offers improved performance and fuel economy compared to the previous 2.7-liter V6. Six-speed transmissions help there, too, with lower low gears for acceleration and higher highs for highway economy. Torque is such that the automatic is fine, and manual shifting mostly just because you can.

CONCLUSIONS: The Hyundai Santa Fe GLS is a solid, comfortable value in the mid-sized crossover field.

2010 Hyundai GLS FWD

Base Price			$ 22,995
Price As Tested			$ 23,120
Engine Type			aluminum alloy dohc inline 4-cylinder
				 with continuously-variable cam phasing
				 on both cams
Engine Size			2.4 liters / 146 cu. in.
Horsepower			175 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			169 @ 3750 rpm
Transmission			6-speed automatic with manual-shift mode
Wheelbase / Length		106.3 in. / 184.1 in.
Curb Weight			3725 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		21.3
Fuel Capacity			19.8 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P235/65R17 103T m+s Kumho Solus KL21
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
				 ABS, EBD, BA standard
Suspension, front/rear		MacPherson strut / multilink
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				 front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		20 / 28 / 23
0 to 60 mph				est. 10  sec

carpet floor mats		$ 125

SEE ALSO: Hyundai Buyers Guide