2002 Hyundai Santa Fe Four Seasons Test

Wendy Keebler
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Glenn Paulina
Driver Side Front View

Comfort, however, was an uncomfortable topic. Many found the seats supportive and the ride supple. Jordan even called it Camry-like. But an equal number described, in technical language, butt burn setting in after two hours, as well as tons of roll, lolling of the body, and excessive pitch during mild acceleration and braking. Many also complained about wind noise.

The Santa Fe's powertrain-a 181-horsepower, 2.7-liter V-6 mated to a four-speed manu-matic transmission-kept some drivers satisfied but had others wishing for more. Technical editor Don Sherman found power to be "generally smooth, quiet, and comfortable when cruising a bit over the limit," but he called the manual shift mode "worthless." Road test coordinator Tony Quiroga also used both of his thumbs. At first blush, he saw the Santa Fe as "a willing highway partner," but he later complained that "it takes forever to get to its torque peak, and once it does, you've already been passed by a gravel truck."

Our Santa Fe could not be faulted on reliability or durability, and this was one of several subjects on which logbook entries did agree. Over and over, the terms "solid" and "well put together" appear, and several writers noted the absence of rattles, even past the 30,000-mile mark. Service records prove the point: Beyond scheduled maintenance (not free from Hyundai), receipts for a set of $9 wiper blades at 30,000 miles, an $80 wheel alignment, and a warranty-covered repair of a transfer-case leak at 32,700 miles are the sole occupants of our thin file.

The Santa Fe was dependable in rain or snow, on long trips out East or down South, and wherever it went, it lugged our stuff. Here again, and despite the oft-bemoaned fact that the rear seats don't fold completely flat, the Santa Fe scored big. Folks seemed to delight in cataloging their cargo on the pages of the logbook. We find mention of rafting, biking, and camping gear; Thanksgiving foods and the bulky tools for preparing them; and thirty Christmas boxes bound for Connecticut. Our favorite is staffer spouse Emily Phenix's inventory of household goods gleaned from a trip to Philadelphia to clear out her sister's house before a move. Behold the chattels she hauled, all in one trip: one double-sized futon mattress and frame; nine boxes of books; one sewing machine; two Oriental rugs with pads; one leaf blower; one iron birdbath; two end tables; one footstool; two large garbage bags filled with quilts and pillows; five shopping bags holding clothes, gardening tools, more books, and more quilts; five framed wall hangings; one overnight bag; and several casserole dishes, serving plates, and mixing bowls wedged into empty spaces. Phenix wrote: "The ride home was just as easy and secure, despite compromised visibility out the back. The ass hung a little lower (must have been that iron birdbath), but the Santa Fe and I made it back safely."

With the money you save as the owner of a Santa Fe, you can afford to buy even more stuff to cram into it. And that brings us to the final-and perhaps most frequently cited-point of harmony among logbook commentators. Our Santa Fe 4WD GLS with the V-6 rang up at $22,524. Our only options were ABS for $595, roof rack cross rails for $180, and floor mats and mud guards for $155. Everything else on our sturdy steed was standard, including the full-time 4wd, power everything, keyless entry with alarm, cruise control, AM/FM/cassette/CD, automatic climate control, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a kick-butt Korean-style warranty of five years/60,000 miles bumper-to-bumper and ten years/100,000 miles on the powertrain. This makes Hyundai's little spute a terrific value.

Is the Santa Fe perfect? Of course not. But, in the words of one wise contributor, "perfection costs more than $22K." We can all agree on that. What's more, there's no arguing that the Santa Fe is a worthy contender in its popular segment and a fine example of Korea's number one export.

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