Master of the middle
For too long, the Hyundai Santa Fe has lurked in the shadows of perennial top-sellers such as the Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander. And now that the Nissan Pathfinder and Honda Pilot have undergone complete redesigns, the Santa Fe faces even more pressure to keep up with the pack. But the Hyundai has at least one quality that helps it stand out: although it’s a three-row crossover, it doesn’t quite feel like one. Its light body and responsive low-speed steering prove enough to make you feel like you’re driving a smaller vehicle.
A 2017 refresh brings relatively minor changes to the Santa Fe. The crossover gains a sharper exterior design, three standard driving modes, a standard rearview camera, and a new 7.0-inch touchscreen in addition to the optional 8.0-inch unit, both of which introduce Android Auto. The crossover also offers a third-row USB outlet and second-row cupholders. More safety features are added to the mix, including adaptive cruise control with stop-start, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, an electronic parking brake system with auto-hold, adaptive headlights, and high beam assist. Not afraid to flaunt a few extra cylinders than some of its rivals, the Santa Fe still doesn’t have a four-banger engine option. Instead, all models carry on with a 3.3-liter V-6 making 290 hp and 252 lb-ft of torque.
We recently ran the Santa Fe on the test track to find out if it has become slower or quicker over the years. Just like a 2014 Santa Fe AWD we tested, the 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe FWD reached 60 mph in 7.3 seconds. That figure puts the Santa Fe in the middle of its V-6 rivals with similar levels of horsepower, including the 2016 Honda Pilot Elite AWD (6.2 seconds), 2017 Toyota Highlander AWD (7.2 seconds), and the 2017 Dodge Durango GT (7.6 seconds). A 2016 Mazda CX-9 FWD hit the mark in 7.5 seconds, though it produces less power with its standard four-cylinder. A 2016 Ford Explorer clocked a time of 8.2 seconds with the 280-hp I-4, and just 6.4 when paired with the 365-hp EcoBoost 3.5-liter V-6.
Compared to the Highlander and Pilot, the Santa Fe ran the quarter mile at a slightly slower pace: in 15.8 seconds at 90.3 mph (145 km/h). It lapped the figure eight in 28.2 seconds at 0.59 g, compared to 27.6 seconds at 0.62 g for the Highlander and 27.5 seconds at 0.63 g for the Pilot. Braking from 60 mph took just 125 feet.
It might have plenty of new technologies and creature comforts, but the new Santa Fe suffers from many of the same mechanical issues as the prerefresh model. Its slow throttle response makes it tricky to maneuver quickly in traffic. Press the throttle assertively, and you’re left waiting anxiously for it to make its move. At middling speeds, the driver is required to turn the wheel significantly to produce the desired effect. Although the Santa Fe shields drivers from wind and road noise, the same can’t be said for imperfections in the road, thanks to the crossover’s unsettled rear end. The rear fails to catch bumps in the road as quickly as the front, making the ride particularly shaky for those in the back. That said, even those up front will notice some unpleasant seat vibration while traveling over less-than-pristine roads.
If they can get past a few shakes and rattles, back seat passengers will feel reasonably well accommodated with their very own vents and climate control adjustments. And by back-seat passengers, we mean children and shorter adults. At 5’3″, I fit comfortably in the third row even with the second row positioned to offer a luxurious amount of legroom. You wouldn’t want to be much taller, however, and bear in mind that we tested the six-passenger version. Adding an extra seat to the mix might make entry more difficult. Plus, the cabin feels narrower in general compared to rivals.
Visibility presents a much bigger problem. The position of the front pillars and the enormous side mirrors create a huge blind spot in the front left corner of the vehicle. If another vehicle is signaling to turn right near the left corner of the Santa Fe, I typically can’t spot it.
Driving the Santa Fe brought back instant memories of the Kia Sorento, though they drive differently and aren’t even the same size. The Santa Fe feels older than its stylish sibling, particularly when comparing the interior controls. Its flawed ride and slow throttle response show its age even more, negating efforts of the refresh to make it more modern. For driving fun at this size, buyers might want to look at the Dodge Durango, Ford Explorer EcoBoost, and Mazda CX-9.
For features and value, the Santa Fe is a pretty good bet. Prices start at just over $30,000 USD, but our $42,885 USD tester came with a panoramic sunroof, parking sensors, an 8.0-inch touchscreen with navigation and Android Auto, hands-free liftgate, heated and ventilated front seats, heated second-row seats, and rear seat climate control in addition to the optional Tech package. Some competitors offer a rear seat entertainment system and Apple CarPlay, but the Santa Fe hits all the most important notes and more.
|2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited Ultimate|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$42,885|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 6-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||3.3L/290-hp/252-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4,189 lb (56/44%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||193.1 x 74.2 x 66.5 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.3 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||15.8 sec @ 90.3 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||125 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.77 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||28.2 sec @ 0.59 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||17/23/20 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||198/147 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||1.01 lb/mile|