Archive for the ‘SUV’ Category


Hyundai Santa Fe: The Ambitious Crossover from Korea

January 29, 2013

MY13 Hyundai Santa Fe

By Roger Witherspoon

Those of us who grew up during the dawn of the space age heard a common aphorism from parents, teachers and radio disc jockeys: “Always shoot for the moon, ‘cause even if you miss, you’ll be among the stars.”

It’s a phrase that hadn’t come to mind in decades, until I got behind the wheel of the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport.  When the Korean car manufacturers first ventured to America, its rickety, low powered cars were the regular butt of jokes on late night television.  But instead of feeling cowed and leaving, Hyundai decided to shoot for the moon. They took aim at the most popular cars made by Toyota and Lexus, and then decided to compete in terms of style, quality, and price.

Their Sonata sedan, while not significantly denting the sales of the Toyota Camry or Honda Accord, was so stylistically stunning that a year-old Sonata was worth more than a new one. Its sporty Genesis Coup takes off faster than a Porsche Panamera and its luxury liner, the Equus, comes pretty close to a fully stocked Mercedes Benz E-class. It is unlikely that folks who can casually afford a new Porsche or Benz will take a test drive in a Hyundai – even if it does mean saving $20,000. But the quality, performance, and most importantly, the price differential are important to many buyers looking to move up from the entry level, compact car class.

MY13 Hyundai Santa FeWhich brings us back to the Santa Fe. It is definitely not a Lexus RX, which is essentially a sports car in an SUV shell. But if you aren’t in the market for an SUV you can take to the drag races, then the Santa Fe is likely to earn high marks for style, comfort, and price. At $33,000, the Santa Fe costs a bit less than fully loaded sedans like the Camry, Accord or Ford Fusion.

This is a five-passenger, mid-sized SUV intended to haul adults in comfort or a sizable amount of cargo. Outside, the Santa Fe has the sleek, teardrop shape associated with upscale SUVs. Its contours are broken by the soft, wavy lines that have come to be associated with Hyundai styling – a blend of delicate Asian tracery and the wavy lines in Southern California beach sand. Under its long, sloping hood is a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder, turbocharged engine producing 264 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque. The surprisingly powerful little engine won’t take you to races, but it is more than enough to keep the Santa Fe near the front of the commuting pack.

Hyundai put a lot of thought into the interior design of the Santa Fe. That’s not surprising since first they took aim at the Lexus RX series and then sought to replicate the experience at a lower price. The dash in the Santa Fe is designed in the shape of a reflex bow, with distinct, curved compartments for each front occupant and a protruding information cluster in the middle. The passenger side is wide and clean, as if it was the observation chair on a boat. The driver’s side has large, bulging instrument clusters that are easy on the eyes.

MY13 Hyundai Santa Fe

            The center section has the CD player, satellite radio, climate and Bluetooth connections. The test car had a four-inch screen which served the backup camera. There was no navigation system, but Hyundai’s satellite-based BlueLink system allows you to download turn-by-turn directions which are dictated through the car’s sound system as you travel. It is similar to the OnStar direction system in General Motors cars. But for those who like a larger screen and a real map, a more traditional navigation system is available for about $1,200.

Underneath the dash is a small storage bin which can hold a pocketbook and also houses two power outlets the USB, iPod, and MP3 ports. The Santa Fe also comes with an Apple iPhone which you can pay to fully activate, or have it for limited use of the company’s BlueLink. The phone’s Hyundai app lets you start your car, turn on the lights, heat, and radio remotely.

In this SUV, both the front and rear seats can be heated and are mobile. The front seats are powered with adjustable lumbar supports. The rear seats are manually operated, but can slide forward or back to modify the leg room or the cargo area. These can lay back for a fairly comfortable nap, and are in a three part split.

For those who do not want a minivan, Hyundai has a modified version of the Santa Fe with three rows of seating. That last row is located in the cargo area, which is a standard configuration for seven-passenger SUVs. It provides the ability to haul more people in a vehicle which handles like a car rather than a truck. With a stretch SUV you sacrifice storage capability – you can carry a lot of people, or a lot of stuff, but not both.

Hyundai’s Santa Fe Sport, on the other hand, is a competitive and well laid out, crossover SUV. It is not really going to threaten Lexus in the marketplace, but it will give a lot of crossovers a run for their money.

MY13 Hyundai Santa Fe

2013 Hyundai Sante Fe Sport


MSRP:                                                                        $33,025

EPA Mileage:                        19 MPG City                          24 MPG Highway

Towing Capacity:                                                      3,500 Pounds


Performance /Safety:


2.0-Liter turbocharged, DOHC, 4-cylinder, aluminum engine producing 264 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque; 6-speed automatic transmission with electronic manual mode; All Wheel Drive; 19-inch alloy wheels; MacPherson strut, twin-tube gas damper front suspension; multi-link rear suspension with stabilizer bar; ventilated front disc brakes; solid single piston rear disc brakes; traction and stability control; fog lights; backup camera; downhill brake control; front, driver’s knee, side impact and curtain airbags.

Interior / Comfort:


AM/FM/Sirius satellite radio; CD player; iPod, MP3, USB ports; Bluetooth; Hyundai BlueLink; rearview camera with 4.2-inch screen; powered, heated, leather front  and rear seats; fold flat rear seats with 40/20/40 split;


Rolling Through a Superstorm In a Mazda CX-5

December 4, 2012

13 Mazda CX-5 - front profile


By Roger Witherspoon


            The full moon over the Hudson River was just a faint, fuzzy ball behind the swirling band of clouds marking the passage of Super Hurricane Sandy.

It was a strange sort of hurricane, in that there was virtually no rain. But the gravitational pull of that obscure moon and the winds that roared down from the Hudson Highlands at speeds approaching 100 miles per hour were pushing the river’s salt-water tides to record heights. That made it a perfect time to cruise along the river and watch the effects of a superstorm in action.

It was less than two miles from my home to the river’s edge. But it took time to navigate the normally short, direct route over or around the downed trees, the occasional, bouncing, live wire, broken branches and other blowing debris that littered the streets and highways of Westchester County, New York City’s northern suburb. Periodically, I opened the window of the Mazda CX-5 to listen to the raging wind or the cracking sound of trees coming down, turning down streets that seemed particularly noisy.

At the entrance to a short causeway over a Hudson River inlet, a utility worker emerged from a Ford F-150 truck dripping muddy river water off its hood and put flares across the road, blocking it off.  The Bear Mountain Extension provided the shortest route to Camp Smith, an Army base, and the winding road up to the Bear Mountain Bridge, about 10 miles south of West Point.  The lowest point of the road, he said, was under about four feet of water in a 20-yard stretch, and the river was still rising.

That did not deter the drivers of two, huge, military trucks headed for CampSmith.  The trucks were armored on the sides and bottoms better deflect the blast from roadside mines.  Slowly, the convoy drove in to the fast moving water – and got stuck at the deepest part.

The utility worker called for police support and raced down the roadway. In minutes, dozens of police cars drove onto the causeway, the officers piling out in an effort to help the trapped soldiers.

I left the Mazda at the side of the four-lane roadway and played traffic cop until a real officer came and took over. Then I slid back behind the leather steering wheel, hit the Bluetooth button to connect the audio from my Smartphone to the 225-watt, nine-speaker, Bose sound system, and continued rolling through Superstorm Sandy as the Temptations belted their ‘60s classic “Runaway Child.”

13 Mazda CX-5 - side

The Mazda CX-5 is a mid-sized, five-passenger SUV that is not particularly intended for off-road driving and certainly wasn’t designed for moonlight swims in swollen rivers. But its 19-inch aluminum wheels, and all-wheel drive makes it a pretty secure mode of transport even in abnormal conditions. It is not a Jeep or FJ Cruiser, and downed tree trunks would have brought the CX-5 to a lurching halt. But rolling over small branches and through hubcap-deep puddles and fast-moving streams was not a problem for a well-balanced SUV with traction and stability controls.

While all Mazda’s are marketed under the “zoom-zoom” logo, that speedy phrase really applies only to their sports cars. The CX-5 has a small, 2-liter, four-cylinder power plant cranking out just 155 horsepower – which is pretty anemic when you are taking off. The CX-5 is rated with a towing power of 2,000 pounds, though that may well be a strain for the little engine that could. As it is, the CX-5 has little power for passing, unless you shift into the electronic manual mode and downshift for extra torque. It is an easy maneuver, and in manual mode, the Mazda is extremely responsive and the pickup is instantaneous.

It has the sleek silhouette common among crossovers. And along its sides are soft, subtle lines which help deflect airflow as the car moves faster.  This both reduces drag and lessens the wind noise.

In their design studios, the Zoom-Zoom guys gave some thought to the quality of the interior of the CX-5.  It is a quiet car, regardless of whether the wind is moving at 100 miles an hour or the speedometer is approaching that mark. There is little exterior noise to intrude on the music or conversation.13 Mazda CX-5 - dash

All the surfaces have thickly padded real or simulated leather, accented with chrome and brushed aluminum. It is a five-seater, with the second row designed to actually hold three, average-sized adults.  Each of these seats can fold flat to add to the already ample cargo area. The front seats can be heated, though only the driver’s seat is power adjustable.

If there is a drawback, it’s that the navigation system is mediocre. Mazda uses the Tom-Tom system, which was designed originally for hand held devices and, in that mode, competed with the more popular Garmin.   Tom-Tom is more difficult to use than either Garmin or the standard navigation systems designed for cars. Its personal settings are hard to find, and it is not intuitive to operate. The 5.8-inch screen, on the other hand, is small and individual street names are harder to see. However, the screen is crystal clear, and the backup camera is lighted so you can actually use it at night.

The crossover SUV market is a crowded one and Mazda will have a tough fight to carve its own niche from the likes of a Nissan Murano or Ford Escape. But the Mazda CX-5 offers a lot for $30,000 and is sure to be competitive. It’s a comfortable way to roll, whether running on the open, sunny road, or running away from a runaway river.

13 Mazda CX-5 - rear



2013 Mazda CX-5


MSRP:                                                                        $30,415

EPA Mileage:                        25 MPG City                          31 MPG Highway

As Tested Mileage:                                                   20.9 MPG Mixed

Towing Capacity:                                                      2,000 Pounds


Performance / Safety:


2.0-Liter, 4-cylinder, DOHC, aluminum  engine producing 155 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque; all-wheel drive; 6-speed automatic transmission; independent MacPherson strut front suspension; independent, multi-link rear suspension; front & rear stabilizing bars; 4-wheel dies brakes; 19-inch alloy wheels; power assisted steering; anti-lock brakes; blind spot monitoring; Halogen headlights; fog lamps; stability and traction controls; hill launch assist; dual front airbags;  front and rear, side impact airbags.


Interior / Comfort;


AM/FM/Sirius Satellite and HD radio; 9-speaker, 225-watt, Bose surround sound system; iPod, MP3, and USB ports; Bluetooth; navigation system with 5.8-inch touch-screen; backup camera;  tilt & telescoping, leather wrapped steering wheel with fingertip audio and cruise controls; powered sunroof; fold-flat rear seats in 40/ 20/40 split; leather seats; heated front seats; powered driver’s seat – manually operated passenger seat.


Rolling in GM’s Little Truck

July 18, 2010

By Roger Witherspoon

The northeast had been blanketed by a slow moving snow storm which dumped from a foot to nearly 30 inches of dry white powder and turned interstate highways into four-lane slip-n-slides.

The meandering road through Bear Mountain, in the lower Hudson River Highlands just south of West Point, provided a beautiful vista of snow-covered forests dotted with frozen lakes. But the drive itself could be tricky since the black-top was now white and more suited to sledding than driving. And it was getting dark, which meant Bambi and her cousins would be out mindlessly foraging in the frozen wilderness.

I rounded a Highlands curve at 1,200 feet in a GMC Terrain and was enjoying a great view of the valley below, leading into Seven Lakes Drive when I spotted three deer about 100 feet ahead walking towards me in the left lane. I swerved to the right – hoping the deer wouldn’t bolt, hoping the 18-inch wheels would hold onto the snow-blanketed roadway, hoping General Motors knew how to design all wheel drive, and hoping I wouldn’t wind up in the trees below – and rolled on past, wishing the Bambis a Happy Meal somewhere much hotter.

After that, I could lean back in the heated leather seats, look through the panoramic sunroof at the snow covered hills around and above me, crank up Miles Davis on the CD player and enjoy the ride. Snow covered forests and frozen waterways are gorgeous if you’re not dodging deer.

It also helps if you’re in a vehicle which can provide a comfortable sojourn while handling bad weather. In this case the ride was provided by the 2010 GMC Terrain, General Motors’ entry into a select, small-SUV market dominated by the Nissan Murano, Ford Edge, Hyundai Santa Fe, and Honda CR-V. That’s a pretty tough market, more or less created by the Nissan Murano and expanded by the eclectic Ford Edge. The Murano is particularly versatile in bad road conditions and the Santa Fe rivals the smaller Lexus for inside comforts. But the new GM, which has long prided itself for a line of big, powerful, pick-up trucks, belatedly decided it would not cede the small SUV market to everyone else. Hence the Terrain, an unmistakably arrogant, $30,000, GMC mini-truck with the ride and comforts of larger, more expensive SUV models.

GM’s SUV line eschews what it’s designers consider the “soft” curved, flowing lines of most of the mid-sized competition, and strut a distinctive, square-jawed, rather boxy shape – though its sharp angles have been rounded off somewhat. GM design chief Ed Welburn wanted its SUV line to have its own distinct look, and he has managed to distinguish it from the regular SUV pack.

Under the hood is a 3.0-liter V-6 engine cranking out 264 horsepower and 222 pound-feet of torque, which is more than enough to keep the Terrain ahead of traffic while towing 3,500 pounds. There is a base model with a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine cranking out just 182 horsepower and an anemic172 pound-feet of torque. While the smaller engine is adequate, the base model Terrain is sluggish when accelerating, the engine strains at highway speeds, struggles going uphill, and tows just 1,500 pounds – a ton less than its bigger brother.

The difference in price, at about $1,500, is relatively low for similarly equipped vehicles. There is a greater difference in fuel economy, however. The four-cylinder Terrain gets an EPA estimated 22 miles per gallon in city driving and 32 MPG  on the highway, while the six-cylinder model gets 17 miles per gallon on city streets and 25 on the highways. Both models feature a six-speed, smooth-shifting, automatic transmission

The interior has its strengths and weaknesses. It is extremely pleasing to look at. and designed for functionality.

But the décor is heavy on plastic which, on the doors, can look cheap in what is otherwise an upscale vehicle. The test models did not have navigation systems – something motorists might expect in this price range – but it does provide GM’s OnStar communications system which provides turn-by-turn directions. While that is a workable system, you are listening to a robot speaking from thousands of miles away telling you where to go and, since there is no map to look at, you haven’t a clue as to where you are. For some motorists, a map is a needless distraction and being told where to go works just fine.  For those who need more, a navigation system with a 7-inch touch-activated screen is available for about $2,100.

The Terrain does have an easy to use Bluetooth cell phone connection, however, with the sound emanating from the eight Pioneer speakers. The Terrain is heavily baffled, keeping out wind and roadside noises regardless of speed and enabling the sound system to envelope the passenger cabin with in a moving wave of music. The standard system comes with XM satellite radio, a single disc CD player, a USB port, both iPod and MP3 connections,  and a 10 GB hard drive to store your music or video library.  There is also an option for a rear seat DVD system with two separately controlled screens.

There is ample leg room in the back for the average six-footer. But if the passenger is in the NBA, the rear seats are built on rails and can slide back another eight inches. The mobile leather seats are a useful innovation whether one is transporting extra cargo or extra large friends.

The small SUV segment is a tough market to crack. But the late entry Terrain sold nearly 100,000 in the first six months of this year, an indication that a lot of motorists like the way in rolls.

2010 GMC Terrain SLT -1

Front Wheel Drive

MSRP:                                                                                   $31,775

EPAMileage: 17 MPG City                                                  25 MPG Highway

Towing Capacity:                                                                   3,500 Pounds

Performance / Safety:

3.0-Liter DOHC, cast aluminum V-6 engine producing 264 horsepower and  222 pound/feet of torque; 6-speed automatic transmission; independent front and rear suspension; power front and rear vented disc brakes; anti-lock braking system; 18-inch aluminum wheels; stability and traction control; fog lamps; backup camera;  dual frontal airbags; side impact & head curtain airbags.

Interior / Comfort:

AM/FM/XM satellite radio; CD player; USB port; 10 GB hard drive and Pioneer sound system with 8 speakers; Bluetooth  and OnStar communications systems; leather wrapped, tilt & telescoping steering wheel with fingertip audio, phone & cruise controls; heated front seats; folding, sliding, & reclining rear seats with 60/40 split; power sunroof; power liftgate; roof rack.

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