2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited Ultimate AWD Review

Enough changes to make it fresh without starting completely fresh

Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief

Positives: Refreshed exterior keeps the Santa Fe looking contemporary, rife with amenities and standard safety tech, strong acceleration from the V6 engine, infotainment system works beautifully.
Negatives: Feels heavy in turns, steering is on the numb side, third row is cramped for adults, front seats need more cushioning, fuel economy leaves something to be desired.
Bottom Line: If you want a 7-passenger SUV that has just about everything, the refreshed Santa Fe is one to consider placing in one of the top spots on your list.
 View Our 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Overview
Hyundai didn't rest on its laurels when it came to updating the successful Santa Fe. They took an already proven formula and made just about all the right changes. This is a good thing since too much change mid-cycle can upset the sales balance, making it hard for the manufacturer to regain traction with the next generation car because it alienated customers.

For 2017, the Korean automaker has four trim levels and packs the car with standard and optional features list to the gills. Choices include two- or four-wheel drive, and six- or seven-seat configurations. It also adds reworked front and rear ends to make the car more sophisticated and cohesive in design, while not making the Santa Fe look too different from last year's model. It seems designers and engineers used the right amount of change to make the 2017 version a winner. If only they would infuse it with some improved driving dynamics. Check out our review below.

Driving Experience



The 3.3-liter V6 engine is healthy with a robust 290 horsepower to all four wheels. Though there's no lack of acceleration in the Santa Fe, its throttle response needs improvement, and the slow response from the 6-speed automatic is disappointing, especially when calling upon the Santa Fe for more power. The heavy 7-passenger Santa Fe also has considerable body roll in turns, which isn't a huge surprise since this vehicle is more for comfort than for driving excitement. Really, only the new Mazda CX-9 instills driving thrills in this segment. Oh, we have to mention that the AWD Santa Fe can tow 5,000 pounds without any special package. Very nice should you have to drag a boat out to the lake.

Ride Quality: The ride quality is very good in the Santa Fe. The longer wheelbase (versus the Santa Fe Sport) helps cushion the ride. It's very comfortable on long trips, as well, and the shock absorption manages bumps and gaps well.

Acceleration: Strong acceleration and a good engine burble in spite of the poor throttle response. But once it gets going, the Santa Fe in V6 guise moves with alacrity.

Braking: Braking is good, pedal feel is moderately progressive despite slight initial mushiness.

Steering: Steering is very light and lacks feedback, failing to provide confidence in turns. It's clearly not the Santa Fe's strong suit.

Handling: Versus the brother Kia Sorento, the Santa Fe feels very heavy in turns and has considerable body roll.




It seems the Koreans know how to handle infotainment systems since they seem to look and work much better than offerings from Honda and Toyota. The Santa Fe for 2017 improves the setup even more with a new center stack that makes room for the new 7.0-inch touchscreen display, which comes standard on the base Santa Fe SE and includes Android Auto phone integration. Not that the last system begged for improvement, but Hyundai isn't just tweaking the looks of the new big SUV, it's making it more user-friendly on the inside.

Infotainment System:The screen is attractive and easy to read with just enough shrouding to prevent bad glare. The touchscreen responds well to inputs, and the icons and fonts are modern and easy to decipher.

Controls: The large audio knob gets replaced by two smaller symmetric knobs that are easy to use, and the climate and infotainment controls are well-placed, along with easily executable steering wheel controls.

Bluetooth Pairing: No issues to speak of. Quick and seamless with no problems pairing again when re-entering the vehicle. t

Voice Call Quality: Good voice call quality on numerous phone calls, regardless of phone or provider.




The Santa Fe in both Sport and 7-passenger trim has always been attractive. But the Sport has been slightly better-looking than its larger brother -- until now, that is. With changes to the exterior, the 2017 version looks tighter and more cohesive. We like the fact that the weird tadpole-shaped foglights are gone, now replaced by vertical LED bracket-shaped versions. Also, now every 2017 Santa Fe gets new wheels, updated headlights, a larger grille with more sophisticated horizontal bars, and new front and rear bumpers that look slimmer. The front and rear fascias have been changed the most, and it's a strong move by Hyundai during this mid-cycle refresh.

Front: The slightly larger grille loses the chrome bars that sweep up at the ends and replaces them with brushed finished bars that are slimmer. The updated bumper also gets a slimmer lower grille, and a new handsome vertical LED foglights. The headlight shape goes unchanged, but the interior beam housings are square and more European in their look, meaning more upscale, bascially.

Rear: The taillights now mimic the front headlights, and the brake lights are now placed above the turn signal and backup lights, a reversal from the previous model. The changes aren't dramatic, but the rear of the new Santa Fe looks cleaner. The reflectors are now vertical and have an unnecessary chrome surround, and this coupled with the lighter colored exhaust surround make the back end look a little thicker than we'd like.

Profile: Nothing about the profile has really changed. The Santa Fe remains a handsome SUV whose proportions are good while providing a rakish but not overly busy body. The new wheels on our tester were the best we've seen on the Santa Fe so far.

Cabin: Small changes lead to a more attractive interior with matte, open-pore style wood-like trim and a more sophisticated center stack layout that lend to an already nice place to ride or drive.




The Santa Fe is big on amenities, and just about everything about the interior is well-executed. The front seats have gained a bit more cushion, which is a much-welcomed improvement over the last vehicle's rather firm seats.

Front Seats: We love the robust heat and cooling for the front seats, and the comfort level has been upped thanks to slightly improved cushioning. Bolstering and seat width are both very good for this segment. Not as nice as the Toyota Highlander, Lexus RX or the Mazda CX-9, but still pretty good.

Rear Seats: Good rear seats with plenty of legroom made for happy passengers. The available heated 2nd row is a nice amenity, especially in Chicago.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): The cabin is well-insulated and quiet, just not Lexus-like quiet. The build quality was excellent, and we neither felt nor heard any vibration in the cabin.

Visibility: Good visibility out the front and sides, but the large D-pillar could use some thinning out. This is, of course, mitigated by the blind spot warning and rearview camera.

Climate: The Santa Fe has a great, large climate control knob and vertical temperature buttons that are easy to use. It cooled like champ during a couple of warm days. Even third row occupants get climate controls. Wow.




The Santa Fe ups the ante with a robust set of safety features that easily put it ahead of the competition, a boon to familiies who place a high priority on safety. Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert come standard on the SE Ultimate, Limited, and Limited Ultimate, while a backup camera is standard on the base SE. The standard and available safety features on the Santa Fe should put it a the top of the shopping list for families, and its crash test rating scores should, as well.

IIHS Rating: In IIHS testing, it earns the Top Safety Pick+, the highest available rating with "good" scores across the board and a strong set of crash prevention technology.

Standard Tech: In Limited Ultimate Trim, standard equipment includes backup camera, Rear Cross-traffic Alert and Lane Change Assist, Multi-view Camera System, rear parking sensors

Optional Tech: When equipped with the Ultimate package, the Santa Fe gains automatic emergency braking, automatic high beams, adaptive headlights, pedestrian detection, forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, and lane departure warning as outfitted on our tester.




Here's another area where the Santa Fe shines. It has a huge array of storage options, and plenty of room to hold gear and luggage for long trips. Design hasn't sacrificed deep storage areas, and the whole family will find that the Santa Fe is ready to take on just about all of their stuff.

Storage Space: We love the deep and wide front binnacle underneath the center stack, as well as the small item tray in front of the armrest, which is also deep. Even the third-row passengers get cupholders, a usable rectangular storage bin and a new USB port. Door pockets are roomy and deep, too.

Cargo Room: There’s 13.5 cubic feet of cargo space with the third row in place, 40.9 cubic feet behind the second row, and 80 cubic feet behind the front seats.

Fuel Economy



We usually have low expectations for three-row SUVs when it comes to fuel efficiency, and the bigger Santa Fe is pretty much on par with those expectations. Its V6 is on the thirsty side, and our mileage wasn't stellar even with one driver and no passengers (and minimal gear). That being said, we did drive it in Sport mode most of the time, and we tend to be a bit heavy-footed. Buyers will surely see slightly improved mileage.

Observed: 18.3 mpg

Driving Factors: We drove the Santa Fe in a mix of local and highway driving over the course of seven days. Our tendency was to accelerate harder than normal, and we kept it in Sport mode for most of our driving in order to improve the throttle response.




Our tester had the Infinity Premium Audio with QuantumLogic Surround Sound as standard equipment (due to the Ultimate label), and it sounded very good with just about all music types. Good bass and low distortion made it a pleasure to listen to.

There's not much to dislike about the revised 7-passenger Santa Fe, that is if driving dynamics don't matter much to you. It's fast, roomy, high-tech and very safe, which is what most buyers are really looking for, to be honest. No one's going to look to take their family into an apex hard and fast, nor do they care all that much about awesome fuel economy. If they did, they'd look for a less powerful CUV, rather than a big 6-cylinder three-row SUV. The Santa Fe's refresh is well-done, providing a better aesthetic, a more user-friendly center stack and an impressive array of safety features that put the vehicle in one of the top spots for family-friendly SUVs.
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