---- — Just the other day, a friend asked for advice about choosing a car. He and his wife have a baby son. They want a vehicle with easy access, good hauling capacity, and the assurance of four-wheel traction. When looking at medium-sized wagons, he noticed that the Hyundai Santa Fe earns consistently good reviews and wins high ratings from independent agencies. His big question about the Santa Fe concerned its price. It seemed too good to be true. The model is priced noticeably lower than similar crossover sport-utilities, especially when he compared all the features and equipment that Hyundai bundles into the Santa Fe – items other manufacturers charge extra for.
“Am I missing something?” he wondered.
No, he’s not.
Hyundai has been buffing its reputation and attracting new customers with a strategy that appears to have three main parts. First, it hits on the fundamentals, making vehicles that contain good measures of safety, comfort, ease, dependability, usefulness and other qualities that people desire in an auto. Second, Hyundai wraps those characteristics in contemporary looking, dramatically styled bodies that can make you turn your head to look twice.
But it was the third part of Hyundai’s strategy that really caught my young friend’s eye: more vehicle for less money.
With the Santa Fe sport-utility vehicle, that dollar-stretching value accounts for a lot of the model’s booming popularity, explained David Silvia, Hyundai sales manager at Salem Ford Hyundai in Salem, N.H.
“When you compare it dollar for dollar, you can see that you’re getting more for your money,” he said. “The amount of equipment that comes even on the base model is much more significant.”
All Santa Fe models come with Bluetooth technology for connecting phones and other communication and entertainment gear to the car, he illustrated. All have heated seats, he noted, another nicety you typically pay extra to get on another model.
Some of the other items included as standard equipment in the Hyundai are air conditioning with rear-seat ducts and controls, adjustable steering wheel with embedded control buttons, fog lights, automatic headlights with bright, LED marker lights, privacy glass, alloy wheels, rear view camera, trip computer and outside temperature display, satellite radio, and tire-pressure monitoring.
Silvia credits the generous equipment list as the prime reason why Santa Fes disappear so quickly from the lot at Salem Ford Hyundai.
“I can’t keep them. I’m selling them off the truck almost as soon as they come in,” he said. That’s especially true of all-wheel-drive models, which account for the majority of Santa Fes sold locally. Hyundai also offers front-drive variations of the sport-utility.
About a year and a half ago, Hyundai introduced the five-passenger version 2013 Santa Fe as a next-generation, re-engineered and re-styled vehicle. About six months later – roughly a year ago – the company brought out a longer variation of the SUV, stretched by about 10 inches in length to accommodate a third-row seat that makes the expanded Santa Fe a seven-person hauler that is optimized for family transport (a six-passenger configuration is also available). The standard, five-passenger variety is called the Santa Fe Sport, while the longer, three-row model is called just Santa Fe. With both versions available, the popularity of Santa Fe surged.
The model is made at Hyundai’s factory in Georgia, one of two car factories operated in the U.S. by Korea-based Hyundai. A front-drive, five-passenger 2014 Santa Fe Sport starts at a list price just under $25,000. All-wheel drive adds $1,750. The long wheelbase Santa Fe lists at around $30,000 to start.
Now the modernized Santa Fe is well into its second year, receiving only a few small tweaks as it rolled into model year 2014. Typically a redesigned car at this stage could see its popularity level off, after satisfying the rush of first-year buyers who wanted the latest and greatest. But around here, Santa Fe’s popularity isn’t just holding up. It’s increasing. Since the fall, Salem has been selling the model at close to double the rate of last year, said Silvia.
“All winter long it has been the go-to vehicle,” he stated.
While dollar-stretching value accounts for a lot of its popularity, the Santa Fe also embodies the other elements of Hyundai’s three-part success strategy.
Its appearance is distinctive, with a bold chin and a forward striving, rounded front face that bends smartly toward the front fenders and sweeps upward to the sloping hood, windshield and roof. The sides are streaked with crisp body creases that give the model a fast, forward slant.
Santa Fe’s satisfaction of motoring fundamentals starts with the engines available in the vehicle. The Santa Fe Sport comes with a four-cylinder motor that provides an ample, 190 horsepower. For an additional $5,700, an optional turbocharged four cylinder lifts the Sport’s horsepower to 264. The long-version Santa Fe uses a larger, V6 engine that puts out 290 horsepower. The three-row model needs the added oomph, because it weighs about 400 pounds more than the fleeter Santa Fe Sport.
The three engines use an advanced approach to fuel management called direct gas injection, aiming to maximize power while also increasing fuel economy. The engines connect to a six-speed automatic transmission. Another standard feature in Santa Fe is a driver-selectable “Eco” mode that sets up engine and transmission to operate at top efficiency, cutting gas consumption by five to seven percent from the normal operating mode, according to Hyundai.
Families make up the biggest share of buyers by far for the longer, three-row Santa Fe, said Silvia. But the Santa Fe Sport extends the appeal of the model to a wider variety of people, he explained.
“It crosses all demographics, from empty-nesters to urban trend-setters,” Silvia said.
Apparently people of all stripes like value wrapped in an appealing package.
Jeffrey Zygmont is an author of fiction and non-fiction books, and a long-time auto writer. Contact him at www.jeffreyzygmont.com.
2014 Hyundai Santa Fe
Vehicle type: 4-door, 5- or 7-passenger, front- and all-wheel-drive mid-size SUV
Price range: $24,950 to $36,205 (plus options)
Warranty: 5 years/60,000 miles basic warranty; 10 years/100,000 miles powertrain warranty; 5 years roadside assistance
Engine: 3.3-liter V6
Power: 290 horsepower at 6,400 rpm; 252 lb.-ft. torque at 5,200 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 18 mpg city; 25 mpg highway
Wheelbase: 110 inches
Length: 193 inches
Width: 72 inches
Height: 66 inches
Weight: 5,512 pounds
Fuel capacity: 18.8 gallons
Turning circle: 36.9 feet