If you happen to be the oldest of 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, Sportage, and the SUV-aspirational little Rondo. Many of which are quite good, too. What's a Santa Fe to do?
For 2010, it's been updated, but unfortunately not enough to evade our criticism. The Santa Fe feels like it's from the old Hyundai, not the new, perception-changing automaker behind the Genesis, Sonata, and Equus. Frankly, that's not surprising, as this basic vehicle bowed back in 2007. At times we found it a bit wallowy at speed, though it handles as competently as most SUVs. 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, as we found the engine to be rough at idle.
There's certainly no arguing with the improvement in performance, though. The additional 34 horsepower and 22 pound-feet make themselves known immediately in straight-line acceleration, where the updated Santa Fe dashes to 60 mph in 7.4 seconds, nearly a full second faster than the old model. That was helped in no small part by trimming 300 pounds of weight. It may not be the most refined engine Hyundai has built, but it gets the job done.
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 from 2.4 to 3.4 mpg and the base engine by 2.4 to 3.7 mpg (depending on wheels driven). For the V-6, that means 20 mpg city and 26 mpg highway, and for the four-cylinder, it means 21 mpg city and 28 mpg highway.