It’s hard to believe, but the past two decades have been witness to the creation of the web browser and, in the automotive realm, the growth of a once unknown Korean car company. Hyundai’s first car, the Excel, was introduced to U.S. consumers back in 1986, and based on that car’s dreadful quality, it would’ve been safe to bet that Hyundai’s days here were numbered. Fast forward to 2006, and that long shot now boasts of nearly 500,000 annual sales, five years or record-braking growth, possibly the best warranty in the business, and a loyalty rate of 56.3 percent, meaning a lot of first-time Hyundai buyers become repeat customers.
At the root of the company’s success is a midsize SUV, the Santa Fe. What was once a rather homely, underpowered, five-passenger vehicle greets the 2007 model year with an attractive new look, more room for up to seven passengers, and an available V6 engine offering a competitive 230 horsepower and 220 lb.-ft. of torque. And, as Hyundai representative are so obviously proud to point out, it will be priced thousands less than a comparably-equipped Toyota Highlander.
Any guesses on what brand the suits at Hyundai are hunting?
When the 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe hits lots this summer, it will bring with it a fresh new look, seating for up to seven passengers, and extracting power from either a 2.7-liter V6 or a larger six-cylinder engine displacing 3.3 liters.
That smaller motor is standard fare on the base model, the Santa Fe GLS. Also featured are a five-speed manual transmission, stability control, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, 16-inch alloy wheels, heated power mirrors, power door locks and windows, and a roof rack. Safety equipment includes front-side and side-curtain airbags for both rows (seven-passenger seating is reserved for higher trims), air conditioning, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, and a tire pressure monitoring system. A power sunroof and a four-speed automatic transmission are among the available options.
One step up the ladder is the 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe SE, which swaps in a 3.3-liter V6 mated to a five-speed automatic transmission, 18-inch alloys, a power driver’s seat, and steering wheel-mounted audio controls. Upgraded sound and video systems are optional, as is a 50/50 split-folding third row seat and an automatic load-leveling suspension.
Poised at the top of the 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe lineup is the Limited model, made worthy of its position thanks to standard heated leather seats, a dual-zone climate control system, and a fully carpeted cargo area. The Limited also features unique chrome trim on the grille and door handles, as well as a color-keyed rear spoiler. Options for the Limited mirror those of the Santa Fe SE.
Whether or not it ever gets used, shoppers in the midsize SUV segment want a third row seat, something the previous Hyundai Santa Fe lacked. But, it’s not just about utility in the sport-utility market, as the stylishly redesigned, 268-horsepower Toyota RAV4 proves. With that kind of competition, the aesthetically-challenged and underpowered Santa Fe of today would get slaughtered. Hyundai is a company that has seen steady growth over the past several years, though the goal is to sell one million vehicles in the U.S. by the end of the decade, more than double 2005 sales. To that end, products like the 2007 Santa Fe need to be attractive, capable values that Toyota, Honda, and GM buyers are willing to try.
Base GLS models of the 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe are powered by an aluminum 2.7-liter, 24-valve, dual overhead cam V6 with an estimated 180 horsepower and 180 lb.-ft. of torque, all controlled by a standard five-speed manual transmission or optional four-speed automatic. SE and Limited models feature an aluminum, 3.3-liter, 24-valve, dual overhead cam V6 cranking out about 230 horsepower and 220 lb.-ft. of twist, with power delivered to either the front or all four wheels via a Shiftronic five-speed automatic transmission. Both engines are designed to meet ULEV emissions standards.
Though Hyundai claims that the 2007 Santa Fe will be priced thousands less than a comparable Toyota Highlander, the company’s redesigned SUV comes well-equipped, even the entry-level GLS trim. Standard features include front-side and side-curtain airbags, front active headrests, a tire pressure monitoring system, a 60/40 split-folding rear seat, air conditioning, and the usual array of basic power items. The curvaceous dash is home to simple and clear gauges, while radio and climate control buttons are clearly marked in the center console. Upper SE and Limited models accommodate up to seven passengers thanks to a standard third row seat, while heated leather seats are reserved for the Limited.
Aside from that curiously conspicuous liftgate handle, there are few visual cues that tie the 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe to its predecessor. Similar to recently-introduced models like the Sonata and Azera sedans, the Santa Fe greets the world with a sleek front end, accented by sleek, smoked headlights, smooth and sculpted body lines, and sporty wrap-around taillights. The exaggerated haunches from the previous version have been replaced by subtle wheel flares, allowing for a much more upscale appearance.
With more than 400,000 combined sales since its launch in 2000, the Santa Fe is arguably Hyundai’s most important vehicle. Company executives credit the SUV as being a catalyst to reaching record sales, and subsequently, any updates or changes are considered with great care. The 2007 model is designed to offer buyers the ultimate combination of style, comfort, utility, safety, and value in the midsize SUV segment.
Compared to the geeky look of the old Santa Fe, improving on this ride’s styling wasn’t exactly a monumental challenge, and with last year’s maximum output of only 200 horses, adding a little lead behind the pedal was kind of a no-brainer, too. However, rather than simply updating the Santa Fe, Hyundai has reinvented this little truck into a true player, one with handsome looks, a larger and more versatile interior, and, though not as powerful as the new Toyota RAV4, a healthy boost of power that at least makes the 2007 Santa Fe more competitive.
Production of the 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe will begin during the spring of 2006 in Montgomery, Alabama (some units will be built at the company’s Ulsan, Korea facility). Examples should start hitting the lots by the summer season.