- Luxury-level materials
- Standard safety features
- Capable in slippery conditions
- Questionable front-end design
- Button-heavy interior
- Unrefined dual-clutch transmission
Hyundai’s significantly refreshed Santa Fe midsize SUV looks nearly identical to its predecessor from the profile and rear, but, oh, that front end. As one judge phrased it, “The new sneering jack-o-lantern visage is neither welcoming nor attractive.”
Thankfully for Hyundai, things largely improve from there. We had two examples present at SUVOTY, one with a 2.5-liter turbo-four and one with a conventional hybrid powertrain. (A plug-in model is also available, but it didn’t make an appearance.) Both were uplevel trims, which was clear as soon as we stepped inside. Thick, quilted leather; heated and ventilated seats; and an especially well-designed vertical wireless charging pad speak to a level of quality, thoughtfulness, and feature content that wouldn’t be out of place from a proper luxury badge. There are clever storage solutions, too, including a sizable shelf under the shift buttons and another ahead of the passenger.
Numerous judges pointed out the overwhelming field of buttons below the large central infotainment display. Thankfully, the layout is relatively intuitive, and as a general rule we’ll take crowded controls over confusing ones. Hyundai provides plenty of digital real estate, too, including high-resolution infotainment, instrument cluster, and head-up displays. The Santa Fe also earns points for a spacious cargo area with remote power-folding for the second-row seats.
As much as the interior impresses, the Santa Fe provides an adequate but anodyne driving experience. The midsize Hyundai has relatively little body roll on paved curves and good ground clearance and capability off-road, though as regards the latter, the traction and stability control systems seriously limit power when traction is limited. Detroit editor Alisa Priddle also mentioned “a lot of body jiggles on uneven surfaces.”
Multiple judges noted low-speed refinement issues—rough shifts, primarily—with the dual-clutch automatic mated to the Santa Fe Calligraphy’s powerful 2.5-liter turbo-four. For that reason, the quiet, efficient, reasonably quick hybrid would be our pick of the two powertrains represented at our event. In fact, the turbo powertrain’s clunky dual-clutch had us thinking some buyers may be better off with the base engine and its conventional eight-speed automatic.
We do appreciate the Santa Fe’s standard active safety features, which include adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, and automatic emergency braking (among others). Both of our test vehicles were also fitted with Hyundai’s excellent Highway Drive Assist adaptive cruise control/lane centering system.
The Santa Fe is a well-packaged, attractively priced, and nicely appointed SUV that offers decent value, but it simply doesn’t stand out in crowded, competitive landscapes such as its segment or our SUVOTY competition. Well, except for that grille.
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