The Hyundai Santa Fe seven-passenger crossover SUV features a strong V6 engine, a comfortable ride and an abundant list of available features. The handsomely styled Santa Fe aims toward large families who can use the additional seating capacity, though passenger space in that third row is skimpy and best left to the little ones.
All-wheel drive is available for wintry weather traction; front-wheel drive is standard. The Santa Fe gets better fuel economy than might be expected of a V6 engine.
This third-generation Santa Fe was introduced for the 2013 model year as a three-row crossover, sharing some of its body structure with the smaller, five-passenger Santa Fe Sport. Not much else is shared between the two, and the Santa Fe Sport is powered by four-cylinder engines rather than a V6.
Participating in the three-row SUV category, Santa Fe competes against Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander, Nissan Pathfinder, Honda Pilot, and Kia Sorento, that last one a cousin to the Santa Fe. Minivans are competitors, also.
Little has changed for the 2016 model year, except that the 2016 Hyundai Santa Fe SE is now the base model, formerly called GLS. Hyundai’s BlueLink telematics system remains standard. This OnStar-like system incorporates turn-by-turn navigation and Bluetooth streaming for apps such as Pandora, and works in conjunction with your smartphone.
The federal government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has not yet given the Santa Fe a crash-test rating. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave Santa Fe a Marginal rating for small-overlap front-impact protection.
The 2016 Hyundai Santa Fe comes in two trim levels, each with a choice of front-drive or all-wheel drive, all with the 3.3-liter V6 engine.
Santa Fe SE ($30,400) comes with seven-passenger seating; air conditioning; tilt/telescoping steering column; phone controls and steering-wheel audio; CD player; USB and auxiliary ports; satellite radio; Bluetooth connectivity with audio streaming; power driver’s seat; and 17-inch wheels. Option packages add leather upholstery and other features.
Santa Fe Limited ($34,500) switches to a six-passenger configuration with captain’s chairs in the second row. Standard equipment includes leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, a power front passenger seat, an electro-luminescent gauge cluster, hands-free power liftgate, proximity key, pushbutton start, driver-selectable steering mode, and 19-inch alloy wheels.
All-wheel drive ($1,750) is available for either trim level.
Safety features include a driver’s knee airbag and a rearview camera. Blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, and lane-change assist are standard on the Limited model, and offered in an option package for SE.
Recently, Hyundai has moved toward a strong emphasis on appearance, and Santa Fe is among the beneficiaries. Sharp edges and tight creases wrap around the Santa Fe in imaginative ways. Up front, the hexagonal grille was developed in a way that stands well apart from previous versions.
On the whole, the longer Santa Fe comes across as slightly less distinctive than the Santa Fe Sport, which is 8.5 inches shorter.
Inside, the dashboard centers upon a shield-like grouping of controls, surrounded by familiar, fluid swoops and curves. Adding an upscale touch, the dashboard is trimmed in appealing two-tone materials for an upscale touch. In our view, it looks better when highlighted by glossy trim pieces rather than by simulated wood.
Crossover wagons of any size focus on room and utility, and Santa Fe meets that requirement. Front seats are a step up from those in recent Hyundai models, with improved support built into the bottom cushions. Buyers can choose between a six-passenger layout with captain’s chairs in the second row, or a center bench that yields seven-seat configuration.
The Santa Fe’s longer wheelbase translates to greater rear-seat leg room, accompanied by very good seat comfort. That’s especially true with the Limited’s captain’s chairs.
Only young passengers will go for the third-row bench. Adults will not want to squeeze through the small passenger opening to get to the third row, even though the second-row seats slide forward.
Cargo volume is on the small side, at 13.5 cubic feet behind the third row; but it expands to more than 40 cubic feet when the third row is folded flat. That’s accomplished by pulling on straps. From the cargo hold, second-row seats can be lowered via a lever. An available hands-free liftgate only requires the opener to stand nearby, with the proximity key at hand.
Developing 290 horsepower and 252 pound-feet of torque, the Santa Fe’s 3.3-liter V6 is a muscular engine. It’s rated to tow 5,000 pounds without add-on equipment. Direct injection in the V6 also yields better fuel economy.
The 2016 Santa Fe is EPA-rated at 18/25 mpg City/Highway, or 21 mpg Combined. With all-wheel drive, Santa Fe is rated 18/24 mpg City/Highway, 20 mpg Combined.
The driving experience is relatively smooth and effortless. The powertrain is muted nicely and the ride is smooth and quiet. Though it generally behaves well, the 6-speed automatic transmission occasionally becomes distracted between taps on the gas pedal, evidently unsure what to do next.
As for Hyundai’s three-mode electric power steering, we’d generally leave it in Normal or Sport position. Comfort setting makes the Santa Fe respond to steering-wheel motions too slowly for our particular brand of comfort.
With so many capable contenders in the three-row SUV category, Santa Fe has a challenging task in trying to stand above the pack. Helping in that quest is the strong powertrain, coupled with satisfying ride comfort. Placing options in large packages eases the buying process, provided you truly want all the items. Choosing the Limited adds some valuable safety features.
Driving impressions by Marty Padgett, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.