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by Steve Siler

Hyundai Santa Fe
2003 Hyundai Santa Fe

If ever you needed proof that Hyundai's dark days of crappy quality and uninspiring designs are over, take a look at the Santa Fe's interior: fit and finish is fabulous, especially given how complex the design is and how many pieces need to match each other, curve for curve. It's a good indicator of the kind of newfound assembly quality that characterizes the new cars and trucks from Hyundai Motor Corp (that also owns Kia). It's the kind of quality that allows Hyundai to stand behind its products with a now-ubiquitous 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

The Santa Fe itself is a highly stylized, nicely-sized compact SUV that represents a serious bargain at its high-teens, low-twenties price point. Passenger car architecture bestows it with a comfortable ride, even with the available all-wheel drive system. Its interior boasts lots of standard features, including cruise control, a/c, power accessories, rear privacy glass and a CD player, even in base GL form. The GLS adds things like a leather-wrapped steering wheel, cassette/CD player, keyless entry and fog lights. The top of the range is the LX, which adds traction control, leather seats and climate control. A moonroof is optional on GLS and LX trims.

Base Santa Fes are motivated by a 150-hp four-cylinder engine that is a fuel sipper, especially with the available manual transmission. If you can swing an extra $2500 or so, the GLS trim brings with it a 185-hp V-6, in addition to all the extra interior features mentioned above. All-wheel drive is available with the V-6.