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Hyundai Santa Fe - 2005 SUV Buyer's Guide

by Martha Hindes

Hyundai Santa Fe
Hyundai Santa Fe

You couldn't call Hyundai's Santa Fe compact sport utility a heavyweight. But it's not designed to be. With a front-wheel-drive foundation and non-overpowering engine power, it fits easily in the middle of the midsize SUV pack where ride comfort, features and styling, and a good value win more accolades than an ability to scale a steep-grade mountainside.

Sure off-roading is a reason for having a sport utility. But there are some fire-breathing mean machines out there more fitted to an Olympian version of the task. This is the newly revised center-stage staple for 2005 with the American southwest moniker from the Korean manufacturer whose name no one seems able to pronounce. (According to Korean execs, it's "Hyundai," just like "Sunday.")

Consider Santa Fe a weekend off-roader, or off-pavement traveler best designed for shopping trips, getaways to a cottage on a lake, or a trip to the opera where floor length gowns and stiletto dress pumps have easier access than in a higher clearance vehicle. This doesn't suggest the car-based Santa Fe is easy to dismiss. It's not. Styling and function are solidly sport utility, with handsome lines, on-demand or full-time advanced four-wheel drive availability, advanced electronics and five spoke 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels. A fuzzy logic transmission learns to adapt to driving style.

Hyundai execs say they listened to what their customers wanted in the vehicle's current revision: Ease of ride and handling, sporty appearance, more power. Traction control was made standard at buyers' request. And with the smaller Tucson now on sale, the company dropped its four cylinder engine in favor of two solid sixes, a 2.7-liter V-6 that generates 170-horsepower (GLS model) and the Sigma 3.5-liter, 200-HP V-6 (LX, and GLS upgrade).

In freshening the Santa Fe, Hyundai redesigned the grille, body cladding, taillamps, rear bumper and rear liftgate handle. Interior changes include a new instrument cluster, upgraded cloth seats and richer two-tone color scheme. Among standard amenities are anti-lock braking, four-wheel disc brakes, air conditioning and flip-down rear seating, while available features include heated leather seating, Monsoon audio with six-disc in-dash CD changer, and auto-dimming rear view mirror with HomeLink. We think the Santa Fe, in the mid-20s range before options, offers a lot of bang for the buck.