It's no secret that the launch of Hyundai's Santa Fe in '01 has helped the company grow from selling 90,000 units a year in 1998 to 375,000 in 2002. Thus, in order to stay viable in an increasingly competitive market, Hyundai has added displacement, power, and revised gearing to its car-based SUV, along with a new four-wheel-drive system.

Nothing has changed about the Santa Fe's appearance, but the '04 model is now available with an optional 3.5-liter V-6, bringing engine choices to three, including the 2.7-liter V-6 and 2.4-liter I-4. The 3.5-liter Sigma engine, borrowed from the XG350, makes 219 lb-ft of torque at 3500 rpm and 195 horsepower at 5500 rpm. This is up 37 lb-ft and 22 horsepower from the 2.7-liter's performance and results in an almost 1.5-second drop in its 0-60-mph time.

The new Shiftronic five-speed transmission pairs well with the 3.5-liter V-6, and we were pleasantly surprised by the refined shifts and overall smoothness of the gearbox's operation. All 3.5-liter Santa Fes are now offered with a full-time electronic 4WD system designed by BorgWarner; the 2.7-liter remains available with a mechanically engaged 4WD.

Hyundai is all about building value-packed cars, and the Santa Fe 3.5L is no exception. It offers big V-6 power, plenty of torque, and a polished five-speed automatic for about $1000 less than its nearest competitor. Though its overwrought exterior styling may never grow on us, it's hard to overlook the value the Santa Fe presents.

2004 Hyundai Sante Fe 3.5L
Base price$22,999
Price as tested$22,999
Vehicle layoutFront engine, 4wd, 4-door, 5-pass
Engine3.5L/195-hp V-6, DOHC, 4 valves/cyl
0-60 mph, sec9.7
1/4 mile, sec/mph17.02 @ 81.09
Braking, 60-0 mph, ft132
Skidpad, g0.68
600-ft slalom, mph57.7
On sale in U.S.Currently