At the GLS trim level, there are two transmission options: a standard six-speed manual transmission and an optional six-speed automatic. There are also two drive-train configurations: front and all-wheel drive. However, there is only one available engine: a 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder that outputs 175 horsepower and 169 pound-feet of torque. One hundred and seventy five horsepower is nothing to thumb your nose at, but in a 3,725-pound vehicle like the Santa Fe, it's merely an adequate amount of thrust. Highway merges required a good deal of preplanning, and hustling from 0-60 took more time than we cared to measure.
Our 2.4-liter makes up for its lack of go by making slightly further between fillups than other SUVs of its size. The four-cylinder, automatic transmission configuration's EPA-estimated 20 city/28 highway mpg with front-wheel drive makes it the thriftiest of the Santa Fe's various setups. Interestingly, stepping down to the front-wheel drive manual transmission reduces your mpg to 19 city/26 highway, proving that the Santa Fe's automatic gearbox is surprisingly efficient.
Then again, a side effect of the engine's lack of torque is that it makes the automatic transmission work harder to find power when needed. Simply attempting to maintain a 60 mph cruising speed up a slight grade would often result in moments when the transmission would have to downshift briefly to maintain vehicle speed. More power (specifically, more torque) would eliminate this hunting for gears with the benefit of a smoother ride.
Fortunately, more power is available, just not at this trim level. Stepping up to the SE or Limited trim levels replaces the four-banger with a beefier V-6 engine that outputs a more appropriate 276 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of twist. You'll pay for that extra power at the pump, but not as much as you'd expect, losing only two highway miles per gallon and no city miles.
An all-wheel-drive system is also available on the Santa Fe at all trim levels. Most of the time the system behaves like a front-wheel-drive one, sending 95 percent of the power to the front wheels until slip is detected. At that point, up to 50 percent of the power can be sent rearward on demand. Because of its clutch-type transfer case, adding all-wheel drive doesn't actually reduce fuel economy that much. Oddly, city mpg actually increases with the all-wheel drive system, resulting in an EPA-estimated 21 city/27 highway mpg.
The Santa Fe GLS isn't a vehicle that makes waves. It looks fairly anonymous and performs only adequately. The fit and finish of the interior at the GLS trim level is good, but it's nothing to write home about. No, the Santa Fe is not a vehicle that is concerned with appearances.
However, it is a vehicle that is concerned with value. For your $22,995 you get a car with plenty of space for a small family, one of the best warranties in the business, and a standard cabin technology package that includes features like Bluetooth hands-free and audio streaming, voice command, and USB connectivity. Our tester included carpeted floor mats ($125), bringing the as-tested price to $23,120.
There's only one optional package at this trim level, a Premium package that rolls in the upgraded audio rig, the touch screen navigation system, rear view camera, and a power moon roof for $3,450. If you're a techie, this is a heck of a bargain. While you're at it, add $35 for the iPod cable--that's a no-brainer.