Restyled for 2017, Hyundai Santa Fe looks sharper than before. The three-row Santa Fe features three rows of seating and is longer than the Santa Fe Sport. As in the past, Hyundai delivers good value with the sizable Santa Fe.
The 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe gets new bumpers, and the cabin has been upgraded a bit. A rearview camera has been made standard on all 2017 Santa Fe models. Also new is the 2017 Santa Fe Limited Ultimate trim level.
Two seating configurations are offered, split by trim level. Lower-cost Santa Fe SE and Santa Fe SE Ultimate trim levels contain a second-row bench, for seven-passenger seating. Stepping up toward opulence, Santa Fe Limited and Limited Ultimate editions get a six-passenger layout, making use of captain’s chairs in the second row. Cargo space excels with either passenger configuration, though space in the third row is limited, compared to that of its competitors.
All Hyundai Santa Fe models come with the same 3.3-liter V6 engine and 6-speed automatic transmission. The Dodge Durango and Honda Pilot use 8- or 9-speed transmissions, but the Santa Fe’s automatic is competent and capable. Developing 290 horsepower, the engine is shared with Hyundai’s Azera sedan, but retuned here to produce low-end torque more suitable for a crossover SUV.
Front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive are available, and the latter exacts only a slight penalty in terms of fuel economy. A Santa Fe weighs around two tons and can tow 5,000 pounds. Standard wheels are 18-inch, but Ultimate versions get 19-inch tires.
Viewed from the driver’s seat, the dimensional advantage of the three-row Santa Fe over the smaller Santa Fe Sport crossover is clearly evident. Most Santa Fe versions have a power driver’s seat. Heated front seating and a power passenger seat can be added as options.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has not crash-tested the Santa Fe, though Hyundai anticipates a five-star overall score. In crash-testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the 2017 Santa Fe earned mostly Good ratings, for both side-impact and moderate-overlap frontal collisions. The 2016 model suffered a troubling Marginal score on the small-overlap crash-test.
Hyundai Santa Fe SE ($30,800) comes with stain-resistant cloth seating, second-row bench, 12-way power driver’s seat, dual automatic climate control, rearview camera, automatic headlights, Blue Link connectivity, satellite radio, and 18-inch alloy wheels. (All prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
All-wheel drive ($1,750) is available on all trim levels. Front-wheel drive is standard.
Santa Fe Limited ($34,950) adds leather seating surfaces with second-row captain’s chairs, electro-luminescent gauges, blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, and lane-change assist. Santa Fe SE Ultimate ($38,700) has rear parking sensors, surround-view cameras, heated/ventilated front seats, a power passenger seat, 8-inch touchscreen, panoramic sunroof, hands-free liftgate, and 19-inch wheels. Limited Ultimate ($39,400) is similar to SE Ultimate, but with second-row captain’s chairs instead of the bench.
Despite measuring 8.5 inches longer than the Santa Fe Sport crossover, built on a 110.2-inch wheelbase, Hyundai’s biggest SUV is actually smaller than some direct rivals. Updated styling, particularly including the new front and rear bumpers, gives the 2017 Santa Fe a closer resemblance to the other Hyundai SUVs.
Although the restyled Santa Fe looks better than before, its larger proportions inevitably result in an appearance of bigness. Thus, the fresh look comes across a bit better on the smaller Santa Fe Sport, also restyled for 2017. On upper trim levels, LED foglamps now flank a slim but wide lower opening.
Interior details, including new matte-finish woodgrain accents, complement the revised body styling. An undulating dashboard surface dips low, rising upward to contain the gauges and center stack. Big knobs adjust audio volume and fan speed.
Cargo space behind the third row totals 13.5 cubic feet, expanding beyond 40 cubic feet with the third row folded flat. A plastic bin below the cargo floor provides some storage space. A deep, open storage space sits ahead of the gearshift lever.
Textures and materials look good and fit together well. SE Ultimate trim and higher get matte-finish woodgrain elements, but lower-end models have more plastic.
Seats are better-shaped and more supportive than before. Bolstering is helpful, but not excessively firm. Front passengers enjoy ample leg and knee space, though headroom for tall occupants is skimpy with the panoramic sunroof installed in Ultimate versions. Hyundai’s headrests sit at an ideal angle for comfort.
Because of the Santa Fe’s relatively long wheelbase, second-row passengers get ample legroom as well as satisfying seat comfort. Captain’s chairs are especially pleasing. Out back, the third-row bench is best for youngsters.
Considering the Santa Fe’s size and V6 power, along with predictable handling, it performs reasonably well. Push hard on the gas and the automatic transmission downshifts eagerly, after a brief pause. Otherwise, shift quality is good, though you might notice a mild rebounding effect from the drivetrain.
The manual-shift mode reacts promptly, actuated by a console-mounted lever. Still, trying for full power when passing or merging might result in delayed downshifting. Use of Active ECO mode tends to slur throttle response and gearchanges, while saving only a little fuel.
Three-mode, driver-selectable electric power steering hails from the Hyundai Elantra GT. Normal mode will probably suffice for most driving, but Sport setting helps the vehicle track more accurately through stretches of highway. Eco mode limits performance, in favor of economy.
With its current suspension design, the Santa Fe delivers a calmer and quieter ride than its predecessor. Even with 19-inch wheels mounted, the suspension effectively dampens the worst pavement surfaces.
Hyundai has also made greater effort to stamp out noise and vibration. Suspension sounds have been toned down with improved isolation, while barely a whir can be heard from the drivetrain as the engine accelerates. Little is likely to be heard, apart from some tire noise that’s evident to rear passengers.
Fuel economy runs around average, which isn’t exactly thrifty. With front-wheel drive, the Santa Fe is EPA-rated at 18/25 mpg City/Highway, or 21 mpg Combined. All-wheel drive drops the highest estimate to 24 mpg, or 20 mpg Combined, which isn’t much of a decline. Ultimate models were EPA-rated lower: 17/23 mpg City/Highway with front-wheel drive.
In its latest, freshened form, the Santa Fe remains a strong value for families that can make good use of a three-row SUV. Even if it doesn’t rank as leader of the pack, the Santa Fe behaves well and performs respectable, though the V6 powertrain is getting a bit on the elderly side.
Driving impressions by Aaron Cole, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.