There was a time when the reasons to pick a Hyundai Santa Fe as your crossover SUV were limited. 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. The second generation, however, represented a big step up in terms of styling and performance, highlighted by its larger size, contemporary appearance, and upscale and roomy interior.
Now the latest, third-generation Santa Fe raises the bar even further, with its truly impressive performance, attractive styling, high-quality cabin and generous roster of standard features. Though it may not have the nameplate cache of some competitors, the Santa Fe is worth serious consideration for its impressive bang for the buck and one of the best warranties in the industry.
Current Hyundai Santa Fe
The current Hyundai Santa Fe is a six- or seven-passenger midsize crossover SUV that's offered in four trim levels: SE, Limited, SE Ultimate and Limited Ultimate. The smaller five-passenger Hyundai Santa Fe Sport is reviewed separately.
The base SE trim comes well-outfitted with such features as alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, power driver seat, rearview camera, Bluetooth connectivity and an infotainment system with a 7-inch touchscreen display. Higher trim levels add such details as a power liftgate, leather upholstery, a 360-degree camera, navigation system and advanced safety features. Two option packages provide such upgrades as LED foglights, lane departure warning, and adaptive cruise control with automatic emergency braking.
Power is provided by a 3.3-liter V6 engine that produces 290 horsepower and 252 pound-feet of torque and comes mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. All trim levels are available in either front- or all-wheel drive. EPA fuel economy for the Santa Fe is approximately 21 mpg combined (18 city/25 highway) for FWD models and 20 mpg combined (18 city/24 highway) with AWD.
In reviews, we found the Santa Fe provides impressive handling with precise steering feedback that results in confidence on the road; it also delivers the quiet, comfortable ride that consumers expect from a car-based crossover. The standard V6 furnishes plenty of strong, effortless power, and the six-speed automatic transmission remains smooth under a variety of road conditions. Buyers who choose the Santa Fe will be rewarded with an SUV 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 the 2013 model year as a replacement for the Veracruz. The smaller Santa Fe Sport also debuted at this time but is covered in a separate review. Other than lacking the availability of a number of the latest luxury, convenience and safety features — such as a touchscreen display, a 360-degree camera, lane departure warning and automatic braking — these Santa Fes are similar to the newest model.
The previous (second-generation) Hyundai Santa Fe, produced from 2007 to 2012, was also a midsize crossover SUV. Its trim levels consisted of the base GLS, midlevel SE and 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 provided 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 trims came with a 242-hp 3.3-liter V6 that was matched to a five-speed automatic. The smaller V6 wasn't much more powerful than many rival four-cylinders, and it wasn't much better on fuel than the larger V6. As a result, those considering a 2007-'09 Santa Fe should set their sights on one with the 3.3-liter engine.
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 crossovers, it is a solid-performing and practical vehicle whether dealing with crowded city streets or cruising down an open highway. The Santa Fe's sizable cabin made it especially family-friendly. It delivered capable handling but at the expense of a rather firm ride.
The original, first-generation Hyundai Santa Fe, launched in 2001 as a compact model — Hyundai's first foray into the SUV market. It was a solid effort. Sold until 2006, the initial model was notable for its roominess and pleasant ride. There were two engine options: a 149-hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder and a 181-hp 2.7-liter V6. This Santa Fe was available in three trim levels (GL, GLS and LX), each with either front-wheel or all-wheel drive.
In road tests, we found that the first-generation 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 — 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 of the first-gen Santa Fe 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. And in the original model's final year, 2006, a Limited trim level with leather seating and automatic climate control debuted.