Korean SUV Gets Big Things Right
2001 Santa fe a nice SUV
by Jim Bray
The 2001 Hyundai Santa fe is no Acura MDX.
Then again, it doesn't pretend to be. The $20,499 Santa fe is priced only
a bit more than half the MDX's sticker - and even the respected Mazda
Tribute/Ford Escape twins are about four grand more than the Hyundai.
So how much do you sacrifice to save that money?
Not much. Hyundai has done a good job of giving you the important things you
want and need, as well as most of the smaller things.
I tested the higher end Santa fe GLS, and it turned out to be quite a pleasant
experience. Though not as powerful as some competitors, I had no major complaints
with the Santa fe's "oomph factor," and was pleased to find full
time four wheel drive, four wheel disc brakes with ABS, and most of the "necessary" creature
comforts to which we've become accustomed.
Santa fe's oomph comes from a V6 engine that's surprisingly quiet (unless
you really stomp on the gas, at which time it howls most appropriately) and
which delivers 181 horsepower and 177 pound feet of torque. The power comes
on quickly and smoothly and moves the SUV from zero to 60 mph in just over
That's a couple of seconds slower than the MDX and Tribute, and it means you
don't really get pushed back into your seat (rats!), but in my "real world" test
it was almost always adequate.
That test included city and freeway driving, and a day trip into the mountains
on highways twisty and hilly. The Santa fe got us where we wanted to go comfortably
and without fuss, though there was one occasion (when I pulled out to pass
another vehicle while we were climbing a long, steep hill) when I would have
appreciated a tad more zip.
Wind noise at highway speeds is surprisingly low.
The Santa fe's four speed "shiftronic" automatic/manual transmission
tended to hunt and peck a bit, but on the whole it performed well - and the
unexpected (for an SUV) "manual" mode came in quite handy on tight
curves and when passing.
The four wheel disc brakes, which are enhanced with a four channel antilock
system, worked fine and I should note what a pleasant surprise it was to see
discs all the way around; even the Tribute has drum brakes on the rear wheels.
Handling, aided by an independent suspension and 16 inch wheels sporting a
good set of Michelin tires, is pretty good (remember, this is an SUV, not a
sports car!). The downside is that, because there's minimal side bolstering
on the seats (and the leather is slippery), you tend to feel as if you're going
to be spilled into the door - or your passenger - when you corner with any
sort of élan.
Fortunately, it never happens
Where the Santa fe could use some work is in the "little things." For
instance, the buttons inside, particularly the door lock, power window, and
cruise control buttons, felt very cheap and offered little tactile feel. The
leather didn't appear to be of the greatest quality, either and, while the
AM/FM/CD stereo sounded okay, it was ergonomically frightening.
Everything worked fine, however, so my complaint is more that Hyundai doesn't "stroke" its
users as nicely as some of its competition.
It basically comes down to the interior. While the Santa fe boasts an attractive,
almost sinewy exterior, the inside is plagued by plastic that looks and feels
It's too bad, because the Santa fe performs well as an SUV and offers a comfortable
and roomy cabin.
When I first slipped my bum onto those leather seats I figured they'd be a
real ordeal for a long trip and, while it's true that we were happy to alight
at the end of our mountain trip, it wasn't nearly the nightmare that I expected.
The rear seat is roomy for two, tight for three, and folds down to facilitate
hauling bigger stuff. The tailgate opens in two ways: you can swing up the
window by itself or open the entire gate.
Safety and creature comforts include dual front airbags, passenger presence
detection, keyless entry/central locking, air conditioning and power everything.
Despite my reservations about the interior, the Santa fe is a nice SUV that
should help raise Hyundai's profile in the marketplace.