Santa Fe Drives Hyundai To Bright Future

Santa Fe drives Hyundai to bright future

BALTIMORE - In the past few years, the Hyundai brand has changed dramatically – and public perception has been along for the ride.

Hyundai pulled ahead of the cheap and cheerful crowd in 2000 by introducing the first 100,000 mile warranty (coverage aped by other manufacturers, notably GM as of last September).

The automaker's sales jumped more than 80 percent in the warranty's first year, and since then, public awareness and acceptance of Hyundai's claims have been fairly high. And well they should be.

When compared with similar imports, most Hyundai models are filled with accouterments: leather seats, multiple CD-changers, wood-grain trim, multiple storage bins and cargo nets, keyless entry and all the right airbags.

We recently drove the 2007 Santa Fe, a smallish sport utility vehicle originally built to compete with models like the Honda CRV and the Toyota Rav4.

But this latest iteration was bumped up in size to make room for the Tucson (which came out in 2005) and is now in league with the likes of the Toyota Highlander.

In fact, the new Santa Fe looks a bit like the Highlander, with the small spoiler above the back hatch. And the 3.3 liter V-6 in the Santa Fe Limited version that we drove is the same size as the Highlander's high-end engine.

The Santa Fe, priced several thousand below the Highlander, was a thoroughly enjoyable ride – not just when we were crawling steadily up a winding, snow-packed drive at a western Maryland back country ski resort, but also as we eased our way back down.

The sign at the entrance warned that only vehicles with four-wheel drive or tire chains should venture forth. But the Santa Fe's electronic stability and traction control as well as the anti-lock brakes kept our confidence high. In March, Hyundai will begin selling the Veracruz – yet another Korean-built SUV, this one slightly larger than the Santa Fe.

Named for yet another dry place in the west, this one breaks the mold not just by reaching south of the border for its name, but with a new designation: the LUV. No, that's not some junior high girl's scrawl on her notebook cover. It stands for Luxury Utility Vehicle.

Like I said, Hyundai is changing.

Martha Thomas, The Examiner

Feb 23, 2007 3:00 AM

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