- The Washington Times - Friday, August 3, 2001

In an effort to get a wheel up on the competition and distinguish its first-ever sport utility vehicle, South Korean manufacturer Hyundai calls it a crossover utility vehicle, or XUV.

Whatever it's tagged, the compact Santa Fe is a comfortable-riding, smooth driver with plenty of equipment.

The Santa Fe is no powerhouse, however. Its V-6 makes 185 horsepower, which isn't a lot in relation to its curb weight, which totals nearly 4,000 pounds.

That weight clearly contributes to the big-vehicle feel of the Santa Fe, also available with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 150 horsepower.

Prices start at about $16,500, with the line-topping GLS tester totaling $21,384. That's competitive with similar vehicles from Honda, Ford, Subaru and Mazda.

Owners who carry big loads the Santa Fe does have good cargo room are likely to wish for more power than the V-6's 185 horsepower (at 6,000 rpm) and 187 pounds-feet of torque (at a not-so-noisy 4,000 rpm). The four-speed automatic transmission (no manual offered with the V-6) in the test vehicle made smooth shifts up and down, and the semimanual shift feature works just fine for those who want to be in control or are headed off-road.

The test GLS, with its wheelbase of 103 inches and total length of 177 inches, was superbly maneuverable around town and easy to park. The SUV-typical high-seat position aided visibility, and the dual power mirrors are large enough to provide a good rear view.

The tester, an early production version, seemed well-assembled with good fit and finish, which, presumably, can only get better as production goes on. The panic mode of the keyless-entry system was as touchy as any ever encountered, but that surely was unique to this particular vehicle.

Pluses include very legible but limited white-on-black instrumentation, good drink holders front and rear and a decent CD stereo. Minuses include rotary knobs for the front seat adjustments that weren't that easy to use and a lumbar-adjustment lever wedged between the right side of the seat and the center console, a deep one with a lift-out tray with storage beneath.

Overall, the Santa Fe, based on the Sonata sedan, deserves good marks for a first-ever vehicle. Its V-6 engine may lack power and quiet, but other features are just fine.

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