North American Int’l Auto ShowDETROIT – Hyundai Motor America unveils the all-new ’07 Santa Fe cross/utility vehicle today at the North American International Auto Show here.

Set to be built alongside the new Sonata sedan at Hyundai’s U.S. assembly plant in Montgomery, AL, this spring, the Santa Fe will go on sale this summer in the U.S. Hyundai says some early Santa Fe CUVs, however, will be built at Hyundai Motor Co. Ltd.’s Ulsan, South Korea, plant.

The ’07 Santa Fe marks the first time Hyundai’s design center in Irvine, CA, has designed a Hyundai production model. Hyundai says designers benchmarked the Lexus RX series, Acura MDX and Volvo XC90 CUVs.

Hyundai has said it hopes to build 150,000 units each of Santa Fe and Sonata at Montgomery, where the two distinct models will travel down the same assembly line. (See related story: Tucson’s Success Putting Hurt on Santa Fe)

New for the second-generation Santa Fe is a purpose-built chassis, which Hyundai says will provide for a noticeably more refined, sedan-like ride.

’07 Hyundai Santa Fe

Hyundai switched from a double wishbone rear suspension to a multi-link setup to reduce noise and vibration. An all-new MacPherson strut front suspension has increased caster angle to improve stability, Hyundai says.

Also new on the Santa Fe is electronically controlled 4-wheel drive. Via a driver-selectable 4WD lock, torque is split evenly between the vehicle’s front and rear wheels for off-road situations. The CUV will be available in a 2WD configuration.

Inside, Hyundai will offer an optional fold-flat third-row seat for the first time, allowing for seven passengers.

The third-row seat is split 50/50 and can be folded flat like the 60/40-split second-row seat.

Dimensionally, the Santa Fe has grown 6.9 ins. (17.5 cm) in length and has increased in overall width and height from the previous generation.

Hyundai describes the Santa Fe’s new look as being “assertive, refined and confident” and says sleeker lines not only have improved the look of the vehicle, which in its first generation was known for its bulbous appearance, but improved the drag coefficient from 0.39 to 0.37.

Hyundai says it also has improved interior space, and that the new Santa Fe will have more first- and second-row head, leg and shoulder room than the longer Lexus RX 330.

The auto maker promises buyers will have more room to stretch their legs in the new third row, more so than in the MDX, Honda Pilot or XC90 and the same as in the new Mercedes-Benz 7-passenger GL-Class. (See related story: Mercedes to Unveil 7-Seat CUV in Detroit )

Total cargo volume is 74.9 cu.-ft. (2.1 cu.-m).

Buyers will have the choice between an improved version of the previous Santa Fe’s 2.7L V-6 or Hyundai’s 3.3L V-6 Lambda engine available in the new Sonata.

The 2.7L mill employs variable valve timing and a variable intake system and produces 180 hp and 180 lb.-ft. (245 Nm) of torque. The upgraded 2.7L represents a 10-hp bump over the earlier version. The torque improvement is nominal.

The new 3.3L V-6 produces 30 hp more than the previous-generation Santa Fe’s 3.5L V-6 and is rated at 230 hp and 220 lb.-ft. (298 Nm) of torque.

Both engines meet ultra low emission vehicle requirements, Hyundai says.

Transmissions include a standard 5-speed automatic for the 3.3L and a standard 5-speed manual in the 2.7L Santa Fe. A 4-speed automatic is optional for the 2.7L trim.

Six airbags are standard across all trims, as is what is becoming Hyundai’s calling card, electronic stability control.

A tire pressure monitoring system also is standard on the ’07 Santa Fe.

Hyundai says through the increased use of laminated steel and improved body rigidity, the Santa Fe’s cabin is quieter at 60 mph (96 km/h) than the Volvo XC90’s cabin.

Also, Hyundai claims a 50% improvement in body rigidity over the previous Santa Fe and a 59% improvement over the Toyota Highlander.

Interior amenities include dual-zone climate controls for front passengers, and dual rear heating ducts, a rear fan switch and B-pillar-mounted adjustable vents for second- and third-row passengers.

A power driver seat with power lumbar support is available, as are steering wheel audio controls, heated side mirrors and a windshield de-icing system.

Three trim levels will be available: the base GLS, midrange SE, and upscale Limited.

Hyundai has not announced pricing but says to expect a well-equipped model to cost “thousands less” than a similar Toyota Highlander.

cschweinsberg@primediabusiness.com