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.
While few will lament the loss of the wheezy old 2.7-liter V-6, the four-cylinder option is no roadrunner, either. Despite weighing more than 100 pounds less than the all-wheel drive V-6, the front-wheel drive four-pot still needed a leisurely 10.6 seconds to hit 60 mph. The lower curb weight didn't help much in braking, either, where the four-cylinder stopped only one foot shorter than the heavier V-6. Nor did it help much in handling tests, where the lighter four-cylinder posted a lower average g around the skid pad than the V-6 (0.77 g average vs. 0.79 g average) and a slower figure eight time (29.2 seconds at 0.54 g average vs. 28.7 seconds at 0.63 g average), though much of this can be attributed to the all-wheel drive system fitted to the V-6. Regardless, both models show an improvement over the old Santa Fe, with the exception of the figure eight test for the four-cylinder.
Visually, the Santa Fe enjoys a few aesthetic tweaks that move it in the right direction, including a new grille, a re-jiggered lower fascia, and refashioned taillights. Remember the original Santa Fe? This descendant should go a long way in erasing that torturous memory. In fact, if you recall anything about the original Santa Fe, it should be its low entry price, which has thankfully carried over to the latest model, making it an even better value proposition in four-cylinder trim.
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 its bench was too small, anyway). And next year, it'll be underpinned by a version of the Kia Sorento's new chassis, which we hope will carry with it the new spice of modern Hyundais. Will it be enough? We shall see.
| 2010 Hyundai Santa Fe |
| Base price range || $22,490-$31,090 |
| Price as tested || $25,900; $31,765* |
| 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* |
| *GLS; Limited |