By Jim Bray
Hyundais Sante Fe has always been a nice SUV, but for 2004 the Korean
carmaker has added really to that description.
All it took was some tasteful upgrading of the interior and the addition of
the running gear from the companys XG350 luxury sedan.
A luxury sedan?
Yep. This year, the Sante Fe is also available with that other cars
very nice 3.5 liter six cylinder engine and five speed automatic transmission,
along with assorted other interesting tweaks and wrinkles.
The result is a really nice SUV thats quite gutsy, refined and comfortable.
All for $33695 Canadian (about $24K US), about $3500 Cdn more than the top
of the line Sante Fe with the normal 2.7 liter V6. For that money
you not only get the big and better V6 with pretend manual Shiftronic
automatic transmission, you also get just about all the creature comforts you
could want, packed into a civilized vehicle that's really nice to drive.
On the outside youd be hard pressed to notice the difference, other
than the badge on its bum. The Sante Fe continues with the same overall look
as before which, depending on whom you ask, is either
RAV4-like or Armadillo-like and has the same rounded
contours as the other Sante Fe models - contours that led a friend of mine
to remark that it looked as if someone had kicked in the doors. Thats
perhaps overstating the case, since its actually a reasonably handsome
SUV, but to each his own.
Not only that, but it seems as if Hyundai had been listening to critics (always
a dangerous thing!) and has taken some of their criticisms (including my own)
For example, I had previously whined that where the Sante Fe could use some
work is in the little things, such as the buttons inside (particularly
the door lock, power window, and cruise control buttons), which felt very cheap
and offered little tactile feel. This still applies to some of the buttons,
but the huge expanse of cheap-looking plastic on the dashboard has been broken
up nicely and not only looks better but is actually more functional since you
could actually toss small things onto the passenger sides recessed shelf-like
area. And that alone is a huge improvement.
On the other hand, the leather of the seats looked as if it had been skinned
off of PVC cattle and the AM/FM/CD stereo is ergonomically frightening.
But everything works fine, and overall this is a nicer vehicle than in previous
years, so my complaints amount mostly to nit picking, especially considering
the vehicle's price.
The 3.5 liter V6 is rated at 200 horsepower @ 5,500 rpm and delivers 219 lb.-ft.
of torque @ 3,500 rpm The powerplant features a cast-iron block and multi-valve
aluminum cylinder heads. It gives plenty of oomph, dispensing confidence-inspiring
power that gets you up to speed about as quickly as youd need it to.
The 3.5 litre engine puts its power to the pavement through a 5-speed Shiftronic
automatic transmission that works very well in automatic mode, though I found
its pretend manual performance left something to be desired. In
fact, while Im a sucker for a stick shift, I actually preferred leaving
the Sante Fe in automatic unless I wanted to use engine braking on hills and
Then again, I never had a chance to try it on any interesting highways, due
to inclement weather when I had the Sante Fe, so perhaps some nice and challenging
twisty bits would have changed my mind.
After all, I liked the same engine/transmission combination when I tried it
on the XG350 during a spirited jaunt through the Rocky Mountains, though I
had some complaints about its manual performance there, too.
Besides that nice 3.5 liter engine, the Sante Fe boasts four wheel disc brakes
enhanced with four channel ABS and they stopped well and true every time I
Hyundai says its electronic AWD system was designed by Borg-Warner and features InterActive
Torque Management. This means that when it senses slippage in the front
wheels, it automatically transfers power to the rears. Then, when traction
is restored to the fronts, power to the rears is reduced or eliminated. While
this isnt exactly full time all wheel drive, it does offer a good balance
between traction and fuel economy.
Add ABS and traction control to that and you have very good stability on
slippery roads. My time with the Sante Fe saw roads close to my home covered
with ice and the vehicle did a very nice job of managing them
Suspension is independent, double-wishbone in the rear with MacPherson struts
with stabilizer bar up front. My test Sante Fe, like all of them, came with
4 wheel disc brakes. Sante Fe models wearing the GLS trim level come with standard
ABS; traction control is only offered on the big model. GLS and 3.5 litre GLS
Sante Fe also comes with an electronic brake force distribution system.
The power-assisted rack and pinion steering offers good road feel.
Wheels are 16 inch aluminum alloy models wearing P225/70R 16 tires.
Inside, you get all the creature comforts you could want, including an automatic
climate control system that works very well. The leather seats up front have
bun warmers, everything youd want to have powered is powered (including
keyless entry and power door locks) and one thing I really liked is the beautiful,
huge sunroof. I would have liked it to have been an inch or two more forward,
but that would have cut into the controls, lights, and sunglasses holder that
By the way, wind noise at highway speeds is minimal; most impressive for a
biggish vehicle such as this.
The seats are comfortable and supportive, though theres little side
bolstering and this makes you feel as if youre going to be spilled out
of them when you corner with any sort of élan. But cornering with élan
isnt what most SUV's are about anyway
The drivers seat features 8 way power adjustment and between it and
the tilt (though not telescoping) steering wheel its easy to find a comfortable
driving position. The front passenger seat has manual adjustment.
Theres plenty of room front and back, and the rear seats even recline
a bit. They also split and fold forward, making a truly cavernous storage area
Instrumentation is clear and straightforward and all controls are laid out
logically and are close at hand. I had the same complaint with the Sante Fes
stereo as I did with the 2004 Elantras, to wit the AM/FM
single disc CD head unit is an ergonomic disaster and the overall audio quality
is merely good.
There are plenty of storage areas and cupholders (the rear seat cupholders
are in the center arm rest).
Safety features include dual front airbags, front seatbelt pretensioners with
force limiters, crumple zones fore and aft, and rear kid safety door locks.
My 3.5 liter GLS also came with side airbags.
Besides the usual power windows, door locks, and heated power mirrors, other
standard features on the 3.5 GLS include a roof rack, and a rear wiper and
washer. You also get front fog lights, a retractable cargo cover, and chrome
coated outside door handles.
In all, its a very nice package thats easy to live with and which,
thanks to its nice power train, high driving position and good visibility,
is actually quite a bit of fun to drive
When I reviewed earlier Sante Fes I said they felt like
first generation vehicles (which they were), and that they felt
a little short on refinement. With a couple of minor exceptions (like the carryover
plastic buttons) this 3.5 liter GLS doesnt feel that way.
I liked it a lot.