a budget-minded sport utility segment where power has been in the purchasing price,
increasingly there's horsepower to burn.
one to let the competition take the lead, feisty little Hyundai that finally is
carving a noticeable niche out of the American sport utility landscape with its
award-winning Santa Fe, is right in the middle of the pack.
'04 a year of adjustments rather than major revisions, adding gusto has bubbled
to the top of the Santa Fe wishlist. Through something akin to popular demand,
a 3.5 liter V-6 engine brought in for a power boost last summer, now is standard
on some models. (Santa Fe owners mandated a power moonroof option and got it,
as well. Score another for consumers' power.)
auto maker Hyundai has been refining its car-based SUV prize since its introduction
to U.S. buyers four years ago, kicking competitors in their pride in the process
by winning some major awards. Although somewhat larger than some entry levels
contenders, a base around $18,600 plus solid capabilities, cargo room, a truly
handsome package, luxury touches and solid safety and handling features show why
Santa Fe is claiming title as one of the big kids on the block -- to be beaten
if possible, or held in tow if not.
studied the market before stepping out on the proverbial dance floor, using the
company's California Design Center to make sure the result would mirror American
expectations of what a car-based, small and affordable sport utility should be.
Now, it's upping technology to broaden the Santa Fe's appeal.
the 3.5-liter, 200-horsepower Signa engine, a five-speed "Shiftronic"
automatic transmission and new electronic four-wheel-drive system are high tech
boosts. That's the same engine Hyundai uses in its luxury XG350 sedan. And besides
its ability to let someone "play" at using a manual trans, the Shiftronic
actually learns how one drives and quietly adapts in the background.
Santa Fe isn't really meant to go into the trenches, despite a distinctive sport
utility appearance. The idea, as with other car-based versions, is to get the
best of both worlds in terms of driving comfort and sporty handling with sport
utility usability and interior room that could suffer on a heavier, space-encroaching
truck foundation. But, surprise. Depending on the model, there's a fully-stocked
first aid kid with poison ivy balm, bee sting ointment, sunscreen, bandages and
even a thermal blanket for those with adventurist spirits.
Hyundai has managed to put luxury into a lower-end sport utility market obviously
ready for a trendy-looking bargain. And those fading memories of earlier quality
problems? While online ownerboards suggest buying with long-term intent instead
of leasing, Hyundai's extended warranty could be just the thing to seal the deal.