by Clint Burgess

There's a relatively new player in town in the game of new automobile sales: Hyundai. While some car manufacturers have been going for bigger and better, this company is finding a way to offer quality and affordability in the same package. I decided to give their mid-sized SUV, the Santa Fe, a spin and find out if it could withstand my high standards and rigorous testing methods.

I hooked up the Santa Fe from Hallmark Hyundai. After a quick spin around the block to get acquainted with some of the features, I promptly began my analysis. The first set of tests falls under the "band test" category. This involved packing this baby with my band's gear. We got it all in this thing, a PA system, all instruments -- including a piano (OK, it was an electric piano, but it's still five feet long) -- and there was room to spare. The fold-down middle seats were an added bonus for packing the back end full. The second phase of the band test: stereo performance during load in and load out. The Santa Fe I drove is equipped with Hyundai's "Monsoon" factory setup. The system features independent CD and tape deck -- and let me tell you, PJ Harvey never sounded so good on a stock stereo.

Next up was functionality and performance. The Santa Fe is set up to seat five. I decided to take it one step further. Not only can five adults fit comfortably with plenty of leg- and headroom, but I was able to load this thing up with three children's car seats in the middle row and still get the doors closed. Now that's a family car. Other features of note are power everything (mirrors, locks, windows, etc.), a flip-down holder for your sunglasses and a First Aid kit for all you extreme drivers out there. Other safety features include dual front and side airbags, steel-reinforced door beams and a crumple zone in the front end that causes the engine to drop down instead of getting pushed back in the event of a head-on collision. All of these features are just part of what is making Hyundai a viable company in today's automobile industry.

Vic Pestrin, general manager of Hallmark Hyundai, has been in the automobile sales business for 30 years. "The company's dedication to quality is unsurpassed," Pestrin says. Remember Hyundai is the first company that offered the 10-year or 100,000-mile warranty on its new vehicles. Added to the buzz around Hyundai is the announcement made this year by J.D. Power and Associates that the Hyundai is of equal quality to Toyota and Honda. Pestrin says, "I've been with Hyundai for seven years, and because they continue to update their vehicles every year with better options, and maintain the same cost -- or maybe a few hundred dollar increase -- that gets repeat buyers in here."

One thing's for sure, the Santa Fe is easy on the pocket book (the base model starts at $17,999) and won't hit you with a high gas bill. The standard four-cylinder gets you about 20 miles to the gallon around town. But that's not all. This baby handles like a dream. It's got more than enough get-up to merge easily into high speed traffic on the freeway, and with the dual-mode Shiftronic transmission -- offering an automatic and manual configuration-- there's always enough torque and power to get you up that big hill or give enhanced control in the snow. Combine that with options like full-time four-wheel drive, an optional V6 (2.7 or 3.5) and leather package on the LX model, and you don't feel like you're sitting in a Hyundai anymore.

Publication date: 07/01/04

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