2008 QX56 New Car Test Drive
The Hyundai Elantra is handsome, comfortable, versatile, and fun to drive. It would be a decent car if it cost thousands more. For under $14,000, it's a genuine bargain. Elantra comes with one of the most powerful standard engines in the subcompact class, and is among the quickest. It handles as well as many of its competitors and has the sporty feel we like in a smaller car.
The interior is nicely finished and more comfortable than many subcompacts, including the big name brands. Standard equipment surpasses that offered on cars costing thousands more, and includes side airbags. Measured by build quality, Elantra meets or beats most of its competitors. We believe it will exceed most buyers' expectations. It's no surprise the Elantra is Hyundai's best-selling car in North America with annual sales of about 120,000.
Elantra is available as both a sedan and hatchback, the latter combining the practical advantages of a small wagon with the sleeker look of a sedan. The hatchback is hard to beat for its functionality and looks, but most American buyers prefer sedans. So Hyundai now offers the high-trim Elantra GT as a sedan or a hatchback.
Concerned about reliability? Hyundai's warranty is one of the best available. The basic warranty lasts five years or 60,000 miles for the original owner, with free roadside assistance throughout. The engine and transmission are warranted for 10 years or 100,000 miles, and Hyundai protects Elantra from rust-through for five years or 100,000 miles.
For 2004, Elantra has been updated with several interior improvements and mildly different styling. Frankly, you'll have to look carefully to spot the sheet metal changes, but that's fine. The Elantra is an impressive buy either way. The Santa Fe is an inexpensive, compact sport-utility with a tall seating position and generous cargo capacity. Its curvaceous body looks friendly yet ready for the outdoors. Already an attractive choice in the compact sport-utility field, the Hyundai Santa Fe is made even more appealing for 2004 by a new and more powerful 3.5-liter V6 engine.
The Santa Fe drives well on and off paved roads with decent handling and good brakes. The V6 engines, both the new 3.5-liter and the 2.7-liter, deliver good acceleration, particularly in front-wheel-drive models. The four-wheel-drive system available with the 2.7-liter engine works well for light off-road duty. A new electronically controlled all-wheel-drive system available with the 3.5-liter engine promises better fuel economy.
Side-impact air bags are standard, and GLS and LX versions come with a 218-watt Monsoon stereo. Best of all, the Santa Fe is backed by Hyundai's long and comprehensive warranty, making it one of the most attractive small SUV's on the market. They say you get what you pay for, but with the Hyundai Santa Fe it seems like you get a little more. The Hyundai Sonata is a roomy and comfortable midsize sedan with a level of quality and refinement that may surprise you the first time you get in and take a good look. It costs less than the name brands, but measures up well against them.
The Sonata is packed with features, considering it starts below $17,000. Front and rear accommodations are roomy and comfortable for four or five. The interior is nicely finished and has a general feeling of quality. Driving the Sonata is convenient and hassle-free with well-designed controls located exactly where expected. The styling is distinctive, sleek and rounded with rich-looking details.
Sonata cruises comfortably down the highway, even at elevated speeds. Its steering is sharp and responsive. The V6-powered Sonata GLS and LX deliver satisfying performance. There's a chance the Infiniti QX56 will not go down in history as the best-looking vehicle from the big sport utility era. Even with its 2008 revisions, it looks almost as awkward as its name sounds, but it does all the things a large SUV should.
For 2008, the QX56 gets several midcycle revisions: The front and rear fascias are new, though the designs aren't much changed. The grille is new, as are the fog lights. The roof rack is revised, and 20-inch wheels become standard in place of 18s. Inside, the instrument cluster is new and the 60/40 split third-row seat adds a power folding feature. Other newly standard features are Nissan's Intelligent Key keyless access and starting, XM real-time traffic for the navigation system, and a Burr-Brown audio system with a 9.3-gigabyte Music Box hard drive. The optional rear entertainment system also gets a larger, eight-inch screen.
The QX56 comes with the same powerful V8 it's always used. The engine has lots of power and torque, making the QX56 an excellent choice among full-size SUVs for towing a heavy trailer while hauling seven or eight passengers in luxurious comfort. It is rated to tow 8,900-9,000 pounds. And it offers serious off-road capability, an area where Nissan has a lot of experience. The QX56 is based on the full-size Nissan Titan pickup and Armada SUV.
Out on the highway, the QX56 is smooth and quiet, benefiting from a four-wheel independent suspension and a smooth five-speed automatic transmission. It feels responsive and sure-footed on winding roads. It comes with rear- or all-wheel-drive, and the latter makes it capable off road. The AWD system features a low range, and skid plates come standard. The QX56 also has electronic stability control, traction control and ABS technology, all of which can help you maintain control in emergency handling situations, and the available all-wheel-drive system further improves handling stability in slippery conditions.
The QX56 is as luxurious as the best of them. Its opulent cabin is lathered in leather and stuffed with technology. It comes standard with a navigation system, an optional feature on many vehicles. If you're looking for a large SUV to tow a trailer and haul people and cargo, the QX56 is worth a look. If you don't need the towing capacity, any of the newer crossover SUVs will get better fuel economy and offer a more agile, car-like ride.
Hyundai Elantra is offered in two trim levels and two body styles. The base Elantra GLS comes only as a four-door sedan; the better-equipped GT is available as a five-door hatchback and a sedan.
All models share the same 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 138 horsepower, making Elantra one of the most powerful cars in its class. A five-speed manual transmission is standard. An automatic transmission is optional ($800) for either model.
The GLS sedan ($13,299) comes with an impressive array of standard features, including air conditioning, power windows, mirrors and locks and a center console with armrest. For 2004, remote keyless entry and an alarm are standard on all Elantras. The security system allows the trunk or hatch to be unlocked with the key without disarming the alarm.
Safety features are anything but economy grade: front-passenger side-impact airbags come standard and there are three-point harnesses at all five seating positions. Packaged with traction control, antilock brakes (ABS) are an option on all models ($525).
The Elantra GT ($14,849) substantially expands the GLS sedan's standard-equipment list. Fashioned in the spirit of a European sports sedan, the GT comes with a firmer, sport-tuned suspension, five-spoke aluminum wheels, and fog lamps. Four-wheel disc brakes replace the disc/drum combination on the GLS. Leather seating and a trip computer that projects range are standard, too (try finding those on any other car in this price range), as are cruise control and a rear-glass wiper and washer. Even the shift knob and steering wheel are leather-wrapped, and the instrument lights glow purple (Dude!).
The GT's stereo has been upgraded for 2004. Supplied by Kenwood, this CD/MP3 player blasts 200 watts of music through six speakers and features a removable faceplate that displays in multiple colors. It also comes with a grip-style remote control (presumably intended for passengers in the back seat, and not the driver).
These prices represent an increase of $800 for the GLS and $700 for the GT compared to 2003. That's substantial, but given new standard features and the level of accommodations, the increases don't substantially alter Elantra's price/value equation.
Both GT body styles list for the same price. Hyundai says it added the sedan in response to customer requests, but we prefer the more daring styling and increased carrying capacity of the hatchback. With its big hatch opening and split folding rear seat, the five-door is remarkably versatile for a car its size.
Other options are limited, and packaged largely in what Hyundai calls accessory groups. Cruise control is available as a stand-alone on the GLS ($200). Group 3 ($550) includes cruise and an electronically tuned stereo/CD upgrade, while Group 4 ($1,075) adds ABS and traction control to these items. Group 5 ($1,225) includes cruise, the stereo upgrade and a power moonroof, and Group 6 ($1,775) delivers the works: cruise control, CD, moonroof, ABS and traction control.
The only options available on the GT are ABS/traction control and the moonroof ($700). Port-installed accessories include woodgrain trim ($225), mud guards ($60), a cargo net ($38) and a cargo tray for the hatchback ($70). The GLS can be fitted with a rear spoiler ($375) and carpeted floor mats ($78), which come standard with the GT. Hyundai Santa Fe is available in three trim levels: base, GLS, and LX. All come standard with four-wheel-disc brakes, gas-charged shock absorbers, air conditioning, power-assisted steering, power door locks and windows, power heated outside mirrors, tilt steering wheel, an AM/FM/CD stereo with six speakers, an illuminated glove box, carpeted passenger and cargo areas, three power outlets (two front, one rear), rear seat heating and air conditioning ducts, an eight-way manually adjustable driver's seat, and reclining rear seatbacks.
The base Santa Fe ($17,999) is available with front-wheel drive only, and is powered by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. A five-speed manual transmission is standard; a four-speed automatic transmission ($800) is optional. An option package ($495) adds cruise control, remote keyless entry, a rear-window wiper-washer, cargo convenience net, retractable cargo cover and a first aid kit (comprising sunscreen, poison ivy balm, bandages and a thermal blanket). Another package ($990) adds anti-lock brakes (ABS) to the package above.
The Santa Fe GLS ($20,999) comes with a 2.7-liter V6. The only transmission available is a four-speed automatic with Hyundai's Shiftronic manual override. Standard GLS luxuries include all of the option-package items mentioned above plus fog lamps, carpeted floor mats, deluxe cloth upholstery with contrasting inserts, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and the 218-watt Monsoon stereo. Front-wheel drive is standard, full-time all-wheel drive is an option ($1500). ABS ($595) and a sliding glass sunroof ($595) are also available.
The new 3.5-liter V6 is available as an option on the GLS ($1000). Standard with the 3.5-liter V6 is a five-speed Shiftronic automatic transmission, ABS, and traction control; plus a uniquely tuned suspension that adds an anti-roll bar at the rear.
The Santa Fe LX ($23,999) comes standard with the 3.5-liter V6, five-speed Shiftronic automatic transmission, ABS, traction control, automatic air conditioning, heated front seats, a Homelink transmitter and an electrochromic rear-view mirror. The Monsoon stereo also gets an in-dash six-CD changer. Leather upholstery, chrome door handles, and brushed-stainless scuff plates bolster the LX model's up-market image. Four-wheel-drive is optional ($1500). Also optional: the power sliding glass sunroof ($595). Three models are available: Sonata ($15,999); Sonata GLS ($18,779); and Sonata LX ($19,799).
The base Hyundai Sonata is well equipped for its price. It comes standard with air conditioning, side-impact airbags, AM/FM/CD audio system, rear defroster, power mirrors, power locks with keyless remote, power windows, cruise control, remote fuel door and trunk releases, 60/40 split folding rear seat, variable intermittent wipers, four-wheel-disc brakes, gas-charged shock absorbers, and 15-inch all-season tires. A 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with a five-speed manual transmission is standard. A four-speed automatic transmission ($800) is optional.
Sonata GLS is a V6 model with a higher level of interior trim. The 2.7-liter V6 comes with an automatic transmission, and the car is fitted with high-performance tires on 16-inch alloy wheels for improved handling. The GLS is upgraded with deluxe cloth upholstery, woodgrain accents, better carpet, an upgraded stereo, an improved center console, dual map lights, and rear cup holders. It also comes with heated mirrors and a power antenna.
Sonata LX is the luxury model, and comes with all of the above plus leather seating surfaces, automatic climate control, and an eight-way power driver's seat.
The V6 engine and automatic transmission are available on the base model as an option package ($1650). GLS and LX can be ordered with anti-lock brakes ($550). Base models with automatic transmission can be ordered with a power tilt-and-slide glass sunroof ($700), or with a package ($1250) that includes the sunroof and anti-lock brakes. Traction control is available, but only as a package with the sunroof and anti-lock brakes on the GLS ($1400); or with the sunroof, anti-lock brakes, electrochromic rear-view mirror, and HomeLink transmitter on the LX ($1695). The 2008 Infiniti QX56 comes as one fully loaded model. You need only choose between two-wheel drive ($52,250) and all-wheel drive ($55,350). The 5.6-liter V8 is rated at 320 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque, and the transmission is a five-speed automatic with a manual shiftgate. The all-wheel-drive system includes a low range.
Leather-trimmed upholstery and a navigation system with voice recognition and real-time traffic are standard. Also standard are dual-zone automatic climate control with manual rear controls; heated, power-tilting, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls; cruise control; heated first- and second-row bucket seats; 10-way power-adjustable driver's seat; 8-way power-adjustable passenger seat; power-adjustable pedals; memory for the driver's seat, mirrors, and pedals; 60/40 split power-folding 3rd-row bench seat; heated power auto-dimming exterior mirrors; power windows and locks; remote keyless entry; keyless access and starting; sunroof; Bose AM/FM/CD stereo with 12 speakers and rear controls; Music Box hard-drive audio; auxiliary audio input jack; satellite radio; rearview camera; Bluetooth wireless cell phone link; universal garage door opener; auto-dimming rearview mirror; power liftgate; automatic xenon headlights; theft-deterrent system; fog lights; roof rack; running boards; load-leveling suspension; and P275/60R20 tires on chrome alloy wheels. The AWD model adds a heated steering wheel, a tow-hitch receiver, and skid plates protecting the transfer case, oil pan and fuel tank. The QX56 comes with a full-size spare tire.
Options include a Technology package ($1,150) with adaptive cruise control and front park assist; a second-row middle split bench seat in place of the standard two captain's chairs (no charge); a DVD rear entertainment system ($1,700); and painted fender splash guards ($215).
Safety features include the latest generation front airbags that deploy at different rates depending on crash severity and occupant seatbelt use. Side-impact airbags are provided for torso protection for the front-seat passengers. Full-cabin curtain airbags come standard for improved head protection for passengers in all three rows and they deploy in case of a rollover. A rearview video system comes standard: When the transmission is in reverse, this system displays on the navigation screen the view from a camera mounted above the rear license plate; it can help the driver see if an object or child is behind the vehicle. All QX56 models have active head restraints for the front row. Also standard are a tire-pressure monitor, antilock brakes with brake assist and electronic brakeforce distribution, traction control, and electronic stability control.