Vehicles like the 2009 Hyundai Santa Fe are responsible for Hyundai’s reputation as a brand that offers quality and affordability. Where the previous Santa Fe had an odd but unique look, the recently redesigned, current version is about as mainstream as you can get. View the Santa Fe from various angles and you might notice a resemblance to more upscale midsize crossover SUVs such as the Lexus RX and VW Touareg. That’s not to say it looks generic — it doesn’t. What the Santa Fe does offer is a familiar look and a top-notch interior that borders on luxurious, especially in Limited trim.
Hyundai’s Santa Fe can be equipped with all this segment’s expected features, including a third-row seat and a navigation system. Buyers can also choose from models with one of two V6 engines, front- or all-wheel drive and a manual or automatic transmission. Unfortunately, you can’t really mix and match — base models have a smaller V6 with less horsepower, and many of the Limited’s comfort and convenience features are exclusive to that trim.
Overall, though, the 2009 Hyundai Santa Fe is a great choice for young families in need of all-purpose transportation. We wouldn’t recommend it if sporty driving dynamics are desired. The smaller Mazda CX-7 and Mitsubishi Outlander, as well as the midsize Nissan Murano would all be preferable in this case, and Toyota’s Highlander is roomier and quicker. But if you want a lot of crossover for the money, the Hyundai Santa Fe is quite compelling.
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Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Hyundai Santa Fe midsize crossover sport-utility is available in three trim levels: base GLS, SE and Limited. The GLS starts off with 16-inch alloy wheels, full power accessories, keyless entry, cruise control and a six-speaker audio system with a CD/MP3 player, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and a USB port. The midlevel SE trim features a larger V6 engine, 18-inch alloy wheels, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, automatic headlights, a trip computer and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls. The top-of-the-line Santa Fe Limited adds a sunroof, leather upholstery, heated front seats, a power driver seat, dual-zone automatic climate control and a premium Infinity audio system with a six-CD changer.
Some of the Limited’s extra features are offered as options on the GLS and SE. Other options include a third-row seat with auxiliary rear climate controls and Bluetooth for wirelessly connecting your phone to the car. A towing preparation package is standard on SE and Limited models, and an optional navigation system and a rear-seat entertainment system are offered on the Santa Fe Limited only.
Powertrains and Performance
In GLS trim, the Santa Fe comes with a 2.7-liter V6 that produces 185 horsepower and 183 pound-feet of torque. The SE and Limited feature a larger 3.3-liter V6 good for 242 hp and 226 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard with the base engine, and a four-speed automatic is optional. The larger V6 comes standard with a five-speed automatic transmission and accelerates the Santa Fe from zero to 60 mph in 8.7 seconds.
All Santa Fe models are offered with either front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive powertrains. The electronically controlled AWD system automatically routes power to the wheels with the best traction. For improved performance in slippery or off-road conditions, a driver-selectable AWD lock provides a fixed 50/50 torque split between the front and rear wheels.
Properly equipped, the Santa Fe can tow up to 3,500 pounds. EPA estimated fuel economy is pretty much identical for both engines: An AWD model with the 3.3-liter V6 has ratings of 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway and 19 mpg combined, a tad above average for this segment.
The 2009 Hyundai Santa Fe offers an impressive array of standard safety features including antilock disc brakes, traction control, stability control, front-seat side airbags, full-length head curtain airbags and active front-seat head restraints.
In government crash tests, the Santa Fe received a perfect five stars for protection in frontal and side impacts. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, the Santa Fe earned the highest possible rating of “Good” in both frontal-offset and side-impact tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
This second-generation Santa Fe has an attractive dashboard and quality materials throughout. In Limited trim, the convincing faux wood and aluminum accents give the crossover a definite luxury feel. Blue instrument lighting and an optional 10-speaker Infinity sound system only add to the Santa Fe’s plush interior ambience.
The driving position can be awkward for some, though, as the front seats are mounted overly high and the short bottom cushions offer minimal thigh support for taller adults.
With the optional third-row seat, the Santa Fe can accommodate up to seven passengers. Like most models in this segment, however, the third row is really only suitable for children. The second row is notably above average in terms of comfort. The split rear seats can be folded flat in both rows, and the Santa Fe splits the difference between smaller and larger crossover SUVs with 78 cubic feet of maximum cargo room.
Smaller crossover SUVs like the Mazda CX-7 and Mitsubishi Outlander are sportier and more rewarding to drive hard, though the Santa Fe’s handling is certainly composed and can actually be fun at times. The trade-off is that the ride can be very busy on the highway on models with the larger wheels. During normal driving, the brake pedal feels about right, but can get soft during hard braking.
The 2.7-liter V6 provides decent acceleration, but the extra kick and refined nature of the 3.3-liter V6, which is nearly as fuel efficient, is noticeable and gives the 2009 Hyundai Santa Fe a more substantial feel. In testing, though, we’ve found the larger V6’s five-speed automatic can sometimes be slow to downshift for quick passing or merging maneuvers.