2011 Hyundai Santa Fe
Lost in the Korean crowd

WE LIKE: New engines and transmissions offer better mileage; tweaked styling.
WE DON'T LIKE: Underpinnings showing their age; styling overshadowed by cousin Kia's smart new looks.

If you happen to be the oldest among a large brood of siblings, you might understand the Santa Fe's current predicament. Not too many years ago, it was the company's SUV Only Child, the recipient of Hyundai's undivided attention. Well, it's alone no more. Today, it finds itself squeezed between the smaller Tucson and the bigger Veracruz, as well as having to contend with that Kia clan of half-brothers, including the Sorento and Sportage. Many of which are quite good, too.

For 2010, it's been updated enough to qualify for our SUV of the Year melee, but unfortunately not enough to evade our critics. Noted Lago, "The Santa Fe feels like it's from the old Hyundai, not the new, perception-changing one behind the Genesis, Sonata, and Equus." Frankly, that's not surprising, as this basic vehicle bowed back in 2007. At times, it showed: "A bit wallowy at speed, though it handles as competently as most SUVs," said Lassa. Moreover, one of its two new engines, the 276-horse, 3.5-liter V-6 (which replaces the previous 242-horse, 3.3-liter), didn't evade our furrowed brow: "Its engine idle is rough," he added.

Nevertheless, that engine, as well as the new 175-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder base mill (which takes the reins from last year's elderly 2.7-liter V-6), both provide nice boosts in fuel mileage. In cahoots with their new six-speed transmissions, the V-6's combined mileage improves by 2.4 mpg (AWD) or 3.4 mpg (FWD), while the base engine improves by 2.4 mpg (FWD with manual) to 3.7 mpg (AWD automatic).

Visually, the Santa Fe enjoys a few aesthetic tweaks that move it along in the right direction, including a new grille, a rejiggered lower fascia, and refashioned taillights. Recall the original Santa Fe? This descendant should go a long way in erasing that torturous memory.

The most noticeable consequence of the Santa Fe's recently arrived stablemates is the deletion of a third-row seat (there's a Veracruz for that, and the Santa Fe's bench was too small, anyway). And next year, it'll be underpinned by a version of the Kia Sorento's new chassis. Will it be enough? We shall see. - Kim Reynolds


2011 Hyundai Santa Fe
Base price $22,490-$31,090
Price as tested $25,900; $31,765 (*GLS; Limited)
Vehicle layout Front engine, FWD/AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine 3.5L/276-hp/248-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Curb weight (f/r dist) 3793 lb (57/43%); 3870 lb (59/41%)*
Wheelbase 106.3 in
Length x width x height 184.1 x 74.4 x 67.9 in
0-60 mph 10.6; 7.4 sec*
Quarter mile 17.7 sec @ 78.2 mph; 15.7 sec @ 90.1 mph*
Braking, 60-0 mph 139; 140 ft*
Lateral acceleration 0.77; 0.79 g (avg)*
MT Figure Eight 29.2 sec @ 0.54 g (avg); 28.7 sec @ 0.63 g (avg)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 21/27; 20/26 mpg
CO2 emissions 0.83; 0.87 lb/mile
RATINGS
ENGINEERING **
DESIGN ***
INTERIOR/Functionality ***
PERFORMANCE ***
ON-ROAD REFINEMENT ***
OFF-ROAD ABILITY **
VALUE ***
BOTTOM LINE
Appears to be in a holding pattern until it receives its all-new chassis and styling.