Model tested: Hyundai Santa Fe XRT 2.5L AWD
Engine: Smartstream 2.5-liter 4-cylinder
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Torque: 181 lb.-ft.
EPA ratings: 22/city, 25/highway, 24/combined
Base price: $34,000
As tested: $35,380
Overview: The Hyundai Santa Fe enjoys a reputation as a popular and well-regarded midsize SUV. However, until the fourth-generation Santa Fe was upgraded in 2021, it was fairly bland. So Hyundai gave it a new grille and refreshed the interior design, making it a spacious, attractive crossover that you won’t mind driving and that offers lots of features for the money. It competes against the Honda Passport, Subaru Outback, Nissan Pathfinder and Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport.
Walkaround: The Santa Fe’s styling is sharper than before and the XRT trim gives it a more aggressive — and upscale — appearance. Starting with the adoption of two-tiered headlights gracing the rest of the Hyundai lineup, its profile is handsome and distinctive, with chrome trim and 18-inch alloy wheels.
Interior: The cabin is curvaceous, featuring a broad dashboard, individually wrapping around the driver and passenger. An 8-inch infotainment screen sits front-and-center, with accessible climate controls and easy-to-read instrumentation. There’s also abundant storage. Our XRT-model test-driver featured heated cloth seats with an eight-way driver’s seat with lumbar adjustment. Ample cushioning make the front seats quite comfortable, with excellent interior fit and finish. The XRT offers everything expected in an upscale model — including keyless start, AM/FM/HD radio, Sirius/XM-Satellite Radio, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, dual-zone climate control, a surround-view camera system, heated steering wheel, wireless cellphone charger and automatic wipers. Five adults can ride contently in the Santa Fe, with lots of rear legroom — more than 40 inches. There’s 36.4 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat that nearly doubles to 71 with the rear seats folded down. There’s also a power liftgate for easy access.
Behind the wheel: The Santa Fe offers satisfactory performance, a supple ride, high-quality interior and excellent safety ratings. The standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder in our test driver adequately powered it, while the eight-speed automatic delivered smooth shifts, albeit somewhat leisurely — even in sport mode. While front-wheel drive is standard on all Santa Fe models, all-wheel drive is available on all and our test-driver was equipped with it. Handling is well-managed but not particularly exciting, with steering that’s pleasantly tuned, making low-speed maneuverability easy and highway stability decent. But the best thing about the Santa Fe is its comfortable and relatively quiet ride.
Bottom line: The Hyundai Santa Fe has evolved, becoming more sophisticated and featuring high-quality materials and excellent technology. It delivers impressive fuel efficiency, as well as luxurious accommodations at a price that undercuts most of the competition. The more we drove the Santa Fe, the more we liked it because there’s a lot to like.