Skip to main content

2024 Hyundai Santa Fe First Drive: Setting a New Standard

The Santa Fe's top-level Calligraphy and off-roady XRT trims impress on a drive through Tennessee

2024 Hyundai Santa Fe First Drive lead image
  • Hyundai's bold and boxy 2024 Santa Fe redesign breathes new life into this midsize SUV.
  • The redesigned Santa Fe is more premium and more practical than before.
  • Gas models are on sale now; a hybrid model will follow later this year.

The 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe's redesign is easily its most dramatic ever, ushering in a level of style previously unseen in this vehicle — and, frankly, in this segment. There’s serious road presence here, further enhanced by the Earthy Brass Matte paint on the top-of-the-line Calligraphy model I'll be driving first. Hyundai also implemented an H design motif throughout the Santa Fe, meaning there are about a million H shapes integrated throughout the interior and exterior (OK, there are actually 43 — I counted). And the Santa Fe’s boxy new shape does more than just look distinctive; it also contributes to an 18-cubic-foot increase in passenger space despite being less than 2 inches longer than the outgoing model. This thing is downright cavernous.

But the Santa Fe’s interior revamp goes much further than simply adding space — this is a really nice place to rack up miles. Upon sitting down in the Calligraphy's Nappa leather driver’s seat, I’m instantly relaxed. The seat itself is super comfortable, and the overall design of the cabin further puts me at ease. This car’s off-white and dark green color scheme contributes to a light and airy feeling inside, as does the width-emphasized dash design. Materials are great, too; almost all of the plastic is soft-touch, the faux suede headliner looks and feels great, and the unique color combo makes everything seem even more premium. Plus, the dual 12.3-inch displays are high-res and quick to respond — and they finally have wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There’s even power-operated second-row captain’s chairs.

676 for sale in your area
See All for Sale
2024 Hyundai Santa Fe First Drive dash

Nice as it is, though, the Calligraphy's interior isn’t perfect. I’m nitpicking here, but I don’t love the light-colored faux-wood trim, as it neither looks nor feels convincing. Also, the dark green plastic that covers the lower dash and lower door is a few shades too many away from matching the dark green faux leather on the dash top and upper door panels. But there is one more significant problem: the climate controls.

Oh, how I miss the days of physical buttons — and I say this as a 26-year-old who grew up surrounded by screens. Hyundai has shifted to touchscreen climate controls in several of its models, and the Santa Fe is the latest to get the treatment. The "buttons" are laid out logically in a way that largely mirrors where physical controls would be placed, which is fine, but there’s no haptic feedback, forcing you to take your eyes off the road and look down to make sure you pressed the right button. It could certainly be worse — there are physical dials for the temperature, and at least the controls are on their own separate touchscreen rather than being buried behind menus — but real buttons would still be better. 

2024 Hyundai Santa Fe First Drive second row

OK, rant over, let’s drive. I slide my iPhone into one of the Santa Fe’s dual wireless chargers, queue up some music and set off. Immediately, the Santa Fe feels effortless to drive. Sure, its 277 horsepower and 311 lb-ft of torque won’t set the world on fire, but the power is perfectly adequate for daily driving, especially for this type of SUV. The engine is louder than I’d like under hard acceleration, but fortunately, you don’t feel any vibration in the cabin. Plus, the eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission is smooth and tends to find the right gear easily. There’s a hybrid model on the way, too; Edmunds tested this briefly in South Korea last year.

Winding around country backroads, I’m impressed by the Santa Fe’s composure. Great steering isn’t exactly a hallmark of crossover SUVs, but the Santa Fe’s is well balanced and responsive, even if there’s not a ton of feedback. The suspension is similarly impressive: Even on 21-inch wheels, the Santa Fe Calligraphy soaks up most bumps with ease, and I'm pleasantly surprised by the lack of body roll around corners. For a three-row family SUV, that’s high praise.

2024 Hyundai Santa Fe First Drive rear

After about two hours of driving, I arrive at my destination: an off-road course in the forests outside Nashville, where I’ll be jumping into the beefed-up Santa Fe XRT. While the XRT certainly looks the part of a tough SUV, it’s more than just an appearance package. The front bumper has increased airflow to better cool the engine, towing capacity jumps up to 4,500 pounds, there's 1.3 inches of extra ground clearance and it's sitting on 30-inch all-terrain tires. The interior isn’t quite as nice as the Calligraphy’s, but it still feels premium and high-tech. 

I’ll cut to the chase: While it’s no bona-fide off-roader, the Santa Fe XRT handles rugged terrain a lot better than I expected. The hill descent control works flawlessly, and there's little slip from the four-wheel-drive system when climbing steep grades. I only lose traction briefly when the Santa Fe lifts a wheel while crawling over a deep rut (articulation isn’t a strong suit here), but after a moment, I'm on my way again. Honestly, the XRT is fun.

2024 Hyundai Santa Fe XRT front

However, there's one feature absent in the XRT that I just can’t quite wrap my head around. Approaching a narrow wooden bridge on the trail, I want to get a better view of my surroundings, so I hit the camera button, expecting to see a 360-degree surround view of the vehicle — something you can do on the Calligraphy. What shows up instead is a view from only the rear; as it turns out, the XRT isn’t available with a surround-view camera. This strikes me as an odd choice. Extra visibility is super handy when off-roading on narrow trails, and as the XRT is supposed to be the go-anywhere Santa Fe, it should at least be an option. 

That said, the reality is that 99% of XRTs will never traverse anything more treacherous than a dirt trail on a campground, but, crucially, it can if you need it to. Peace of mind — and rugged looks — sells. 

2024 Hyundai Santa Fe XRT detail

For $47,895 including destination (add another $1,800 for all-wheel drive and $1,000 on top if you want that sweet matte paint), the Calligraphy trim feels genuinely luxurious, and it’s hard to imagine a better road trip companion. And if your needs are more camping than glamping, for $41,995, the XRT makes an excellent partner.

Edmunds says

The 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe brings a bold look and big practicality to the midsize SUV segment. Combined with its impressive driving dynamics and premium cabin, if you’re looking for a not-massive SUV to fit the whole family and their gear, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better option. Competitors: You’ve officially been put on notice.