Daily Archives: February 26, 2007

Hyundai’s Come A Long Way

Hyundai’s come a long way

'07 Elantra brings automaker in line with big boys

Hyundai redoes its best-selling car for 2007, giving the Elantra sleeker styling, a larger size and a wealth of safety features.

The compact front-drive Elantra sedan now is a viable competitor to the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. Who ever thought one could say that about a Hyundai?

I'd bet on the Civic and Corolla for higher resale value, although Hyundai has progressed a lot since it sold marginal models and has a milelong warranty. It makes a lot of good stuff standard, and now offers value and quality -- not cheapness.

The new Elantra is 2.2 inches taller, which allows a raised driving position that's trendy with small cars. It's also 2 inches wider than its predecessor, with a 1.6-inch longer wheelbase. There's more interior volume (passenger volume plus trunk space) than offered by a Civic, Corolla or even the upscale Acura TL.

However, moving the driver position up 1.8 inches might cause taller people to wish for more legroom. There's decent space for four tall adults, and the middle of the rear seat has a nice fold-down armrest with cupholders. Outside door handles are large for easy entry, and all doors open wide so athletic moves aren't needed to slide in or out.

The large trunk is unusually long, but its lid has old-style sickle-type hinges and no interior liner. Rear seatbacks sit flat when flipped forward for more cargo room, but the pass-through area from the trunk to the back seat area isn't very large.

The Elantra has lower list prices than many rivals, if you count its standard features. It starts at $13,395 for the base GLS with a slick five-speed manual transmission. Add $1,000 for a four-speed automatic.

The new Elantra has anti-lock all-disc brakes (key rivals have rear drum brakes) with electronic brake force distribution. There are also more standard safety items than competitors, with six air bags -- front, curtain and side-impact.

Side-impact bags aren't available on a Chevrolet Cobalt. Side curtain bags are optional on the Corolla and Cobalt and not available on the Ford Focus.

The GLS is moderately well-equipped, but you pay extra for air conditioning, cruise control, AM/FM/CD player, power door locks and power heated outside mirrors.

Standard GLS items include tilt steering wheel, front bucket seats with a manual driver-seat height adjustment, intermittent wipers, tachometer, split-folding rear seat, rear defogger and power windows.

Move to the mid-range ($15,695-$16,695) SE, and added are air conditioning, power door locks with remote keyless entry, tilt/telescopic wheel with audio controls, cruise control, AM/FM/CD player, XM satellite radio and larger 16-inch (vs. 15-inch) wheels and tires.

The top-line $17,695 Limited has heated front seats offered for the first time and leather upholstery, which isn't available for other Elantras. The ever-popular power sunroof is among options.

A GLS Premium Package contains a 172-watt AM/FM/ CD audio system with six speakers and Hyundai&#39s first auxiliary jack, which allows iPod and other portable MP3 players to be connected to the car's audio system.

The Elantra has greater structural rigidity than its predecessor for a more solid feel, and Hyundai didn't stint on significant mechanical items that can't be seen. A fully independent suspension with gas shock absorbers provides a comfortable ride and better handling, and front/rear anti-sway bars limit body lean in curves.

However, the electric power steering feels rather artificial and is occasionally too light at low speeds.

The Elantra is no thrill machine, but it feels composed even when driven relatively hard. The ride is comfortable, and the brake pedal has a nice linear action for consistently smooth stops.

The smooth 2-liter, 138-horsepower four-cylinder engine is rather small -- but sophisticated. It has dual overhead camshafts, 16 valves and continuously variable valve timing. It provides lively acceleration, although the manual transmission calls for a downshift from fifth gear to fourth or third gear for the best passing times on highways.

Estimated fuel economy is quite good: 28 mpg in the city and 36 on highways with both the manual and automatic transmissions. Only regular grade gasoline is needed.

Soft-touch materials help give the interior an upscale feel, and front seats provide moderate side support in curves. The tachometer is a bit too far to the left of the speedometer for a quick read, and BMW does a better job with white-on-black gauge numbers. But climate controls are large and well-marked. Audio system controls are conveniently located above the climate controls and acceptable for safe driver use. The driver-side interior trunk release is handy.

Cupholders are positioned to avoid spills, and there are plenty of decent-sized interior storage areas.


PRICE: $13,395-$17,695

LIKES: Nicely redesigned. Roomy. Well-equipped. Decent performance. Competitively priced.

DISLIKES: Rear visibility hampered by roof pillars. Small trunk pass-through opening. Odd tachometer location.

February 26, 2007
BY DAN JEDLICKA Auto Reporter Chicago Sun Times

Hyundai’s Santa Fe Is An All-American Crossover

Hyundai’s Santa Fe is an all-American crossover

Redesigned, its performance and styling are improved

By now, everyone knows that South Korean automakers have come a long way since their first halting attempts to sell tinny econoboxes to Americans. The distance that Hyundai has traveled is no longer figurative; it can be measured in miles.

The new-from-the-ground-up 2007 Santa Fe, for instance, wears the logo of the Seoul-based company, but it is as Korean American as kimchee at a suburban supermarket. This larger, more substantial, car-based SUV -- a crossover, in the parlance -- was developed specifically for American tastes. It was designed at the new Hyundai Design Center in Irvine and rolls off a new assembly line in Montgomery, Ala.

And, of course, it carries a name that evokes adobe missions, Georgia O’Keefe paintings and dried chili peppers.

In styling and performance, the second-generation Santa Fe is a significant step up from the model originally introduced in 2000. It offers an optional third-row seat, which is becoming the price of admission even among the compact utility wagons once known as cute utes.

It also incorporates many of the latest safety features found on much more expensive automobiles.

Prices, which start around $21,000 and can reach $33,000, fall squarely in the middle of the hot crossover market. But like other Hyundais, the Santa Fe is priced to undercut similarly equipped competitors from Toyota, Honda, Nissan and others.

My test vehicle was a Santa Fe Limited, the most expensive of three trim lines. With front drive, the Limited starts at $26,715. The base model GLS starts at $21,715 and the midrange SE at $24,415. Ordering all-wheel drive adds $2,000 to each price.

Unlike several of its closest competitors, the Santa Fe does not come with a four-cylinder engine. The base GLS' engine, a 2.7-liter V-6, was carried over but upgraded with variable valve timing, a variable intake system and other improvements. It is rated at 185 horsepower and 183 pound-feet of torque. Alone in its class, this model comes with a five-speed manual transmission, although a four-speed automatic is optional.

Optional on the SE and standard on the Limited is a new 3.3-liter V-6 with 242 horsepower and 226 pound-feet of torque. This engine comes only with a five-speed automatic.

Both engines meet California's ultra-low-emission standards and burn regular-grade gasoline.

As is common these days, the all-wheel drive system is electronically controlled and splits the torque to direct it to the wheels that can use it best. Uncommon on crossover utilities, however, is a lock control that will split the torque 50-50, front to rear, an advantage in mud, deep snow or off-road conditions.

Hyundai has made an unusually strong commitment to standard safety equipment in the vehicles it sells in this country. The Santa Fe has six air bags, including side curtains that help to protect all three rows of seats. Bags like these have proved effective in reducing injuries and deaths in side-impact crashes.

Also standard is another proven device, an electronic stability control, that helps the driver maintain control in sudden maneuvers or other emergency situations that could result in a spinout or rollover.

Four-wheel anti-lock brakes are standard as well, and they incorporate two additional safety features: emergency brake assist, which applies full-force braking if sensors detect the need for an emergency stop, and electronic brake force distribution, which balances the braking force regardless of the vehicle's load.

The Santa Fe has done well in crash tests. It received five stars, the highest rating, in front and side-impact tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. And it earned a "good" rating in the front-offset test by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Styling verdicts are best left to the individual, but to my eye the new Santa Fe has a lot going for it. It eschews the zoomy rear quarter panels and small rear side windows of some Japanese utilities, which can create large blind spots for the driver. Instead, Hyundai's designers stuck to softly rounded corners without pronounced styling accents. This, in my view, is a big improvement over the strange sci-fi contours of the first-generation Santa Fe.

While the Hyundai's size is similar to rivals like the Toyota RAV4 and Highlander, the Honda CR-V and the Chevrolet Equinox, it manages to eke out a bit more space inside.

The third row, for example, is almost habitable. It is split 50/50 and can be folded flat. Yet I would pass up the third seat, even if it is one of the few that adults can use, in favor of the two-row version that has roomy rear storage with two convenient compartments.

The second row folds nearly flat -- no need to remove the head restraints -- and locks in the down position. Atypically, the windows in the rear doors roll down all the way.

Interiors are becoming ever more appealing, especially in European and Japanese models, with smart color choices and textures that give a feeling of luxury and value. The new Santa Fe incorporates many of these intangibles into a moderately priced wagon. Instruments are simple and clear, with blue lighting at night. The controls are logical, so there is no need to consult the manual. The console box is a roomy two-tier affair; there are sturdy cup holders.

The redesign has improved the Santa Fe's performance in all respects. The new 3.3-liter engine in my test vehicle was responsive, and the overall performance was enhanced by the smooth-shifting automatic. The use of five speeds allows a more aggressive first gear and a fifth gear biased toward economy.

With the larger engine, fuel economy is rated at 19 mpg in town and 24 on the highway. While not class-leading figures, these numbers are competitive. My average was 20.6, a bit better than the 4-cylinder Toyota Highlander that I drove a while back, but not as good as my mileage (23 mpg) with the 4-cylinder RAV4. With the 2.7-liter engine and automatic transmission, the Santa Fe is rated 21 in town, 26 on the highway.

Steering and handling are smooth and steady and, while none too sporty, are certainly good enough in this class. The fairly tight turning circle (35.8 feet) was appreciated. The four-wheel disc brakes are firm, with a nice, progressive feel.

The ride is about what I'd expected of a small crossover, firm and well controlled and not stiff or jerky like many truck-based SUVs. The highway ride is reasonably quiet, with low wind and tire noise.

Consumers are learning that crossover wagons are worthwhile choices when a sedan doesn't seem to have enough space and heavy truck-based SUVs seem too clumsy and thirsty. There are many crossovers on the market, with more arriving every few months.

There are a few standouts in this rather large group, including relatively compact models like the RAV4, the CR-V and the Subaru Forester. I would add the new Santa Fe to that group. It is roomy, cleanly designed, reasonably priced and it comes with a lot of safety features.

Bob Knoll, New York Times

Sunday, February 25, 2007