It’s hard to believe, but the past two decades have been witness to the creation of the web browser, the transformation of the first 14-lb. laptop to today’s razor-thin units, and in the automotive realm, the growth of a once unknown Korean car company. Hyundai’s first car, the Excel, was sold to the first U.S. consumer back in 1986, and based on that car’s less-than-impressive quality, it would’ve been safe to bet that Hyundai’s days here were numbered. Fast forward to 2006, and that longshot now boasts of 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 come back for another.
At the root of the company’s success, according to President and CEO, Bob Cosmai, is a midsize SUV. It’s the Santa Fe, and it’s been seriously tweaked for 2007, as evidenced at its debut at the 2006 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Most obvious is the new design, with clean, almost sexy new body lines that replace the exaggerated haunches of the 2006 model, an aerodynamic front end accented by sleek smoked headlights, slight creases in the hood that give the Santa Fe a somewhat aggressive look, and a precise tail that resembles offers a touch of Volkswagen Touareg styling. Offered with either front- or all-wheel-drive capability, the 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe rides on either 16-inch or 18-inch alloy wheels, with the smaller rims being reserved for 2.7-liter V6 models and the 18s fitted to those outfitted with a 3.3-liter V6. The smaller six-cylinder motor is mated to either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic transmission, and offers about 180 horsepower and 180 lb.-ft. of torque. The 3.3-liter engine is controlled by a five-speed automatic and pushes more than 230 horsepower and more than 220 lb.-ft. of torque. Those are good numbers, but a bit shy of the new 268-horsepower Toyota RAV 4. Like the Toyota, the 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe now offers three rows of seating, with the third row being suitable for children, or medium-sized adults for short distances. That rear row is a folding, split bench that, when in use, leaves only enough room behind for a small backpack or purse. With second and third row seats folded, there’s 79.4 cubic feet of cargo volume, an increase over the 2006 thanks in part to the new models seven inches of extra length.
Typical of Hyundai, the 2007 Santa Fe is features a generous list of standard safety equipment. That includes six airbags, active front headrests, stability control, and a tire pressure monitoring system. Three trims are available – GLS, SE, and Limited – and even the GLS gets standard antilock brakes with electronic brake force distribution, air conditioning, heated mirrors, and a host of power features. Hyundai claims that the 2007 Santa Fe will be priced significantly lower than a similarly-equipped Toyota Highlander.
The past 20 years have been good for Hyundai and its consumers. If the 2007 Santa Fe is any indication, the next couple of decades look to be equally promising.
Photos by Ron Perry