The new model, the first production vehicle designed at Hyundai’s Irvine studio in California, aims to meet what company officials describe as consumers’ demands for “safety, style, spophistication and performance.” And all indications on our first drive of the SUV are that it delivers on practially all of the above.
The new Santa Fe’s exterior design (think Volkswagen Touareg) was inspired by speed skaters. Olympic medalist Rusty Smith was brought in to give a speed skating demonstration so that Santa Fe’s design team could get a better understanding of the balance in strength and grace that is involed in speed skating.
The SUV has a nice presence for a vehicle priced under $22,000 for the base model and less than $27,000 for the top of the line model.
Trouble is, some people still can’t get past some of the old quality issues that have haunted the automaker.
“I saw it (Santa Fe) drving up from Los Angeles,” I heard a guy say to some friends who had stopped by the Gainey Vineyard, one of the desiganted stops during our Santa Fe test drive in Santa Barbara. “It looks good, but how will it look a couple of years from now?”
Clearly, this guy hadn’t seen J.D. Power and Associates’ 2006 quality reports. If he had, I doubt that he’d been so skeptical of the vehicle, unless he’s the type who just likes hearing himself talk. Hyundai has been busy working on the those quality issues and they’ve raked up some good stats to prove it.
In the compact SUV segment, the Tucson earned J.D. Power’s IQS for Best in class quality in 2006, “Highest ranked Compact Multi-Activity Vehicle in Initial Quality.”
The all new Sonata was honored as the “top three” vehicle in segment, top 10 plant in North America for its Montgomery, Ala., plant, and one for the best all-new plant/all-new model launches in industry history.
The Azera was honored as the “top two” vehicle in segment in its launch year and significantly outperformed its target competitive set, the Toyota Avalon and Nissan Maxima, according to the study.
The new entry level Hyundai Accent and Entourage minivan were lauch too late to be included. But among all nameplates, Hyundai ranked 3rd in IQS and is the highest ranking non-luxury brand, ahead of Toyota and Honda.
My guess is that the Santa Fe, which has pulled in a couple of awards since its debut in 2000 as 2001 model, will earn a few more in the years to come with the new ’07 model.
The SUV proved to be very durable during our test drive and it responded and handled well on the road.
Hyundai offcials say that the 2007 Santa Fe boasts a 50 percent stiffer body bending rigidity over the ’06 model. Road noise has been minimized by using laminated steel. A multi-curved floor structure was developed to reduce panel vibration and the dash panel was strengthened with a crooss-shaped reinforcement to lower noise intrusion.
Hyundai engineers also worked to significantly reduce cabin noise, and the SUV features an all-new US-tuned chasis.
The Satna Fe is offered in two V6 engine options, the 2.7L Mu and the 3.3L Lambda, both with Continuously Variable Valve Timing (CVVT).
The 2.7L Mu has185 horsepower and 183 ft-lb torque, a 15 HP improvement over the ’06 model. The 3.3L Lambda boosts the horsepower up to 242 and 226 ft-lb torque, a 42 horsepower improvement over the 2006 3.5L engine. Transmission options include a 5-speed automatic with SHIFTRONIC, standard with the 3.3.L V6 engine; a 4-speed automatic with SHIFTRONIC, optional wiht the 2.7 Liter V6 and a 5-speed manual, standard with the 2.7L V6 engine.
Gas mileage for the 2.7L Mu is 21 city/ 26 highway, compared to 19/25 for the ’06 model. The 3.3.L Lambda gets 19 city/24 highway, compared to 17/23 for the ’06 model.
The Santa Fe features Hyundai’s 100,000 mile powertrain warranty, and is available in three trim levels, the GLS, SE and Limited.
One of my few complaints was the fact that the top-of-the- line trim level doesn’t come equipped with a sunroof. It’s part of a $950 option on the limited model.
Also, the inside door handles are too flimsy. But when I pointed it out to John Krafic, VP of product development and strategic planning at Hyundai, he assured me that they’d make it more durable.
Lip service? I doubt it. Hyundai makes it a point to look at modifying post production issues if they get too many complaints.
Imagine that, an automaker that not only listens to consumers’ issues, but will also make changes after the vehicle goes into production based on public opinion if need be.
Competition, take note.
Price: $26,595 as tested
MPG: 19 city/24 hwy
10 year/100,000 mile
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