Leaning toward the smaller side of the three-row crossover class, Hyundai’s Santa Fe outsells larger rivals Honda Pilot, Nissan Pathfinder and Chevy Traverse while appealing to an audience that continues to grow.
Approximately the same size as Toyota’s Highlander, the Santa Fe actually comes in two versions. The shorter Sport is a two-row midsize SUV, while our three-row Santa Fe Limited sample readily embraces its more family-oriented role with a plethora of amenities and conveniences.
Lighter than most rivals, and right in the hunt on base pricing, the Santa Fe is available with front- or all-wheel drive (locking abilities here for low-speed traction assistance), while power comes from a smooth and quick 3.3-liter V-6 making a competitive 290 hp. Backed by a six-speed automatic, the Santa Fe is a relaxed cruiser, while producing strong midrange punch when desired. An eight- or nine-speed automatic might improve realized fuel economy (21.6 mpg for the week against an EPA rating of 17/22/19), and a larger fuel tank would increase the wagon’s driving range, yet Hyundai has a strong-performing powertrain in this package that, again, falls right into the heart of this competitive segment.
With a strong hint of Mercedes styling evident on the exterior, the Santa Fe has a more visually pleasing stance, more design pizazz, than several of its Asian rivals. LED lighting front and rear, with turn-assisted lighting up front, provides some differentiation, while the large entrance doors all around make ingress and egress very convenient. Inside, the forward cabin is spacious and open. There are multiple storage spaces, numerous power ports, plus a control layout that is visually and ergonomically handy. Tactile feel, a difficult hurdle for some automakers’ myriad controls, is never an issue here, as drivers will find a quick comfort level. Drivers will especially like the multivision rear camera with selectable image control, including 360-degree surveillance, displayed on the large center screen.
Second-row seating, two buckets in Limited trim, is spacious, with ample leg and head room under a dual-panel panoramic roof that creates an open-air feeling unlike any other. Third row access is about average, with space best used by children but available for short period adult duty. A power liftgate gives access to the cargo hold, where users can fold or retrieve the rear-most seats with convenient straps. When reclined, the rear seats create a flat load floor.
Where the Santa Fe Sport feels slightly more nimble and quicker to steering inputs, the longer wheelbase Limited produces a more relaxed and stable ride that lulls passengers into a higher degree of distance travel comfort. Soaking up road imperfections with aplomb, the Santa Fe shows chassis improvements that previously were lacking. Quiet at speed, the Hyundai proved to be an excellent traveling companion no matter where or what the trip entailed.
Hits include the ability to lock the 4WD system for low-speed traction assist, the selectable camera view is a usable plus, while the user-friendly cabin addresses concerns and comfort for all occupants. While the steering wheel heater will stay on after repeated starts, the heated seats and the center screen selections do not remain as chosen.
Pricing starts at $30,800 for a front-drive Limited model, rising to $41,150 to Ultimate-trimmed models. Built in Ulsan, South Korea, the Santa Fe carries a 10-year powertrain warranty. Standard features include dual-temperature controls, heated and ventilated front seats, Quantum-logic surround sound, Blue-Link connectivity including remote starting, 8-inch touchscreen, 19-inch wheels, power liftgate and folding power mirrors. The Tech Package adds Smart Cruise, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning system, electronic parking brake, Dynamic Bending headlights, plus automatic high beam control.
With Mr. and Mrs. Claus quite busy this time of year, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to learn that they employ a Santa Fe during their nonsleigh adventures. Hyundai’s growth and maturity in the North American marketplace has produced a credible competitor to the established vehicles in this segment, a wagon that rides, drives and performs like the best-in-class offerings. That’s a gift every driver can wish for.