For a three-row crossover, the Hyundai Santa Fe delivers a surprisingly nimble, even weightless, drive. Seating up to seven passengers, this SUV finds a happy home in the garages of large families and adventure-seekers alike. But the model is also considerably smaller than some of the competition in terms of total space. In this way, the Santa Fe bridges the gap between a cute ute with little interior room and an oversized hauler. The question is: Does achieving this middle ground make it a top choice for customers?
Model and PriceYou can get your hands on a base Santa Fe for $29,900 minus tax. We opted for the upper trim Limited model, which starts at $33,800 and drops the standard seventh seat in favor of more room in the second row. A $4,850 Technology Package--which includes navigation, surround sound, ventilated front seats, heated second row seats, panoramic sunroof, and rear park assist—brings the price up further. When adding together all the options and a destination fee, our model came to $39,675.
Safety and Key FeaturesAll Santa Fe models receive downhill brake control, hill start assist, as well as front/driver's knee airbags, front side impact/curtain airbags, and a blind spot detection system. The government has not yet issued crash scores for the 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe. However, the model received "Good" scores in side, moderate front, roof strength, and head restraint tests from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Other features on this model include wide captain's chairs for the second row, allowing for plenty of room for passengers. An upgraded 8-inch touchscreen with navigation, panoramic sunroof, and SiriusXM satellite radio also contribute to the upscale cabin.
Family Friendliness and UtilityAgain, our model had six seats instead of the standard seven, but at least all passengers are well accommodated. Second row passengers have plenty of space, and even those cast into the third row are treated with respect. Third row occupants get their own climate controls and cupholders, but it can definitely be tight back there. Luckily, the second row seats can slide back and forth to provide a little more room if needed.
Entering this vehicle is easy only because there is a wide aisle between the two seats in the second row. Overall, we got the feeling that this SUV had a limited amount of space, especially when you look inside the tiny trunk, in which we could barely fit three grocery bags. The Toyota Highlander, Ford Explorer, and Mazda CX-9 may be a better choice for consumers looking for maximum utility in an SUV.
Despite its limited space, the Santa Fe uses the space it does have quite well. Second and third row seats fold down flat in a cinch, allowing for more space. And there are plenty of cubbies alongside the vehicle to accommodate small items.
Comfort and QualityThe Hyundai Santa Fe is suitable for long drives thanks to its wide seats and relatively comfortable ride. Our model came with heated leather seats that were supportive rather than soft. Overall, the interior was functional, if not a bit forgettable. The center stack is easy to use with a nice mix of buttons and touchscreen capabilities. But the same ease-of-use didn't translate over to the navigation system, which is cluttered with information. During operation, the nav system lists the next several turns from the bottom up, which goes against a driver's natural instincts to read from the top down.
How it DrivesAfter just having driven the Elantra, I was half-expecting to experience the same noisy ride in the Santa Fe. Fortunately, I was wrong. The Santa Fe behaves pretty well on the road, tackling pot holes, highway drone, and speed bumps with ease. The light steering wheel, tight turning radius, and swift highway acceleration complement the smooth ride, making it feel like a much smaller vehicle. However, it is also important to note that this vehicle is indeed smaller than its competitors in cargo space. Another larger vehicle, the Mazda CX-9, shares the Santa Fe's rewarding drive.
SummaryA defining characteristic of any three-row crossover is its utility. While we think the model provides a solid and responsive drive, it may not suit buyers with the highest level of cargo needs. But for most crossover buyers, the Santa Fe is at least worthy of consideration. We would recommend not going with all the extra options, as that puts the price up to about $40,000.
Spec BoxPrice-as-tested: $39,675
EPA City: 18
EPA Highway: 25
EPA Combined: 21
Cargo Space: 3 grocery bags (all rows up)
Child Seat Fitment, Second Row: Excellent
Child Seat Fitment, Third Row (if applicable): Excellent
Estimated Combined Range: 395 miles
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: Poor