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Second-hand: 2007-12 Hyundai Santa Fe

Popular SUV offers bang for the buck ? and for the tranny

“Bang for the buck, Hyundai gives your George Washingtons (or Wilfrid Lauriers) a smile,” writes a Santa Fe owner.

It?s a popular idiom, suggesting a favourable cost-to-benefit ratio. But a ?bang? can foreshadow bad news, too.

?Transmission went out with a bang 1,000 kilometres from home and now waiting for a replacement,? recounts a less-happy Santa Fe owner.

In this instance, a bang can lead to a tow-truck lift to the service centre, and end in tears when the repair bill is presented.

2007-12 Hyundai Santa Fe

CONFIGURATION

Eager to crash the crowded sport-utility party, Hyundai upsized its second-generation Santa Fe for 2007 by making it 17 cm longer and virtually as big as a Honda Pilot. Its renovated mid-size crossover borrowed the front-drive platform used by the overachieving Sonata sedan. Both models emanated from Hyundai?s green-field plant in Montgomery, Alabama.

Looking for a used Santa Fe? Try searching here

Gone was the dorky life-raft look of the old Santa Fe; the new one appeared mildly annoyed ? fitting for a machine that has to navigate manic rush-hour traffic.

Inside the five-door unibody was enough space for a pair of optional third-row seats for the first time. A marvel of packaging efficacy, the cabin delighted with its stylish lines, tight seams and upscale finishes. The bang-for-the-buck quotient was high.

Fussy passengers delighted in the reclining rear seatbacks, although tall drivers noted the steering column tilted but did not telescope. The instrument panel?s intensely blue electronic display was a crowd pleaser.

Power was derived from one of two V6 engines: the base DOHC 2.7 L put out 185 barely adequate horses, while the optional all-aluminum DOHC 3.3 L lifted from the Sonata produced a more useful 242 hp.

Surprisingly, a five-speed manual transmission was available with the smaller six, although most buyers opted for the four-speed automatic. The bigger engine came with a five-speed slushbox exclusively.

There were both front-drive and all-wheel-drive (by Borg-Warner) configurations. Six airbags, stability control and anti-lock brakes were standard across the board. A heated windshield grid located under the front wipers? parked position addressed ice buildup ? a clever touch.

The Santa Fe earned some extensive updates for 2010. Along with refreshed front and rear fascias, a more fuel-efficient 175-hp 2.4 L four-cylinder replaced the wheezy 2.7 L V6 as the base engine. It was paired with a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. The optional 276-hp 3.5 L V6 was also new, displacing the older 3.3 L V6. It came wedded only to the six-speed automatic.

For those who like to keep track, Santa Fe production shifted to partner Kia?s new West Point, Georgia plant starting with the 2011 model year.

2007-12 Hyundai Santa Fe

ON THE ROAD

Equipped with the 3.3 L V6, the Santa Fe could sprint to highway velocity in 8.4 seconds, the weakest performance in a published comparo of five utes (won by the Nissan Murano). The updated 2010 model with the bigger 3.5 L Lambda V6 was noticeably quicker, taking 7.1 seconds to reach 96 km/h.

Other performance numbers were unimpressive: skidpad grip was a low 0.74 g and braking from 112 km/h took a longish 58 metres. Steering feel was characterized as Novocain-numb, although body roll was reasonably controlled.

At least road noise was commendably low, although the Dodge Journey and Ford Edge were even more hushed. Some drivers disliked the jarring ride on the Santa Fe?s optional 18-inch wheels.

What really disappointed some owners was the V6?s thirst for fuel: 17 L/100 km is not an uncommon tally on city streets.

?Small gas tank and far less than advertised mileage keeps you in the gas station way too much,? posted one pilot.

WHAT OWNERS SAY

A perennial bestseller for Hyundai, the Santa Fe has earned a big following with its pleasant demeanor, refined powertrains, well-crafted interior and, yes, bang for the buck. In terms of mechanical setbacks, the Santa Fe has presented a few troubling issues in small numbers.

As noted, the automatic transmission can exhibit rough shifting, bucking or hesitating between gears. The 2010 model year is particularly plagued by bad trannies. Hyundai has recalled a relatively small number of vehicles for this reason.

Other reported maladies include noisy sway-bar bushings, faulty fuel-level and throttle sensors, oil leaks and short-lived clutches, wheel bearings and power-steering pumps.

The Santa Fe?s design may be enduring, but its components may not be so much. Avoid high-mileage examples.

We would like to know about your ownership experience with these models: Acura TSX, Chrysler 300 and BMW X6. Email: toljagic@ca.inter.net.

2007-2012 Hyundai Santa Fe

What?s Best: Spacious cabin, pleasant to live with, makes everything else seem expensive.

What?s Worst: Wheezy smaller V6, fuel hog, jerky transmission.

Typical GTA prices: 2007: $12,000, 2012: $22,000

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