What's New for 2012
The 2012 Hyundai Santa Fe receives just a few small improvements including the addition of standard hill-descent brake control and low rolling-resistance tires on GLS models.
If the 2012 Hyundai Santa Fe were a person, it would be a straight-talking, unpretentious guy. Sure, maybe he's not the flashy bad boy who'll sweep you off your feet, but he's quietly dependable and easy to like. He's the guy you marry, not the one you date in college.
Along those lines, there's nothing flashy about the Santa Fe, even compared to the other vehicles in Hyundai's lineup. Yet the fact that this relatively plain-looking crossover hasn't been restyled in a while doesn't necessarily detract from its good qualities. Topping the list is an interior that's larger than those in crossovers like the Chevy Equinox, Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. An affordable MSRP, a generous list of standard features and lengthy warranty coverage also make it worthy of consideration.
The biggest issue for buyers looking at the Santa Fe might be the sheer number of newer, attractive choices in this segment. Sure, a family crossover is unlikely to have that bad boy personality, but several offer more style and personality than the Santa Fe as well as the best-selling Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. The Equinox and its GMC Terrain twin are among these, yet are plenty practical in their own right. The same applies to the Kia Sorento, which has the added benefit of a third-row seat. The smaller Hyundai Tucson is also worth considering if you value style over practicality.
But practicality is a big reason to buy a family crossover, and to this end, the 2012 Hyundai Santa Fe has the kind of sensible personality with which it's worth settling down.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Hyundai Santa Fe is a five-passenger crossover SUV available in GLS, SE and Limited trim levels.
Standard equipment on the entry-level GLS includes 17-inch alloy wheels, privacy glass, roof rails, heated mirrors, keyless entry, cruise control, full power accessories, air-conditioning with rear seat vents, a height-adjustable driver seat, a 60/40 split-folding rear seat, a trip computer, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface.
The midrange SE gets 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, foglamps, a windshield wiper de-icer, roof rack cross rails and a rear spoiler. Inside there's leather and cloth upholstery, an eight-way power driver seat with adjustable lumbar, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. The Premium package adds a sunroof, a rearview camera, a touchscreen navigation system and an upgraded audio system.
The Santa Fe Limited adds a sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, full leather upholstery, heated front seats, a 115-volt AC household-style power outlet and a 10-speaker Infinity surround-sound audio system with a six-CD changer. The Navigation package besides the obvious adds the touchscreen and rearview camera.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2012 Hyundai Santa Fe GLS and Limited models come standard with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that puts out 175 horsepower and 169 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard on every Santa Fe, as is front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is available as an option. The Santa Fe achieves EPA fuel economy estimates of 20 mpg city/28 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined with front-wheel drive and 20/25/22 with all-wheel drive.
A 3.5-liter V6 good for 276 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque is standard on the SE and optional on Limited models. In Edmunds performance testing, a V6-powered Santa Fe went from zero to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds -- a strong performance for this segment. Despite its greater power, the fuel economy of the V6 is better than the four-cylinder. EPA estimates stand at 20/26/23 with front-wheel drive and 20/26/22 with all-wheel drive.
Every 2012 Hyundai Santa Fe comes standard with antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. There's also a new hill-descent brake control feature designed to help manage driving down steep hills with slippery surfaces. A rearview camera is optional. In Edmunds brake testing, a Santa Fe Limited came to a stop from 60 mph in 126 feet -- an average distance for the segment.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Santa Fe its highest rating of "Good" in its frontal-offset, side-impact and roof strength tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
Like the exterior, the Santa Fe's passenger cabin is on the plain side, with clear, easy-to-read gauges and simple, user-friendly controls. The quality of the materials is decent enough, with cheap-feeling hard plastics broken up by strategically placed bits of softer materials.
Up front, the unnaturally high seating position may feel awkward to some drivers, and long-legged drivers will likely find the short bottom cushions don't provide enough thigh support. The rear seat gets higher marks for comfort, though it lacks the ability to slide and recline as those in many other crossovers can.
When it comes to schlepping stuff instead of people, the Santa Fe shines with 78 cubic feet of cargo room with the rear seatbacks folded down. That number beats the CR-V, RAV4 and Forester and actually comes pretty close to larger midsize models like the Ford Explorer.
Behind the wheel, the 2012 Hyundai Santa Fe is about as exciting to drive as it is to look at. That is to say the handling is predictable though the driving experience is far from lively, marked by significant body roll and an artificial steering feel. The ride quality is good, though it can get a little harsh over rough pavement on models fitted with the 18-inch wheels.
With the 2.4-liter four-cylinder, acceleration is on par with similarly powered competitors. The 3.5-liter V6 engine delivers noticeably better performance and, considering the fact that the fuel economy numbers are so close, buyers who feel they need the extra power don't have much to lose for going that route.