Santa Fe, New Mexico is one of the oldest cities in the U.S., while Hyundai’s Sante Fe is its newest 3-row crossover. New Mexico’s Santa Fe is known for its Native American population, rugged terrain, almost chronic individualism and Autoweek’s Denise McCluggage, while Hyundai’s Santa Fe is well regarded for its almost lavish appointment, accommodating interior and, at least in more modest guise, accessible window sticker. It ain’t rugged, and is not particularly individualistic, which begs the inevitable question: Why call it Santa Fe?
While we – and perhaps you – ponder that, let’s consider what Hyundai’s Santa Fe is. In combination with its 2-row sibling, the Santa Fe Sport, Hyundai’s Santa Fe fills the perceived need – and penchant – Americans have for the 3-row crossover. To its credit, with just four more inches of wheelbase (110.2 vs. 106.3) and less than nine additional inches of overall length (193.1 vs. 184.6), the 3-row Santa Fe offers 38 additional cubic feet of passenger volume relative to the sportier Sport. The Santa Fe Sport will comfortably accommodate up to five passengers, while the Santa Fe can handle six (with second row captains chairs) or seven. Notably (we think), the difference in cargo volume is negligible, with the Santa Fe Sport providing 35 cubic feet behind its second row and the Santa Fe offering just under 41 cubic feet.
Outside, the crossovers are visually very similar. In profile the Sport’s side sheetmetal includes a kick-up after the C-Pillar, which – while sporty – tends to restrict rearward visibility. The longer Santa Fe enjoys a more open greenhouse (without the restrictive kick-up), as well as significantly more rear overhang. Neither is heading off road – at least in the absence of chemicals or alcohol – but the Sport (with AWD) appears capable of the fire or logging trail. With the bigger Santa Fe, you’d best stay on something no more irregular than brick pavers. Subjectively, the sheetmetal of the larger Santa Fe is attractively balanced, offering the customer sufficient size to be accommodating without the attendant bulk you see in so many 3-row packages.
Inside the story gets even better (this assumes, of course, you’re still reading…). A dashboard – which could easily have been shipped from Germany – offers generous venting, legible instrumentation and a reasonably intuitive 8-inch touchscreen, along with rearview camera (less necessary than in the more restrictive Sport), Blue Link telematics and available technology to better assist the driving-disabled. Hyundai’s Technology package, which added Nav, a panoramic sunroof, 12-speaker Infinity Logic sound and HD radio technology, was almost $3K above the Limited’s $35K base. And while Nav is nice and 550 watts is better than 50, those with iPhones might contemplate what $3K could do for you elsewhere. (For me, it’d be a lighter – and perhaps faster – road bike…)
Under their hoods, the Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport again diverge. The Sport offers two variants of an inline four. The least-sporty Sport supplies a 2.4 liter four with 190 horsepower connected to a 6-speed Shiftronic(!) automatic transmission, while the sportiest ups the horsepower to 264 – via a twin-scroll turbocharger – while reducing displacement to 2.0 liters.
In the Santa Fe there’s just one engine choice, but it’s a nice one. Both GLS and Limited receive Hyundai’s 3.3 liter DOHC V6, boasting 290 oh-so-smooth horses and 252 lb-ft of torque. These numbers are well in excess of what Hyundai perceives as its immediate competition: Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot and Nissan Pathfinder. The V6 is also connected to a 6-speed automatic; the on-the-road result is everything you’d hope for in a comfortable family hauler, with sufficient grunt to get out ahead of traffic, along with enough refinement to make the long haul less of a ‘long’ haul.
From an efficiency standpoint, the EPA suggests the V6 will deliver 18 in the city cycle, 24 on the highway and 20 combined. With in-town driving we saw about 18, while freeway-only typically netted 22. And our combined figure of 20 was identical to what the EPA suggests. Given the practicality of Hyundai’s 3-row combo, this is d*mn good when calculated on a per-seat basis.
Both Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport provide unibody structures riding on an all-independent platform. Up front is the ubiquitous MacPherson strut, while out back is a fully independent (think Ted Cruz) multi-link. If you specify all-wheel drive you’ll benefit from Active Cornering Control, which assists in controlling torque and braking in partnership with the Santa Fe’s stability management. This provides improved lateral stability when cornering, along with reduced over-and-understeer. Admittedly, we didn’t have an opportunity to test this, but we were impressed by the Santa Fe’s almost neutral nature, given its footprint and curb weight.
Obviously, if shopping for a 3-row crossover you’ll not lack for choices. And at a window sticker of almost $40K the (admittedly loaded) Santa Fe bumps up against several near-luxury alternatives, including Acura’s MDX ($43K), Buick Enclave ($40K), GMC Acadia ($36K) and Infiniti QX60 ($43K). The dimensional similarities with the Acura are almost uncanny, leading one to think that Hyundai has a mole within Honda’s headquarters. Given Hyundai’s 10-year powertrain coverage and feature-laden interior, those seeking the 3-row experience won’t do much better on this side of the $40K price point, but you pays your money and you takes your choice.
Our choice? A Santa Fe Sport Limited mit turbocharger and AWD. Should we need a third row, we’ll rent it!
Specifications continued on next page…