Feeling good about the ‘Fe

When the wife told me about a year and a half ago that she thought the Hyundai Santa Fe might be the right SUV for her, I was – to say the least – skeptical. I”d seen enough rusted-out, smoke-spewing Hyundai Excels over the years to have a very clear and lasting impression of that particular automotive brand.

But over the course of a few months, it became clear that the Santa Fe was our best choice. The wife loved the “dune buggy” styling, it was the right size (bigger than a Rav 4, smaller than an Explorer), its interior matched the quality of a good mid-level Japanese ride and it was an absolute steal (fully loaded with leather, 6-disc CD changer, moonroof, etc. was $23K). And when I saw that their 60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty was no joke (it”s dealer serviced with no deductible), I felt pretty comfortable making the plunge into Korean autos.

And, as it turns out, our faith in the new Hyundai was warranted. The company has been climbing the quality charts steadily over the past five years, and we”ve had not a single problem with the Santa Fe in 15 months of ownership.

Then today JD Power and Associates released its 2004 Initial Quality Study and right there at the top is Hyundai.

Among manufacturers (which considers all brands within a company in one rating), Hyundai matched Honda for the second-best quality rating, just one point behind Toyota (including Lexus).

And in the brand-by-brand ratings, Hyundai passed Toyota, which has always been regarded as a standard-bearer for automotive quality. The only brands rated higher than Hyundai are Lexus, Cadillac, Jaguar, Honda, Buick and Mercury.

Those ranking behind Hyundai in initial quality include Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Infiniti, Audi, Volvo and Acura.

So now the auto-buying public will start rushing out to buy Hyundais. Just remember that the Cap”n and his wife were ahead of the curve on this one.

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