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There was a time when the reasons to pick a Hyundai Santa Fe as your crossover SUV were few. It had a low price and a lot of standard features, but that original first-generation model failed to perform to the level of its competition in most other areas.
Thankfully, the second-generation Hyundai Santa Fe presented a big step up in terms of styling and performance. Highlighted by its contemporary appearance and upscale and roomy interior design, this model made a respectable choice for a used midsize crossover.
Now the latest, third-generation Santa Fe raises the bar even further, with its truly impressive performance, attractive styling, high-quality cabin and generous standard features roster.
Current Hyundai Santa Fe
Redesigned for 2013, the current Santa Fe actually comprises two distinct models, the smaller Santa Fe Sport and the larger Santa Fe. Essentially replacing the Veracruz, the Santa Fe features a third row of seats, increasing maximum passenger count to seven.
The Santa Fe Sport comes in base and 2.0T trims. Standard feature highlights of the base Sport include 17-inch alloy wheels, full power accessories, air-conditioning, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth, Hyundai's Blue Link telematics system and a six-speaker audio system. The Sport 2.0T adds a turbocharged engine, 19-inch wheels, keyless ignition/entry, heated front seats and an eight-way power-adjustable driver seat.
The larger Santa Fe is offered in GLS and Limited trim levels. The GLS is equipped similarly to the base Sport, but gains a V6 engine, 18-inch wheels, sliding second-row seats and third-row seats. Springing for the Limited replaces the second-row bench with captain's chairs (reducing seating capacity to six), includes the Sport 2.0T's features and adds luxuries such as a power liftgate, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, heated second-row seats and a power passenger seat. Major Santa Fe options include a navigation system, a panoramic sunroof and a premium sound system.
For power, the Santa Fe Sport comes with either a 2.4-liter four-cylinder (190 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque) or (in the 2.0T) a more powerful, turbocharged 2.0-liter four (264 hp and 269 lb-ft). The larger Santa Fe packs a 3.3-liter V6 (290 hp and 252 lb-ft of torque). A six-speed automatic transmission is standard across the line, and all Santa Fe models have front-wheel drive as standard, while all-wheel drive is optional.
In reviews, we've found both Santa Fe models provide a quiet, compliant ride. Handling is also impressive, though we've noticed the steering has a tendency to wander a bit on the highway. Performance of the base Sport is acceptable, while the Sport 2.0T provides plenty of strong and smooth power, as does the V6 that comes in the Santa Fe. Although the transmissions can sometimes be a bit slow to downshift, their smooth operation and the engines' broad spread of power essentially make this a minor gripe at best.
Whether one chooses the Santa Fe Sport or the Santa Fe, they'll be rewarded with a crossover that provides a decent amount of luxury, solid build quality, tons of useful features, surprising performance and attractive pricing.
Used Hyundai Santa Fe Models
The previous (second) generation Hyundai Santa Fe was a midsize crossover SUV made from 2007-'12. Trim levels consisted of base GLS, midlevel SE and plush Limited.
Even the GLS came generously equipped with alloy wheels, full power accessories and a CD player. The SE trim added larger wheels, automatic headlights, a trip computer and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls. Among the Limited's perks were leather upholstery, heated front seats, a power driver seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, a sunroof and a premium audio system. Inside the Santa Fe there was a contemporary feel, simple control layouts and a higher level of comfort than in many of its typically smaller rivals.
Originally, the GLS was powered by a 185-hp 2.7-liter V6. A five-speed manual transmission was standard, and a four-speed automatic was available as an option. The SE and Limited came with a 3.3-liter 242-hp V6 that was matched to a five-speed automatic. The smaller V6 wasn't much more powerful than rival four-cylinders, and it wasn't much better on fuel than the larger V6. As such, those considering a 2007-'09 Santa Fe should set their sights on one with the 3.3-liter V6.
For 2010, this Santa Fe received a substantial refresh with new powertrains, styling updates and a few new features such as Bluetooth and a USB/iPod audio input jack. The third-row seat option that was available since its debut, however, was dropped. All but the SE had a 2.4-liter four-cylinder with 175 hp and 169 lb-ft of torque. Transmission choices consisted of a six-speed manual and a six-speed automatic. A 3.5-liter V6 with 276 hp and 248 lb-ft coupled to a six-speed automatic was standard for the SE and optional on the Limited. As before, buyers had a choice of either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.
In reviews, we found this Santa Fe to be an engaging SUV to drive. Although not as athletic as some competing crossover SUVs, it is a solid-performing and practical SUV, whether dealing with crowded city streets or cruising down an open highway. The Santa Fe's sizable cabin made it especially family-friendly. Downsides include a rather firm ride.
The original, first-generation Hyundai Santa Fe was launched in 2001 as Hyundai's first foray into the SUV market. It was a solid effort. Sold until 2006, the initial model was notable for its pleasant ride and roominess. There were two engine options -- a 149-hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder and a 177-hp 2.7-liter V6. The Santa Fe was available in three trim levels (GL, GLS and LX) and with either front-wheel or all-wheel drive.
In road tests, we found that the original Hyundai Santa Fe handled well in most situations, both on pavement and during light-duty off-roading. However, the interior was still a work in progress, as the switchgear looked and felt cheap and plasticky. Another annoyance was the awkward placement of the spare tire underneath the vehicle. We didn't find the Santa Fe's exterior styling to be particularly engaging either. Overall, this Santa Fe was outclassed by other top crossover SUVs of the same time period.
There are a few changes to be aware of when deciding what model year to purchase. The first real improvements came for 2003, when Hyundai added a 195-hp 3.5-liter V6 to the engine lineup. It gives the SUV peppy acceleration, but fuel mileage with this engine is poor. In 2005, Hyundai discontinued the four-cylinder engine, gave the Santa Fe an interior and exterior styling refresh and made antilock brakes standard across the line. In its final year of 2006, a Limited trim level with leather seating and automatic climate control debuted.
Read the most recent 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe review.
If you are looking for older years, visit our used Hyundai Santa Fe page.