2009 Hyundai Santa Fe Review and Prices

Last Updated: Aug 5, 2011

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2009 Hyundai Santa Fe Buying Advice

The 2009 Hyundai Santa Fe competes in a midsize-crossover-SUV class that has clearly moved upscale over the years. The Hyundai Santa Fe has moved upscale with it, and continues to make the most sense when viewed as one of the top value-for-dollar choices in the class. And it’s as the midline SE model that Santa Fe returns the most content for the price.

The Hyundai Santa Fe comes in GLS, SE, and top-line Limited trim levels. The 3.3-liter V-6 in SE and Limited versions brings with it a premium of about $2,000 over the 2.7-liter V6 found in GLS models. If you can wrap your wallet around the dollar difference, we think its well worth it. The increased horsepower of the 3.3 V-6 (a whopping 57-pony-boost over to the 2.7) makes the Santa Fe a much more enjoyable driver. And, there’s virtually no tradeoff in fuel economy.

Beyond that, the 3.3 is just a part of the upgrade to SE trim level, so the added content extends well beyond the bigger engine. Included with the SE model is a five-speed automatic transmission, fog lights, 18-inch tires on alloys wheels, and interior upgrades like a driver-seat lumbar support, steering-wheel audio controls, and premium seat cloth.

The Santa Fe is the vehicle that put Hyundai on the map for most people. When the first-generation Santa Fe was introduced for model-year 2001, it elbowed its way into the burgeoning ranks of car-based SUVs as the value-driven, new kid on the block. A lot has happened since.

By the time the second-generation Santa Fe appeared for model-year 2007, the segment was red-hot and had come to be called the “crossover” class because its members crossed traditional boundaries to combine elements of cars and SUVs.

Repositioned as part of Hyundai’s three-SUV lineup, the Santa Fe is now sandwiched between the South Korean automaker’s smaller entry-level Tucson and the larger, upscale Veracruz. Hyundai gives this latest-generation Santa Fe a stylistic shove away from its former, boxy, SUV lines and toward a sport-wagon look. All models come with seats for five, but SE and Limited models are available with an optional Touring Package that includes a small third-row split bench seat that increases passenger capacity to seven.

2009 Hyundai Santa Fe Changes back to top

No important alterations in looks or mechanical specifications are expected. No change to the 2009 Hyundai Santa Fe will significantly alter its performance or passenger accommodations from those of the 2008 model. Statements in this review about performance and accommodations are based on detailed test drives of the 2008 Hyundai Santa Fe.

2009 Hyundai Santa Fe Test Drive back to top

Driving the Hyundai Santa Fe
While the Hyundai Santa Fe stops short of being truly sporty to drive, it is long on bang for the buck.

The Hyundai Santa Fe is offered with a choice of two V-6 engines. The 2.7-liter six that’s standard on GLS models has 185 horsepower and is linked to a five-speed manual transmission or a four-speed automatic. SE and Limited models get a 3.3-liter V6 rated at 242 horsepower and a five-speed automatic. The 3.3 is the preferred selection. Its additional power makes the SUV more responsive with no difference in fuel consumption. Also, the 3.3 has one more automatic-transmission gear at its disposal to spread its power out.

Front-wheel drive is standard in all trim levels. The available all-wheel drive system automatically transfers power from front to rear wheels as needed to maximize traction -- a plus, in snow belt climes. Santa Fe’s suspension (MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear) offers a cushioned ride, with handling that’s solid, if not sporty.

Riding in the Hyundai Santa Fe
Santa Fe comfortably accommodates adults up front. Second-row seating is also adult-friendly, though if front-seaters push their seats more than half-way back, second-row legroom will be snug. The third row is best left to youngsters, but that’s true in the Tribeca and Highlander, too Manufacturers’ specifications lists Santa Fe’s third-row legroom as 31.3 inches, compared to 30.9 in the Subaru Tribeca and 29.9 in the Toyota Highlander.

The third row also presents an either/or dilemma for Santa Fe when it comes to cargo space. With all three rows holding passengers, cargo capacity is reduced to just 10 cubic feet behind that third row. However, if you fold down the third row or have a two-row model, room for gear rises to a very usable 34.2 cubic feet. It further expands to 78.2 cubic feet if you fold down the second row seats, too. Santa Fe’s rear cargo liftgate swings high enough to clear a six-footer’s head, and lift-over height of the cargo floor is low. There’s a usefully large, rectangular storage bin beneath the cargo-area floor, and storage bins and cubbyholes are sprinkled throughout the interior.

Hyundai Santa Fe dashboard and controls
Among Hyundai’s marketing tactics is to deliver “quality” and features that stand out in the showroom. This translates into some pretty impressive cabin appointments on the Santa Fe, with lots of padded surfaces and sturdy-feeling panels and accessories. Some American-brand manufacturers could take a lesson or two from Hyundai in this regard.

Santa Fe’s dashboard arranges its controls logically. Hyundai uses blue backlighting for gauges and switches, and it’s easy on the eyes. Front cup holders are also ringed in blue lighting, making them an easier target to hit after dark. The placement of the parking brake lever could use a re-think. In its current location in the left portion of the driver’s footwell it’s ideally positioned to bark your shin.

2009 Hyundai Santa Fe Prices back to top

Santa Fe is available in three trim levels: GLS (with a starting price around $21,000), SE (about $24,500), and Limited (about $28,000). Front wheel drive is standard and all-heel drive is available on all trim levels for about $1,800 additional.

By ladling on the options, you can push the sticker price of a loaded, Santa Fe Limited AWD to over $34,000. However, it’s also possible to buy a GLS with all-wheel drive and automatic transmission for about $25,000.

Premium seat cloth was added to SE models as standard equipment in 2008. At the same time, Limited versions were outfitted with a power moonroof and a 605-watt Infinity sound system with 10 speakers and a seven-CD changer.

The options sheet is stocked with the usual suspects, and Hyundai groups many popular items in packages. Newly available as of 2008 on Limited models was a touch-screen navigation system available in either a package or as a stand-alone option.

The Touring Package for SE models costs about $1,500 and includes the third-row seat plus a rear air-conditioning system. The Touring Package for Limiteds costs about $3,350 and includes those items plus the navigation system.

2009 Hyundai Santa Fe Fuel Economy back to top

According to EPA fuel-economy estimates, its makes little difference which Santa Fe engine or transmission you choose, or whether you opt for front- or all-wheel drive. The 2.7-liter V-6 is rated at 17 mpg in the city and 23 on the highway with automatic transmission and AWD. The 3.3-liter V-6 is at 17 mpg in the city and 24 on the highway with both front- and all-wheel drive. The SE is rated at 17/24 with manual transmission and at 18/24 with front-wheel drive and automatic transmission.

2009 Hyundai Santa Fe Safety and Reliability back to top

All Hyundai Santa Fe models are equipped with six air bags, including head-protecting side curtain airbags for all three seat rows. The list of standard safety gear also includes electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist.

The Santa Fe earned top marks of five stars on a five-star scale in federal government tests of front and side impact protection. The rollover-resistance rating was four stars out of five, which puts Santa Fe among the best in the class.

According to owner surveys conducted by J.D. Power and Associates, Santa Fe rates about average in most initial-quality categories. The Hyundai was judged better than most when it came to powertrain quality, but below average in body and interior quality, according to Power surveys. As a brand, Hyundai had similar scores in overall vehicle dependability studies, rating about average across the board.

2009 Hyundai Santa Fe Release Date back to top

The Santa Fe won’t be altered substantially until after model-year 2011 at the soonest. The 2009 Hyundai Santa Fe release date is autumn 2008.

2009 Hyundai Santa Fe Competition back to top

As part of its redesign for 2007, the Hyundai Santa Fe stepped up in size and market category into “tweener” territory; straddling the five- and seven-passenger SUV segments. If you want a seven-seat model in this size and price range, major rivals such as the Ford Edge and Nissan Murano drop off the shopping list. So we’ll discuss two competitors that do seat seven, the Toyota Highlander and the Subaru Tribeca.

The Subaru Tribeca has more horsepower than the Santa Fe, but tighter leg room and less cargo space. As on the Hyundai, a third-row seat is an option on the Tribeca. Tribeca rates lower in overall initial quality than the Hyundai in surveys of owners conducted by J.D. Power and Associates, the leading automotive-consumer-satisfaction firm. While the Subaru has a more-luxurious feel than the Santa Fe, the ultimate luxury here may be the Hyundai’s advantage in sticker price. A Santa Fe Limited AWD has a sticker price about $1,800 below that of a base Tribeca outfitted for seven passengers. The Tribeca was introduced for the 2006 model year, got some styling revisions for 2007, and will likely be fully redesigned for the 2011 model year.

Highlander is the tougher competitor for Santa Fe. The Toyota bests the Hyundai in horsepower, cargo room, and leg room in the first two rows. J.D. Power survey data rates the Highlander consistently higher than Santa Fe in dependability and considerably higher in most Initial quality categories. Here again, the Hyundai’s strongest suit is a cost-comparison advantage. Sticker price of the top-line Santa Fe Limited AWD is virtually identical to that of the base-model Highlander with all-wheel drive. But, the top-line Highlander Limited costs about $5,000 more than the Hyundai Santa Fe Limited. The Highlander was fully redesigned for the 2008 model year and isn’t likely to be significantly altered until model-year 2013 or beyond.