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Hyundai Santa Fe cruises in

Workhorse: The Santa Fe is Hyundai's well-priced entrant in the booming compact 4WD market.

The Santa Fe has rugged styling, good street manners, some bush capability and generous passenger accommodation

10 Dec 2000

HYUNDAI's first foray into the "soft-roader" market has generated over a thousand eager prospective buyers before the vehicles even arrived in Australia.

The Santa Fe was benchmarked against Honda's CR-V, Subaru's Forester and Toyota's RAV4, but in reality the initial vehicles shown to the press are not a fair comparison for any of these established market-leaders.

The Hyundai's 2.7-litre V6 is a bigger engine than all three Japanese rivals, although a 2.4-litre four-cylinder will be available early in 2001.

The auto-only V6 is available in two trim levels, the principle difference being the availability of ABS brakes in the $36,990 GLS version the V6 GL is $33,990 while the 2.4-litre four-cylinder manual will sell for $29,990 when it goes on the market in early 2001.

The Santa Fe is much more akin to a station wagon than the taller CR-V and offers more interior space than the Subaru.

It is well appointed with air-conditioning, electric windows, cruise control and a steptronic option on the adaptive four-speed automatic transmission.

In most respects, the five-door Santa Fe is as well equipped as most medium-luxury street vehicles.

The Hyundai does not offer selectable low-range and is permanently driving all four wheels, with an initial 60/40 per cent bias to the front.

It uses a double differential at the front and a central viscous coupling progressively delivers more torque to the rear end, which employs a limited-slip differential.

However, the engine is required to deal with well over 1600 kg of vehicle mass plus payload and this blunts the performance of even the V6, which delivers 132kW at 6000rpm and 247Nm at 4000.

The GL weighs 1652kg and the GLS 1664kg. Claimed acceleration figures are 0-100 in 11.7 secs and 400 metres in 17.8.

Performance is adequate and the Santa Fe won't be holding up the traffic, but it won't be winning any stop-light duels either.

It accelerates smoothly and if left to its own devices, the auto gearbox clicks through its four ratios smoothly and will usually shift down promptly when required.

If the manual shift option is taken, the box will eventually self-shift from first to second, but self-shifting will generally be more satisfying on demanding sealed roads.

Long-travel suspension rewards brisk driving with significant bodyroll, made worse by understeer if the throttle is feathered or lifted off entirely, so power-on corning is actually more controllable.

On dirt roads and worse, the Santa Fe gives a fairly good account of itself to a point. It will maintain reasonable composure on loose surfaces and coped with a stint of soft sand driving satisfactorily, but shows pronounced off-throttle understeer, while slight wheelspin in a minor river ford was a surprise.

Dust sealing was complete, visibility good and comfort at the end of a 240km thrashing fair. Control positioning is ergonomically very good and cabin space use is excellent for the vehicle's external dimensions.

With rugged styling, good street manners, some bush capability, generous passenger accommodation and a mid-thirties price tag, the Hyundai will probably quickly become, if not as ubiquitous as the Excel, at least a fairly common sight on Australian roads.

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