With an upcoming new-generation model in the works that will bulk it up to a seven-passenger, the Santa Fe remains unchanged for 2006. The base four-cylinder model remains at 2005 prices; all V6 models increase by $100.
The Santa Fe comes with three engine choices: a 2.4-litre inline four-cylinder, a 2.7-litre V6, and a 3.5-litre V6.
The four-cylinder comes exclusively in front-wheel-drive. The 2.7-litre starts in FWD and can be optioned to a full-time, mechanical all-wheel-drive system that splits the torque 60/40 front to rear. The 3.5-litre comes exclusively with an electronic AWD system that distributes torque between the front and rear wheels when it senses loss of traction.
The base GL 2.4-litre comes with a five-speed manual and includes 16-inch aluminum wheels, CD/MP3 stereo with six speakers, power locks, windows and heated mirrors, rear intermittent wiper, and speed-sensitive variable intermittent front wipers. A package of air conditioning, keyless entry and privacy glass is optional.
In FWD form, the GL 2.7 V6 adds four-speed automatic, air conditioning, cruise control, and keyless remote; ABS and traction control are available as an option package. In AWD, the GL also adds fog lights, ABS and traction control as standard equipment.
The 2.7 V6 AWD is also available in GLS trim, which adds leather heated seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, electronic compass and power sunroof.
The 3.5 V6 comes in GLS trim line only, and includes five-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode, side airbags, automatic temperature control, power driver’s seat, chrome door handles and retractable cargo cover.
Among compact SUVs, the Santa Fe has long been an excellent choice, offering a smooth ride, excellent visibility, car-like handling and room to carry five adults comfortably. The four-cylinder, while somewhat anemic on the highway, works just fine as an in-town grocery-getter. In everyday use, the 2.7-litre V6 is preferable to the thirstier 3.5; unless you’re hauling heavy cargo on a regular basis, the lower buy-in and operating costs favour the 2.7-litre.
Still, the Tucson presents an excellent alternative. Introduced to take the Santa Fe’s place in Hyundai’s line-up when the next-generation Santa Fe is introduced, the Tucson’s size difference is hardly noticeable once you’re inside, and in 2.7-litre FWD form, the price is lower for more standard features, including ABS, front airbags and stability control.
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