On the Road Review: Hyundai Santa Fe Limited

For those folks who have yet to understand or embrace how significant Hyundai is on both the world and American automotive stage, you only have to think back 10 to 15 years to where the Honda Motor Co. was.

Honda was enjoying a growing reputation with a few strong performers such as Accord and Civic. The Odyssey van was starting to gain sales, as was the Pilot, and the CR-V was becoming a force to reckon with. Yet several small car offerings were waning — the S-2000 sports car, the Prelude, etc. Honda was very good at cars, getting better at crossovers, but lacked a meaningful truck, hybrid or work vehicle to soften sales ebbs and flows with a changing economy.

Hyundai is almost a mirror of that scenario. Hyundai’s cars have become vastly more polished in the past 5-10 years, with many models highly recommended by consumer guides and pundits alike. Hyundai’s premium sedans, Azera, Equus and Genesis are each very impressive cars, while Sonata, Elantra and Accent also draw praise — but not yet the sales levels comparable to Honda’s offerings in those respective classes.

In addition, this week’s Santa Fe Limited — the long wheelbase, seven-passenger model, also draws praise. Its refined nature, fully stocked interior, flowing lines and gracious road manners put this family-friendly wagon right in the thick of the hunt for buyers who need space for up to seven occupants. Tack on a price that blows the competition away — thousands less, plus that 10-year warranty — and the Santa Fe makes a quality statement just like those Honda vehicles of years ago.

Hyundai, however, remains at a crossroads, as this brand is very light on truck/crossover offerings and still heavily dependent upon small, midsize and luxury sedans in a market that is 52 percent of sales for crossovers and light trucks. Hyundai has shown consumers a Santa Cruz midsize pickup based on the Santa Fe platform — a la Honda’s Ridgeline — but production is still a year or two away. Hyundai also needs at least two more crossovers, a subcompact edition smaller than the revised Tucson, plus something larger than this Santa Fe, and the brand wants to offer more hybrids and electric-powered vehicles. Sales are good, but dealers are stymied by production limitations at the Alabama assembly plants that build Hyundais and Kias domestically.

Three-row crossover shoppers essentially have two distinct segments (other than full-size and luxury brands) to peruse for purchase. The Asian brands offer up this Santa Fe (available in GLS and Limited trim, starting at $30,000 with front drive, $41,695 as shown with AWD) the slightly shorter Honda Pilot or the Toyota Highlander, as well as the Nissan Pathfinder/Infiniti QX60. On the domestic side, there is the Ford Explorer, Chevy’s Traverse and GMC’s Acadia, plus the Dodge Durango — all of which are 7-12-inches longer than the Asian products.

The Santa Fe has more power (290 hp) than the Honda, Nissan or Toyota models, matches them in tow rating, 5,000 pounds, and returns the same EPA fuel economy ratings, 18-24-mpg FWD, or 17/22-mpg with AWD. The Hyundai is also lighter by 200-400 pounds, which aids handling and economy. Hyundais used to be heavier than the competition, another sign of their enhanced refinement and construction.

Thinking back to our most recent Infiniti QX60 wagon review, very similar in size and mission to the Santa Fe Limited, the Hyundai comes out looking very good. Our Frosted Mocha Limited model featured a massive sunroof, easy to use navigation screen and information panels, a spacious second row — with privacy shades and adaptive seats, plus all of the bells and whistles that buyers seek in this class: multi-zone climate, heated and cooled leather seats, heated steering wheel, hands-free power liftgate, keyless access and ignition, blind-spot detection, lane departure warning, rear camera, rear parking assist, memory settings, LED lites and much more. The cooled front seats were heaven during the dog days of August’s humidity, while the Santa Fe’s comfort levels made travel easy.

The best part is the Hyundai stickers for $14,000 less than the Infiniti. Now, yes, the Infiniti did have some features missing from the Hyundai, but with 95 percent of the same content, more horsepower, and the same if not slightly better space, it is hard not to recognize the value proposition of the Santa Fe.

Not to be confused with the midsize Santa Fe Sport — the two-row, five-passenger wagon that handles a little crisper and otherwise espouses a “Sportier” persona — the Santa Fe Limited is a rock-solid contender in a class that shows continued growth. With Hyundai/Kia now the sixth largest-selling automaker in America, dealers are anxious for more products such as the Santa Fe.


Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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