Sunday Punch

Hyundai Santa Fe LX

Korean carmaker Hyundai (rhymes with Sunday) has racked up double-digit sales increases over the past two years by giving customers precisely what they want: more vehicle for less money with a 100,000-mile warranty as the clincher.

Hyundai's first ever SUV-the Santa Fe-is sized halfway between the compact Ford Escape and the midsize Jeep Grand Cherokee. For towing purposes, we recommend the optional 181-hp 2.7-liter V-6, an automatic transmission, and four-wheel drive. The two-wheel-drive version costs $1,500 less, but it's less suitable for launching watercraft because the front wheels do the driving.

Hyundai's tow-rating chart calls for a maximum of 2,200 pounds of trailer load when your rig is equipped with brakes. We hitched up a single-axle ShoreLand'r loaded with a pair of waterbikes. Although this payload was a few pounds over Hyundai's conservative 1,500-pound limit (without trailer brakes), we experienced no lapses of poise or performance during a day of towing.

In fact, the Santa Fe runs so strongly and smoothly that you may soon forget about the toys being towed. The extra weight added less than five seconds to its sprint from rest to cruising speed. But the stretch in braking distance was a significant 36' longer than the unburdened stopping distance of 139', so make sure you sign up for the optional antilock braking system (four-wheel discs are standard).

At the launch ramp, traction was superb. With all four BFGoodrich radials at work all the time and its appropriately low first-gear ratio, this truck will easily yank a small boat or a couple of waterbikes onto dry pavement without hesitation.

The Santa Fe seats four comfortably and a fifth in a pinch. Like the outside, the interior theme is one grand swirl of organic shapes and surfaces. Access to the 29-cubic-foot cargo hold is via a hinged rear glass window, or you can raise the tailgate that supports it.

MODEL Hyundai Santa Fe LX
Engine 2.7-liter DOHC V-6
Net hp/rpm 181/6000
Net torque (ft-lb/rpm) 177/4000
Transmission 4-speed automatic
Suspension Front strut-type, coil springs
Suspension Rear multilink, coil springs
Brakes (front/rear) disc/disc, optional ABS
Tires BFGoodrich T/A, P235/70TR-16
Wheelbase (in.) 103.1
Length (in.) 177.2
Width (in.) 72.7
Height (in.) 66.0
Curb weight (lbs.) 3,980
Towing capacity (lbs., max.) 2,200
Cargo capacity (min./max. cu. ft.) 29/78
Fuel capacity (gal.) 17.2
0-60 mph acceleration (without/with 1,620-lb. towed load, sec.) 11.1/15.9
60-0 mph stopping distance (without/with 1,620-lb. towed load, ft.) 139/175
Observed towing fuel economy (avg. mpg) 13
Price (as tested) $24,204

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