The Hyundai Santa Fe is a four-door, up to seven passenger sport-utility vehicle. In 2001, Hyundai decided that it needed to expand upon its lineup of passenger cars and add a sport-utility vehicle to the mix. In keeping with the company’s tradition of smaller-sized vehicles, the first Hyundai SUV, the Santa Fe, was a compact based on the Elantra sedan platform. The inoffensive styling and car-like ride helped to make the Santa Fe an instant hit, and sales went off the charts for the Korean manufacturer. A series of yearly changes culminated in the 2007 re-design of the SUV in order to modernize both the appearance and the platform that the Santa Fe was based on.

The 2008 Santa Fe still bears the full effects of the recent upgrade. Two V6 engines are available under the hood, with the entry-level GLS being outfitted with a 2.7 liter, 185 horsepower motor that also generates 183 lb-ft of torque. This engine can be shifted manually via a 5-speed, or through the use of a 4-speed automatic. The SE and Limited trims of the Santa Fe see a more powerful 242 horsepower 3.3 liter V6 which is paired exclusively with a 4-speed auto transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard, but all trims have the option of adding all-wheel drive for greater off-road capabilities and on-road control.

The base Santa Fe GLS is well-equipped, like most Hyundai’s. Air conditioning, 16-inch rims and power door locks and windows round out some of the key features. A roof rack and tire pressure monitoring system are also standard. The SE improves the vehicle’s outward appearance with 18-inch alloy wheels and integrated fog lights. Inside, a leather-wrapped steering wheel houses controls for the stereo system, which are matched to a trip computer. The upscale Limited trim adds heated leather seats, improved climate control and a power sunroof. On the outside, a chrome grille and rear spoiler are standard equipment. A navigation system and DVD player for the rear seats are optional.

The interior of each version of the Santa Fe is quite comfortable, with high quality materials contributing to a luxury feel despite the vehicle’s low purchase price. The new platform allowed Hyundai to re-think passenger accommodations and the result was an increase in room for all passengers when compared to the original SUV. Seven passenger seating is available, and while the third row isn’t all that useful for transporting adults, it does fold flat into the floor to provide an excellent amount of trunk space.

Despite no longer being based on an automobile platform, the engineers at Hyundai have gone to great lengths to preserve the same type of handling and driving characteristics that helped to make the small SUV so popular. Electronic stability control and traction control are standard across all models of the Santa Fe, and this contributes to a poised and balanced driving sensation. The Santa Fe is certainly no track monster, but the 3.3 liter V6 has more than enough power to make highway passing easy, even on steep hills.

The Hyundai Santa Fe continues to be one of the best values in a small sport-utility vehicle, and priced at thousands less than the competition, it is not difficult to see why it has been such a record breaker for Hyundai when it comes to sales.

The 2009 Hyundai Santa Fe is a carryover from 2008. The 2009 Santa Fe is available in three trim levels. The entry-level GLS makes use of a 2.7 liter V6 engine that produces 185 horsepower and 183 lb-ft of torque. A 5-speed manual transmission is provided, with the option of upgrading to a 4-speed automatic. Fuel economy for this engine comes out to 17 miles per gallon in the city and 24 miles per gallon on the highway. Both the SE and the Limited versions of the Santa Fe are afforded with a more powerful 3.3 liter 6-cylinder engine that cranks out 242 ponies and 226 lb-ft of torque. A 5-speed automatic transmission is the only available gearbox, and fuel economy is identical to that of the smaller engine. All-wheel drive can be ordered across all three trim levels.