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
The midsize Santa Fe is a six- or seven-passenger midsize crossover SUV that is offered in GLS and Limited trim levels. The smaller Santa Fe Sport is covered in a separate review.
Even the base GLS comes standard with air-conditioning, a power driver seat, heated front seats, a 40/20/40-split sliding and reclining second-row seat, a 50/50-split-folding third-row seat, a rearview camera, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, Hyundai's Blue Link telematics system, satellite radio and USB/iPod integration. Highlights of the plush Limited include a power liftgate, keyless ignition and entry, a blind-spot warning system, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, a power passenger seat and rear window shades. Option highlights include xenon headlights, a navigation system, rear parking sensors, a panoramic sunroof, ventilated front seats and heated second-row seats.
The Santa Fe packs a 3.3-liter V6 with 290 horsepower and 252 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive are standard. All-wheel drive is optional.
In reviews, we've found the Santa Fe provides impressive handling, but the ride can be bumpy, wallowy and generally uncomfortable ? especially when loaded with people and cargo. Performance is commendable, as the V6 furnishes plenty of strong and smooth power. Although the transmission can sometimes be a bit slow to downshift, its smooth operation and the engine's broad spread of power essentially make this a minor gripe at best. Overall, anyone who chooses the Santa Fe will 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 current-generation Hyundai Santa Fe was introduced for 2013 as a replacement for the Veracruz. The smaller Santa Fe Sport was also introduced at this time, but is covered in a separate review. Other than lacking the availability of a few luxury and convenience features, such as rear parking assist and ventilated front seats, these Santa Fes are similar to the latest offering.
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 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe review.
If you are looking for older years, visit our used Hyundai Santa Fe page.