Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Hyundai Santa Fe Upgraded, But Still a Great Value

Hyundai Santa Fe upgraded, but still a great value

The newest Hyundai Santa Fe is a mid-size crossover SUV that is equal to any vehicle in its class in refinement, comfort, space, and performance. This shouldn't be surprising, as it was designed with a close look at the most popular entry-luxury crossovers, not merely its price-level competition.

If the name is familiar, the vehicle itself was completely new for the 2007 model year. While it's still a unibody-construction front- or all-wheel drive crossover with fully-independent suspension, the second-generation Santa Fe is built on a unique platform designed for specific crossover SUV use, not originally as a sedan. Interior space was a design priority, and more than merely adequate room for an optional third-row seat was part of the design spec. It's larger in every dimension than the original, enough to now be considered mid-size rather than compact.

ower is from one of two V6 engines, of 2.7 and 3.3 liters displacement. The 2.7 has been upgraded over its similarly-sized predecessor, and offers more power - now 185 horsepower - and improved fuel economy. The 3.3 is lighter, cleaner, and more efficient than the old 3.5, and produces 242 horsepower, 42 more than the 3.5. Both are ULEV-rated.

Styling is also new, derived from the HCD9 Talus concept vehicle. The Santa Fe was designed at Hyundai's Irvine, CA facility especially for the U.S. market, and it's built at Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama, in Montgomery, Alabama.

Trim levels are GLS, SE, and Limited. The GLS is in no way a decontented "entry-level" model, as it has the 2.7-liter V6, four-wheel antilock disc brakes with electronic stability control, alloy wheels, power windows, mirrors, and door locks with remote entry, a full complement of airbags, a six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system, a roof rack, and a tire pressure monitoring system among its standard features. The SE adds the 3.3-liter engine and five-speed automatic, 18-inch alloy wheels, and upgraded interior and exterior trim and more available options, while the premium Limited model adds leather, dual-zone climate control, fancier exterior trim, and upgraded option packages. All may be had in five- or seven-passenger configuration.

Unusually for a press-fleet vehicle, where fully-optioned premium models are the norm, the 2007 Santa Fe I recently drove was a front-drive GLS automatic with only carpeted floor mats on its option list. But it was far from bare-bones basic. Manageably-sized on the outside, it had plenty of space inside, with all of the multiple-configuration versatility and access expected in a crossover. It was quiet and comfortable on the road, with good power for its intended uses and all of the safety and conveniences anyone really needs as standard equipment. At an MSRP of just over $22,000, it could be bought strictly on price, but the Santa Fe has far more than a low price in its favor. It compares favorably with any mid-size, middle-class crossover made today.

2008 update: tis that time of year again, when the new models are just around the corner. Because the Santa Fe was all-new for 2007, don't expect major changes for '08.

Appearance: With the Santa Fe, Hyundai's Southern California stylists have created a contemporary design that is distinctive and stylish. The grille and headlight shapes found in other Hyundai cars are further refined, for a cohesive company look. The gently-sculpted body shape is well-defined by means of angular edges to the fenders and hood and a free-flowing character line on each side. Moderately-flared wheel arches blend into lower side bodywork that hints at SUV cladding, but is really just sheetmetal. A roof rack is standard issue on all models. The fender line rises toward the rear, for a sporty stance, and this is further developed in the side window shape. The rear styling is crossover conservative, highlighted by taillights that mimic the shape of the headlights.

Comfort: The second-generation Santa Fe seems to have been designed from the inside out. My GLS test example was roomy, quiet, and comfortable for both front and second-row passengers. It didn't have the third row, but the Santa Fe is large enough inside that the third row should be useful for children or small adults. Seat comfort is good, and in the GLS interior materials are honest synthetics - but soft-touch materials, multiple textures, close panel tolerances, and attention to detail make the Santa Fe's interior a pleasant place. The instrument panel is styled in the contemporary upscale manner, with a dark anti-glare top separated from the lighter interior color by silvery plastic and faux wood trim. The center stack, with controls for the audio and climate control systems, is placed a little closer to the front passengers for ease of use. Interior storage is good, with a locking glovebox and useful center console and door storage. The rear seat holds two comfortably, with room for a third person in the center for short periods of time. The rear seat folds 60/40 for cargo, and liftover to the load floor is not too high.

Safety: All Santa Fe models have six standard airbags - dual front, front side, and full-length side curtains that extend far enough back for third-row protection. Brakes are four-wheel disc, with four-channel antilock and electronic brake-force distribution. Both traction control and electronic stability control are standard in all Santa Fe models, as is a tire-pressure monitoring system.

Ride and handling: Increased rigidity of the new Santa Fe unibody means a quieter interior and improved ride and handling characteristics. The suspension - fully-independent by means of MacPherson struts in front and a multilink system in the rear - was tuned for American roads and tastes, meaning that it's fairly soft but well-damped and deals with poor road surfaces well. Steering effort is not too light, and as expected, the Santa Fe feels like a car, not a truck. It's not really meant for serious off-road use, but 8.1 inches of clearance and reasonable approach and departure angles mean painless driving over road debris, steep driveways, and other hazards of city life.

Performance: Even with the 2.7-liter V6, the Santa Fe has more than merely adequate power for its intended use. In front-wheel drive trim, the GLS weighs around 3800 pounds, and the engine's 185 horsepower (at 6000 rpm) and 183 lb-ft of torque (at 4000 rpm) are up to the task, although manual use of the "Shiftronic" four-speed automatic transmission will get better performance, especially at high highway speeds. In that respect, the Santa Fe GLS is little different from its competition, and in normal driving "D" works just fine, thank you. Variable cam phasing and a variable intake system help broaden the torque band and lower emissions, as well as improve both power and fuel economy. And for those who can shift for themselves, a five-speed manual transmission is standard in the GLS, for less cost than the automatic.

Published 10/06/07, Copyright © 2007 Maryland Gazette,
Glen Burnie, Md.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Hyundai Goes Upscale in Midsize Crossover

Hyundai goes upscale in midsize crossover

The 2007 Hyundai Veracruz crossover. It's not a Lexus, it's a Hyundai.

You've got to give Hyundai a bit of credit for coming so far in such a short amount of time. Just a few years ago, the Korean manufacturer's stateside offerings were the butt of jokes, econoboxes with shaky reputations and second-world manufacturing standards. American drivers, first exposed to the budget-minded Excel, are particularly lucky that they were spared the automotive terror that was the Hyundai Pony, an auto which was imported to my native Canada for many years. Friends from Edmonton showed up in their second-hand Pony when I first moved to Colorado a decade ago and my American acquaintances didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

Flash forward not so many years and you have a totally new world of Hyundai. The once-nascent automaker has improved so much and inspired enough vehicular confidence in the American market where it can begin to directly poke fun at more expensive automobiles, taunting them, as it were.

Case in point is the new Hyundai Veracruz - I guess they could have called it Mazatlan or Cotopaxi, but they stuck with Veracruz - a well-designed and reasonably attractive seven-passenger mid-size crossover SUV whose sole mission, one might believe, was to thumb its nose at the more haughty Lexus RX350.

The argument goes something like this: Buy a Veracruz Limited (in my tester's case, front wheel drive only), and for just over $33,000, you'll get a laundry list of options that you'd pay thousands and thousands more for in a Lexus, or in the frankly more comparable Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Subaru Tribeca or Nissan Murano.

And there's plenty of truth in that. Without requesting extras, your standard Veracruz comes with a 3.8 liter V-6 producing 260 horsepower, a six-speed automatic transmission with a manual Shiftronic mode, plus attractive 18-inch alloy wheels and Michelin rubber, power adjustable and heated leather seating, a fancy Infinity stereo with XM Satellite radio and even a power liftgate.

There's third-row seating, sliding second row seats, a sunroof, dual exhaust and a backup warning system. The Veracruz looks like a blend of the 2005 model Acura MDX, bits and pieces of the BMW X5 and ... well, yes, a lot like a Lexus RX350.

While the "get almost the same vehicle for much less" argument will certainly get Hyundai some traction in the crossover market, the basic problem is that attacking the Lexus crowd is a lot like saying a $35 RCA stereo, purchased at Wal-Mart, will do the same basic functions as a very, very expensive Bang & Olufsen stereo system - i.e. play CDs and allow you to listen to Biff America or "Eggs Over Irie." That is technically true but ... uh ... well, stick with me for a minute.

Sadly, those who want a Lexus will probably still buy a Lexus and will get a somewhat more expensive vehicle that is still just an SUV but, is a Lexus and is not a Hyundai.

This is not a fight I chose to start - that was Hyundai's decision - but if you're talking smack about the epitome of slightly staid but tremendously well-designed Japanese automobiles, you have to accomplish a few simple goals.

The first would be a ride that is as smooth and solid as a Lexus. My week in the Veracruz suggested that this goal is being rapidly pursued, but hadn't quite been achieved. The Veracruz, weighing in at 4,266 pounds, feels just a bit unwieldy when cruising the byways, as most mid-size SUV crossovers do. Steering is marginally vague and the suspension, while not quite as pogo stick-like as the Kia Sorrento, is just a little too happy to communicate every thump and bump in the road. Power is fine and plentiful (and earned me about 21 miles per gallon), but the basic ride and handling lack a certain sophistication.

The overall design, especially the interior details, come much closer to that goal, with a modern look epitomized by a ridged hood, bubbled headlamps, mirrors with signal repeaters and wraparound brake lamps, plus a rear spoiler and adaptable roof rails.

The Veracruz's insides are very nice indeed, with loads of leather surfaces, comfortable and infinitely adjustable seating (even the third row has moderately comfortable space, provided those in the second row slide forward a bit) and a decoration scheme that includes woodgrain-styled trim, aluminum-styled plastic and glowing blue mood lighting. The heating and cooling system is great and even the center console box is cooled; rear passengers get their own air controls and a series of ceiling-mounted vents.

It's a wonderful package and for those seeking mid-size perks with small-size pricing, the Veracruz is one to investigate. Just don't expect a Lexus; you'll get a very nice Hyundai.

BY Andy Stonehouse
special to the daily
September 14, 2007

Friday, October 12, 2007

Hyundai Entourage Packs Outstanding Safety and More Value in All 2008 Models

Hyundai Entourage Packs Outstanding Safety And More Value In All 2008 Models

FOUNTAIN VALLEY, Calif., 10/01/2007 Hyundai Motor America announced pricing today for the best minivan ever tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) - the 2008 Hyundai Entourage[1] now on sale at Hyundai dealerships.

Hyundai's first minivan, the Entourage, which earned top safety marks when first introduced last year, picks up the pace in 2008 with even more value and equipment options to suit the needs of families on-the-go. Sporting a powerful 3.8-liter V6 engine and a five-speed automatic transmission -- all backed by Hyundai's 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty -- the Entourage is a smart buy with an entry-level price of $24,595 including freight. With standard safety features like electronic stability control (ESC), six air bags, active front-seat head restraints and a top five-star crash test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Entourage is a vehicle that continues to be a frontline contender in the minivan segment.

ENTOURAGE GLS $24,595 including $700 freight
ENTOURAGE LIMITED $30,495 including $700 freight


· Replacement of SE trim level with a new Popular Equipment Package option on the GLS, which includes dual power sliding doors, power driver seat, back-up warning sensors, steering wheel audio controls and power rear quarter glass
· New GLS Premium Package includes a rear-seat entertainment system with eight-inch LCD monitor, Infinity® audio system and other features
· Standard Infinity AM/FM/CD-changer/MP3 audio system with Logic 7® Surround Sound on Limited trim level
· Optional Bluetooth hands free phone connectivity (Available later this year)

The Entourage's GLS Popular Equipment Package is new for 2008 and offers a high level of convenience and safety features for less than a comparably equipped 2007 Entourage SE. (The SE trim level is discontinued for 2008.) This high value package includes backup warning sensors to enhance driver awareness when the vehicle is in reverse; steering wheel audio controls to minimize driver distraction; and dual power sliding doors with power sliding windows, power rear quarter glass and power driver seat. This new optional equipment package delivers desirable safety and convenience features to make the GLS trim level a versatile alternative to the higher priced competition, the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna. In fact, the Entourage equipped with the Popular Equipment Package is the lowest priced minivan offering power sliding doors and backup warning sensors.

The new GLS Premium Package for 2008 adds exterior and interior trim enhancements, along with thoughtful features, including fully automatic front-dual automatic climate controls, Infinity AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio and an eight-inch DVD rear seat entertainment system.

For 2008, the Entourage will continue to feature the popular standard equipment offered when the vehicle was introduced last year, like the Hyundai Hideaway™ third-row seat, a simple-to-use 60/40 split fold-into-the floor seat that offers flexibility for up to seven passengers. Entourage's flip and fold second-row seats add to the vehicle's space and versatility, providing easy access to its third-row seating.

At 202 inches long and 78.1 inches wide, the Entourage is truly full-size. In fact, these larger dimensions and efficient packaging deliver an interior volume of 172 cubic feet - more than Honda Odyssey.

The Hyundai Entourage comes in two distinct trim levels: The well-equipped GLS and more luxurious Limited.


The Entourage GLS starts at $24,595, including $700 freight, and is equipped with the following standard features:
· 3.8L DOHC V6 engine
· 5-Speed automatic transmission with SHIFTRONIC® feature
· Electronic Stability Control (ESC) with Traction Control
· Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist
· Advanced front airbags, front seat-mounted side airbags and roof-mounted side curtain airbags
· Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS)
· Active front head restraints
· 16-inch steel wheels
· Manual tri-zone climate control system
· AM/FM/CD audio system with six speakers
· Roof rack side rails
· Dual body-colored power side view mirrors
· Chrome-insert bodyside moldings
· Body-colored exterior door handles
· Premium cloth seats
· Tilt steering wheel
· Cruise control
· Keyless entry with panic alarm
· Dual vanity mirrors
· Front armrest
· Front wiper deicer
· Manual sliding rear doors


· Popular Equipment Package ($1,500 MSRP) includes a power driver seat, dual power sliding doors, backup warning sensors, power rear quarter glass, and steering wheel audio controls
· Premium Package ($4,850 MSRP) requires the Popular Equipment Package and includes an Infinity® AM/FM/CD-changer/MP3 audio system with Logic 7® surround sound, rear-seat entertainment system and eight-inch LCD monitor, dual illuminated vanity mirrors, heated side view mirrors, 17-inch alloy wheels, leather tilt steering wheel and shift knob, compass plus trip computer, solar control glass, chrome inside door handles, wood or metalgrain trim, dual front fully automatic HVAC with manual rear, chrome exterior door handles, automatic headlights, fog lights, and body-colored with chrome accent rear license garnish


The Limited starts at $30,495, including $700 freight, and offers all the standard features of the GLS trim with Popular Equipment Package plus the following:
· Leather seating surfaces
· Heated front seats
· Leather tilt steering wheel and shift knob
· Dual front fully automatic HVAC with manual rear
· Infinity® AM/FM/CD-changer/MP3 audio system with Logic 7® surround sound
· Power tailgate
· Compass plus trip computer
· Solar control glass
· Premium scuff plates
· 17-inch alloy wheels
· Automatic headlights
· Fog lights
· Chrome inside door handles
· Wood or metal grain trim
· Chrome exterior door handles
· Body-colored with chrome accent rear license garnish
· Dual illuminated vanity mirrors
· Heated side view mirrors
· Limited badge


· Ultimate Package ($2,900 MSRP) includes rear-seat entertainment system and eight-inch LCD monitor, power tilt-and-slide sunroof, power front passenger seat, power adjustable foot pedals, integrated memory system, auto-dimming rearview mirror and HomeLink


The 2008 Hyundai Entourage is protected by the Hyundai Advantage, America's Best Warranty™. Coverage includes five-year/60,000-mile new vehicle protection, 10-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty and seven-year/unlimited mileage anti-perforation coverage. In addition, Entourage buyers receive 24-hour roadside assistance coverage at no extra charge for five years (no mileage limit) that includes emergency towing, lockout service and limited coverage for trip-interruption expenses.


Hyundai Motor America, headquartered in Fountain Valley, Calif. is a subsidiary of Hyundai Motor Company of Korea. Hyundai vehicles are distributed throughout the United States by Hyundai Motor America and are sold and serviced by more than 750 Hyundai dealerships nationwide.

[1] Excludes products from other Hyundai Auto Group divisions

Monday, October 08, 2007

Hyundai sport-ute rides with the big boys

Hyundai sport-ute rides with the big boys

Hyundai is at it again.

This time, it attacks the upper-end sport-utility market with its luxurious-feeling Veracruz Limited. That's the South Korean automaker's top-level sport-ute, and it's on par with some of the top models on the market.

The test vehicle was a sparkling black Veracruz Limited loaded with what Hyundai calls its "ultimate" package: a $2,950 option that includes adjustable pedals, memory power seats, a power tilt/telescope steering wheel, a rear-seat DVD entertainment system with surround sound and a 115-volt outlet, rain-sensing wipers, lighted door sills and a remote key fob.

That, along with $125 for carpeted floor mats, takes a fancy sport ute that starts at $32,305, including destination charges, to $35,380. Sounds like a lot, but is smack dab in the middle of the luxury sport-ute market that includes Acura's MDX, Buick's new Enclave and the Lexus RX350.

On performance numbers, it competes well with all of them.

Veracruz, in all its models, features a 3.8-liter V-6 that generates 260 horsepower. The Acura, for example, has a 3.7-liter V-6 that creates 300 horses, while the Lexus 3.5-liter V-6 creates 270 horses and Buick's 3.6-liter V-6 delivers 275.

Size is similar, too. The Veracruz checks in at 190.6 inches long, while the Acura is 190.7. The Buick is longer at 201.8 and the Lexus slightly shorter at 186.2 inches.

Note, too, that the Veracruz can be had for less than the Limited's mid-$30,000 price tag. The base GLS model starts at $26,305 with the all-wheel-drive model starting at $28,005. Moving up to the mid-level SE puts the starting price to $28,005 and $29,705 for the AWD version.

So how does it drive?

Pretty well, starting with the handling, which features fairly firm steering with a heavy wheel feel. Most folks will associate that with quality because it's similar to that of the Japanese luxury makes. More importantly, the Veracruz corners well. You can put it into a corner at speed and it will track well with little lean and without the rear-end wanting to come around.

Hyundai assures solid control with both stability and traction control systems to help keep the wheels from spinning in the wet, or the ute from wanting to swap ends. All that is controlled through the braking system, an anti-lock system with discs front and rear. These do a great job of stopping the heavy feeling ute, too.

The engine also provides plenty of power, but the gearing in the smooth six-speed automatic gearbox isn't quite what I'd expect here to boost speed. This one is a little slow away from stoplights but picks up the pace after about 35 mph. You can tromp the gas pedal to get it up to speed more quickly, but normal acceleration is a little lackluster.

Ride is good in most conditions, and its long wheelbase helps. But a bit more dampening could take the edge off the ride on really bumpy roads.

Inside, you'd be hard pressed to separate the Hyundai from the other luxury models in this price range. This one had a tan and brown leather interior with a dark brown dash top and steering wheel, plus a wood-look trim between the dark textured top and lighter lower portion of the dash. Buttons and dials feature a pewter-look finish.

Seating is mildly contoured but very comfortable, front and rear. Veracruz also comes with a fold-down third-row seat that when stowed gives you oodles of storage space in back. Both rear seats are easy to maneuver and have plenty of cup holders, plus overhead lighting and air vents.

Other goodies include a sunroof and shade, steering wheel audio controls, HomeLink, keyless entry, a power rear hatch, trip computer, 18-inch five-spoke alloy wheels and Michelin tires, fog lights, a rear spoiler and roof rack. Add to that tire pressure monitoring and side airbag curtain, a couple safety features that often add cost to the vehicle.

The Hyundai's radio sounds great, too. The controls for it, as well as for the automatic dual climate control system, are easy to get at and use.

Gas mileage is good for a ute. I got 22.5 mpg in about an even mix of city and highway driving. The EPA says to expect 18 mpg city and 25 highway. All-wheel-drive models get a little less.

Complaints? Other than the somewhat slow pickup when pulling away from a stoplight, I'd like to see sun visors that slide to block out side sun. Other than that, Veracruz is a worthy competitor in its market.

Sept. 14, 2007
Savage on Wheels
Mark Savage

Friday, October 05, 2007

Hyundai Motor America Reports September Sales

Hyundai Motor America Reports September Sales

FOUNTAIN VALLEY, Calif., 10/02/2007 Hyundai Motor America today reported 33,214 sales for the month of September. The fuel-efficient Accent and the all-new Santa Fe led the month with sales of 3,120 and 7,496, respectively, up 64 percent and 21 percent over September 2006. The new Veracruz continued to post strong sales with 1,653 units sold for the month.

"While we are encouraged with the strong sales of Accent and Santa Fe, our overall sales were flat versus 2006, reflecting the challenging economic climate and industry conditions," said Dave Zuchowski, Hyundai Motor America's vice president, National Sales. "We just concluded a very successful dealer meeting, and as our 2008 models begin to arrive on our dealer's lots, we are quite optimistic about having a successful fourth quarter."

All Hyundai vehicles sold in the U.S. are covered by The Hyundai Advantage, America's Best Warranty. Hyundai buyers are protected by a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, a 5-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, a 7-year/unlimited-mile anti-perforation warranty and 5-year/unlimited-mile roadside assistance protection.

Following is the sales breakdown for September 2007:

CARLINE SEPT/2007 SEPT/2006 CY2007 CY2006
ACCENT 3,120 1,908 29,212 28,089
SONATA 6,550 8,971 99,358 123,555
ELANTRA 7,164 7,569 73,890 80,634
TIBURON 1,236 1,357 11,850 14,452
SANTA FE 7,496 6,216 70,005 45,270
AZERA 1,423 1,985 17,361 20,562
TUCSON 3,693 4,223 32,449 40,288
ENTOURAGE 879 1,155 15,664 6,409
VERACRUZ 1,653 N/A 8,618 N/A
TOTAL 33,214 33,384 358,407 359,259

Monday, October 01, 2007

Test Drive: Veracruz Seems More Luxury Than Mainstream

Test Drive: Veracruz seems more luxury than mainstream

Hyundai's 2008 Veracruz is mechanically identical to the '07. The only changes are a few more available options and the way some features and options are packaged.

Being either bold or absurd, South Korean car company Hyundai compares its newest SUV, Veracruz, to the Lexus RX 350.

The vehicle's $27,000 starting price, for instance, is "$11,000 below Lexus RX 350," Hyundai bragged when it launched the vehicle earlier this year.

The popular Lexus crossover SUV was the benchmark that Hyundai used developing the Veracruz, says John Krafcik, vice president in charge of product design for Hyundai Motor America. The automaker needed a so-called stretch goal because it knew that the Veracruz would hit the market amid redesigned Toyota Highlander and, next year, Honda Pilot, as well as the new Mazda CX-9 and General Motors' Saturn Outlook/GMC Acadia twins.

Hyundai hoped a premium treatment of a mainstream model could give it an advantage. Trend-meisters call that the "democratization of luxury" -- deluxe features and luxury execution in mid-price products.Drive time in a 2008 Veracruz shows that Hyundai came close enough.

Hyundai launched Veracruz in the spring as a 2007 model but has replaced it after a few months with the mechanically identical 2008. Only changes are a few more available options and the way some features and options are packaged.

Test model was an '08, close to loaded and priced about $39,000, which is enough to make you think at least twice before choosing it instead of a more proven model.

"When you buy a Toyota, you don't have to explain. When you buy a Hyundai, especially a $35,000 Hyundai, you have to explain," acknowledges Krafcik. "We hope you can just sit your neighbor in the vehicle and that will explain."

Salients during the drive, which was a mix of suburban runaround and highway jaunts.

•Driving feel: Good; well-balanced, almost sporty, at least by nose-heavy SUV standards.

Steering did as told and didn't require multiple mini-corrections as some models (even premium brands) still do. Brakes felt firm enough to be reassuring. Suspension kept body movements in check sufficiently to encourage snappy cornering, yet provided a very smooth ride.

•Engine, transmission performance: Engine sound and feel were better than average in this category of vehicle, inviting a heavy foot. The six-speed automatic transmission shifted crisply up or down and was free of untoward, unpleasant, unwanted delays, stutters and stumbles that mar many reputable rivals' gearboxes.

The snaky path for the gear lever was slightly balky and unnatural, though.

•Comfort: Seats in all rows were comfortable. First and second rows were actually roomy. The third row could accommodate adults briefly. The way-back has more legroom than Highlander, but at the expense of cargo room behind the third row, which is a minuscule 6.5 cubic feet.

The third row is split so you can fold half to stretch cargo space while using the other half for a seat. Toyota doesn't give you that benefit on the redesigned Highlander, arguing that while it's a nice feature to demonstrate in showrooms, nobody really uses the third row half-and-half, so why spend to make it so, and why complicate the raising and lowering mechanism?

Handiness is part of overall comfort, and it was more-or-less good in the tester.

Controls were big and obvious. Gauges likewise, but in the tester, the dashboard illumination couldn't be dimmed sufficiently to avoid intruding on night vision. At night, you want as little light inside as possible. The darker the interior, the wider your eyes can open to see the dark road.

Ceiling notches where you grab the sun visors are on the outboard ends. Your hand naturally reaches for the inboard edge. New notches next year, Hyundai says.

Hookup for an iPod or other MP3 player was a throwback. It's an FM modulator instead of a direct-to-the-stereo link. You plug in your MP3 as usual, but then have to tune the car's radio to 88.3 on the FM band to receive the player's signal and route it through the vehicle's stereo. The '09 Veracruz will have the conventional hard-wired link plus a USB port, Hyundai says.

The optional navigation system -- first time Hyundai has offered a built-in navi -- had the desirable bird's-eye view that seems easier to read than the flat map view of most navigators. It lacked sufficient street names, however. And its color and size coding strangely showed some pretty puny paths as major byways, further confusing you in unfamiliar areas.

•Ambiance: The well-equipped tester seemed like a luxury vehicle rather than a loaded mainstreamer. Smooth, quiet, rich-looking and -feeling inside. More than equal to the challenge of Highlander and could be for CX-9 if you don't need the best cargo space and can settle for slightly watered-down sportiness instead of the Mazda's real thing.

No noises, mismatched parts or askew trim were noted; nothing to signal that Veracruz had cut corners in materials or manufacturing.

Hyundai, as a brand, gives mixed messages on quality and reliability. The brand scored exactly average in problems the first 90 days of ownership in this year's widely watched Initial Quality Study by J.D. Power and Associates. That's behind last year's third-place finish, just behind Lexus.

Hyundai's Accent was among the top three subcompact cars; Elantra was among the top three compacts; Tucson was among the top trio of compact SUVs.

Veracruz is essentially an enlarged Santa Fe, but it's hard to predict whether the enlarging will help, hurt or not affect Veracruz when it's included in next year's IQS.

Hyundai, as a brand, has scored below average in Power's dependability studies, which measure reliability of three-year-old vehicles. Accent was a top finisher among subcompacts, however. And each new Hyundai seems to improve.

The long Hyundai warranty, better than some luxury brands offer, provides some peace of mind.

The real question isn't how well the Veracruz compares to the Lexus RX, but whether its $2,000 price advantage, roughly, is enough to draw buyers away from the likes of Highlander and CX-9.

2008 Hyundai Veracruz

•What is it? Midsize, seven-passenger crossover SUV new to Hyundai's line; loosely speaking, a big Santa Fe. Available with front- or all-wheel drive. Manufactured in South Korea.

•How soon? 2007 model went on sale in March. Mechanically identical '08 went on sale in August.

•How much? GLS front-wheel drive (FWD) starts at $27,595 including $695 destination charge. GLS all-wheel drive (AWD) is $29,295. SE FWD is $29,295. SE AWD is $30,995. Limited FWD is $34,745. Limited AWD is $36,445.

•How many? 20,000 to 25,000 a year.

•What's the drivetrain? 3.8-liter V-6 rated 260 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, 257 pounds-feet of torque at 4,500 rpm; six-speed automatic transmission with manual-shift mode; traction control.

Optional AWD normally operates as front-drive, shifts power to rears under hard acceleration and when fronts slip. Unusual among crossover SUVs, driver can lock AWD into 50/50 split for unusually challenging conditions.

•What's the safety gear? Frontal, side-impact air bags in front, head-curtain air bags for all rows; anti-lock brakes; stability control.

•What's the rest? Standard on all models: climate control with rear controls; AM/FM/XM/CD/MP3 stereo with FM modulator hookup for MP3 devices; power steering, brakes, locks, mirrors, windows; cruise control; remote-control locks.

•How big? Longer, heavier than Toyota Highlander; shorter, lighter than Mazda CX-9; wider than either. Veracruz is 190.6 inches long, 76.6 inches wide, 71.1 inches tall with roof rack (68.9 inches without), on a 110.4-inch wheelbase.

Weight is listed as 4,266 pounds for FWD, 4,431 pounds for AWD. Cargo space in cubic feet is listed as 6.5 behind third row, 40 when third row's folded, 86.8 when second, third row are folded.

Rated to tow 3,500 pounds. Rated to carry 1,477 (AWD) or 1,466 (FWD) pounds of people, cargo.

•How thirsty? FWD is rated 16 miles per gallon in town, 23 on the highway, 18 in combined driving. AWD is 15/22/18.

Test vehicle's trip computer showed 14.3 mpg in 215 miles of mixed suburban and highway driving.

Regular (87-octane) gasoline is specified. Tank holds 20.6 gallons.

• Overall: Worthy of a shopper's -- even a luxury shopper's -- short list.