Silvio Calabi: Hyundai Santa Fe pushes further upmarket
Loiter by the back of your 2015 Santa Fe Limited — chatting with a neighbor, say — and you may hear a double beep, a click and a whirr, and you’ll have to step aside as the liftgate opens by itself. Hyundai has borrowed the Ford Escape’s automated rear hatch and upped the ante slightly: Instead of waving a foot under the bumper, to alert a sensor, just walk up to the Santa Fe with the electronic key in your pocket, and maybe a double armload of groceries. Presto! It’s convenient and doesn’t require sticking out a leg like a tango dancer. This is Hyundai’s first power liftgate, and of course it operates by pushbutton, too.
As every engineer knows, a good idea is too valuable to be used only once, and patents are made to be beaten. (Maybe now Ford is programming its liftgate to answer to “Open sesame!”) And the corollary is: While improving on someone else’s features, make them cost less, too. This has been Hyundai’s mantra since day one — More for less! — and heaven knows there’s no shortage of features on this particular Santa Fe, an all-wheel-drive Limited model with the Ultimate Package. But costing less? The price is a breath-taking $41,695. Then again, a Ford Edge with much the same equipment, including a similarly enormous skylight roof, costs five or six grand more yet (but has new adaptive safety systems, slightly more power and better gas mileage). One-upmanship challenges both carmakers and car buyers.
The Santa Fe is unique in that it comes in Medium and Large. Our sample was the three-row version, set up in this case for six passengers. (A bench seat is also available for the second row, upping the capacity to seven.) The two rearmost seats could be reached via a pass-through between the two middle seats, or by scootching one of the middle seats forward and folding it down. The third row is surprisingly livable, once you’ve clambered in, and there’s still some room for groceries or gear behind. Fold away the back seats, of course, and suddenly there’s all sorts of cargo space. There are also tie-downs back there, along with power plugs, lights and a third comfort zone with its own heating, cooling and fan controls.
The other Santa Fe, the more nimble two-row, five-passenger Sport, is eight and a half inches shorter. Since it weighs about 500 pounds less, it does very well with four-cylinder engines: a 190HP base setup or a turbocharged unit rated for 265 horsepower and 269 lb-ft of torque. But our stretch Santa Fe gets a 3.3-liter, regular-gas V-6 rated for 290 horsepower and 252 torques. All Santa Fes have six-speed automatic transmissions that operate invisibly. Despite an Active Eco mode, fuel efficiency estimates range from 17 to 24 mpg, depending on choice of motor and FWD or AWD.
The Santa Fe is the more expensive of Hyundai’s two crossover sport utes, and it’s been with us now for 15 years. In 2012, with the third-generation refresh, Hyundai added this long-wheelbase version (it replaced the Hyundai Veracruz) and sales continued to set records. With a successful design, trumping one’s own act gets harder and harder, at least without a complete overhaul, and for this year the Santa Fe received only some mild trim, detail and engineering upgrades. The electric steering, with its selectable modes (Sport, Normal, Comfort), got a new 32-bit processor and retuned front-wheel bushings, and thereby — Hyundai claims — a more refined feel. Without an older car alongside, it’s hard to spot any difference; the Comfort steering setting seems best suited to this Santa Fe’s low-effort, somewhat analgesic character.
The same goes for this year’s front and rear suspension enhancements, meant to improve lateral stiffness. We’ll take Hyundai’s word for it; the Santa Fe still rides smoothly and comfortably, changes direction well and isn’t bothered by potholes or corners. A sudden hit of hard braking at speed will drop the nose toward the pavement, but not scarily so. Given its power, its luxurious cabin and overall sophistication, plus that 10-year warranty, it’s easy to predict continued success for the Santa Fe.
- Commodious second row
- Long list of standard features
- Still good value, even at $40 grand-plus
- Little driving feedback
Silvio Calabi reviews the latest from Detroit, Munich, Yokohama, Gothenburg, Crewe, Seoul and wherever else interesting cars are born. Silvio is a member of the International Motor Press Association whose automotive reviews date back to the Reagan administration. He is the former publisher of Speedway Illustrated magazine and an author. Contact him at email@example.com.