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Avg. Price Paid:$9,320 - $13,916
Original MSRP: $21,495 - $30,145
MPG: 17 City / 24 Hwy
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2008 Hyundai Santa Fe Performance

This performance review was written when the 2008 Hyundai Santa Fe was new.

The 2008 Santa Fe has acceptable performance. New Car Test Drive reports,"Overall, the driving experience is transparent, meaning there is nothing outstanding, negatively or positively. The steering has a pleasant feel, neither too tight nor too loose, the brakes work well if not dramatically, the ride is smooth and the vehicle is quiet."

Acceleration and Power

The 2008 Hyundai Santa Fe comes with either a 2.7-liter V6 engine with a five-speed manual transmission, or a 3.3-liter V6 engine with a five-speed automatic transmission. The smaller engine makes 185 horsepower and 183 pound-feet of torque, while the larger V6 makes 242 horsepower and 226 pound-feet of torque.

Most reviewers find that the bigger engine suits the weight of the SUV better than the 2.7-liter engine. MSN says, "The 3.3 V6 provides lively acceleration in the city and good passing on highways, with a responsive automatic transmission. But the Santa Fe is appreciably slower with the smaller V6 because it's fairly heavy at 3,727 to 3,945 pounds." Edmunds calls the 2.7-liter engine "underpowered for some consumers," though Motor Trend feels differently, saying, "sprightly runs through mountain passes to sample both engines made us believers in this sport/utility." Consumer Guide concludes the 3.3-liter engine "gives other models adequate pep and is the better all-around choice."

Most reviewers are satisfied with the transmission. Car and Driver remarks "The GLS comes with the smaller of two available V6 engines and is available with a manual transmission, which is a unique combination in the U.S. We haven't had a chance to check it out and Hyundai admits few people will buy one, but a manual transmission is available for drivers who want one." The SUV comes with a Shiftronic five-speed automatic transmission on higher trim models, which impresses reviewers at Kelley Blue Book. "The Shiftronic automatic transmission responds quickly to manual gear selections making driving on curvy roads an almost sporty experience." However, Consumer Guide finds "highway passing punch hampered by transmission that can hesitate to downshift."

Despite the lack of a four-cylinder engine option, fuel economy is on par with others in the Santa Fe's class. With an automatic transmission, the 2.7-liter engine gets an Environmental Protection Agency-estimated 18 miles per gallon in the city and 24 on the highway. The 3.3-liter engine gets an estimated 17 miles per gallon in the city and 24 miles per gallon on the highway. Opting for all-wheel drive lowers these figures slightly. Autobytel finds the Santa Fe more fuel efficient than the specs would suggest: "[O]ur tester registered an average of 18.1 mpg through various driving situations including congested freeway driving, driving with a load, around-town motoring, and highway cruising. Yes, that's less than the 19/24 EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) rating, but it's closer than one might expect and very competitive with similar models. For an SUV, it sips more than slurps."

The base GLS can tow up to 2,800 pounds, while the other models can tow up to 3,500 pounds.

Handling and Braking

One of the major improvements in the recently redesigned Hyundai Santa Fe is the handling, which most find both smooth and comfortable. Autobytel says, "[A]s is the trend in SUVs and crossovers, the Santa Fe is built using unibody construction for a car-like ride and more responsive handling. The benefit for consumers, of course, is refinement. Bumps and road blemishes are isolated from the cabin by the frame and suspension, dissipating jolts so that passengers remain comfortable." Others also attribute the better handling to the unibody construction. Motor Trend says, "The all-new unibody chassis has been specifically tuned for better on-road handling, and our test drive bore that out. Better balance from the front- and all-wheel-drive models is a significant improvement over the previous gen, due in large part to a crisper steering response."

However, test drivers encountered some issues with the SUV's handling in tough situations. Consumer Guide finds that "small bumps are smothered well, regardless of tire size. Large bumps induce uncomfortable bounce and sideways rocking, plus some minor vibration through floor, steering column". And the reviewers at About.com say, "Its small turning circle is nice, but with its tall sides and a fall-away hood, I found maneuvering through tight parking garages a bit of a stomach-churner."

Still, safety features and responsive steering kept reviewers from fearing a rollover. The Chicago Tribune says, "No complaints with ride harshness or wobble in the Santa Fe. As an added benefit, all Santa Fes come with electronic stability control as standard benefit, along with four-wheel anti-lock brakes." Reviewers at The Auto Channel felt safe even when turning quickly, saying, "We were able to drive the Santa Fe reasonably hard around corners without fearing tipping over."

All-wheel drive is available on either engine and all trim levels and did not change the engine performance of the vehicle, according to reviewer consensus. Motor Trend notes, "Likewise, the difference between front-drive and all-wheel-drive handling dynamics is much less pronounced than is typical for this class, with the AWD "big" V-6 able to venture into the sportiness zone when pushed."

Most reviewers conclude that all-wheel drive could be a good option for those wanting an all-weather car, but be forewarned -- it doesn't make the Santa Fe rugged. The Chicago Tribune says, "The test vehicle lacked the optional full-time all-wheel-drive, the choice in the Snow Belt. It automatically routes power to the wheels with the best traction to prevent a skid. But the system doesn't have a low setting, so Santa Fe will keep moving on the road, but not through sand, water and slippery slopes." Or, as Kelley Blue Book quips, "The Hyundai Santa Fe is a unibody SUV made for tackling the urban jungle, not braving the actual jungle."

Most reviewers found the braking adequate, though tests showed that braking distances were longer than for other vehicles in this class. Motor Week says, "Braking is a little on the long side however, with emergency stops from 60 averaging 135 feet," and Edmunds finds "braking distances on a FWD Limited model we tested were longer than expected for this class of SUV."

Still, reviewers appreciated the feel of the brakes and the assist feature for added safety. The Chicago Sun-Times says, "The all-disc brakes have a Brake Assist feature that provides maximum braking force when a panic stop is detected. An electronic brake force distribution feature adjusts braking force to both axles, based on vehicle loading conditions. The brake pedal feels good -- not too stiff and not mushy."

Review Last Updated: 2/18/09

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