The price was the attractive starting point, in comparison with Honda or Toyota. I read the reviews and long term reliability books and learned how Hyundai had made incredible leaps and bounds forward after the Pony years. Ours clearly has been as good as the Hondas that I have owned, and I never would have thought that could happen. When you add that it was the first of the small SUVs to obtain the 5 star crash test safety rating back in its day, over Honda or Toyota, you start to debunk the myth that Hyundai isn't a contender.
What sold us? Around town, all three were great. But it had better handling and more power on the highway than the CRV or Rav4, because of its V6. It was certainly more quiet on the highway too. We found there was more cargo room and the rear doors were a little larger making entry and exit a little easier.
While we weren't necessarily turned on by the funky front end styling, the rest of it as well as the interior is just great. Good cupholders and storage pockets (there's a cubby beneath the front passenger seat). The factory Hyundai CD stereo of the day was cheap and lasted another year. I popped in a good quality Kenwood and it works great.
One of the nice features for a do-it-yourselfer like me is that Hyundai provides its entire shop manual library as well as technical service bulletins on the web for free (see the main Hyundai website for more details). That tells me Hyundai is both confident in its product, as well as being customer-service friendly.
We regularly travel 6 hours away to the in-laws, and this vehicle is just wonderful in lousy winter weather. The all wheel drive is great for an urban or highway commute in all types of weather. And I'm not outside pushing wifey's Cavalier through the piled up snow at the end of the driveway anymore. The owners manual tells you right up front that this vehicle is not designed for off-roading. Perfect, because the vast majority of SUV's never go out bush-bashing anyway. For anything else, it's just great.
Sadly, the roof rack on the first generation model is almost for show. It supports a maximum of 75 pounds. If you (like we do) want some kind of roof pod, your options are very limited because you have to purchase cross rails as well as the pod itself. The higher end Thule or Yakima ski box style racks can weigh quite a bit, cutting your carrying weight to as little as 25 or 30 pounds. (In comparison, my Volvo roofrack is rated at 210 pounds... yes 210.)
The recommended box on top from Hyundai is one of those squarish bulbous luggage pods that are lightweight, but in my opinion a little flimsy and not as streamlined as the slimmer ski box type.
The A/C and heating system is excellent, and the heated leather seats are sweet in the cold. The plastics used inside aren't necessarily as nice as Honda but they are functional and attractive. Same for the leather; maybe not as soft or as high a quality as others, but durable and seems to have weathered well so far. The switches are well designed and ergonomically well-placed, and the interior lighting is more than adequate for loading baby into the back or reading a map or book at night.
Gas mileage has been good enough considering it's an AWD system; approximately 28 mpg on the highway at 115-120 km/hr. The transmission works well, though there's a bit of hesitation between shifting of gears when you put the pedal to the metal, but that's the transmission doing its best not to jar you with harsh shifts. It has the semi-manual feature where you can switch gears by pushing up or down on the stick shift (like a slap shift system), and it's a total gimmick as far as I'm concerned.
The only real complaint I have is that after 6 hours, my bum is a little sore, because the seats are quite firm. But it's really only after those long hauls, and around town or the 2 hour trips to the lake are no issue. That and the front end styling constantly draws "hippopotamus" comparisons.
We like it so much that we're planning on buying a new one next year with the 7 passenger seating.