2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited Ultimate AWD Review

Everything you need, nothing you don't


Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief



Positives: Upscale exterior, powerful and silky V6, great highway manners, ample room for all occupants, great infotainment system
Negatives: Busy dashboard, hard seats with rough leather, no power third-row deployment, lack of steering feedback, mediocre gas mileage.
Bottom Line: We were surprised at how well-appointed the top-trim Santa Fe was, outdoing many base trim luxury models. The powerful V6 is responsive and capable, and the degree of family room makes a very attractive buy.
The 7-passenger Santa Fe is a solid seller for the South Korean automaker, and there's good reason why. Not only does it have good capacity, it also boasts tons of standard features, good driving manners and cuts a handsome look. It stands firmly in one of the hottest and most competitive crossover segments, and though it hasn't been fully redesigned since 2013, the Santa Fe has been refreshed and upgraded to stay relevant.

Our tester was the top trim Limited Ultimate, AWD, which gets all the goodies of the Tech package as standard equipment. We drove it for a week to see how it fares in the burgeoning segment. Read on for the full review.
 

Driving Experience

8.2

 

There's no mistaking that the Santa Fe 7-passenger is a big vehicle, though not quite as large as some of its competitors. For most buyers, though, the driving manners will work just fine. It's an easy car to drive, though it lacks precision and feedback.

Ride Quality: Suspension keeps thing on the firm side. You can feel the bumps, but it's not to the point of being upsetting.

Acceleration: Though the throttle response needs improvement, the V6 moves the Santa Fe with authority. It's a very good, very potent mill.

Braking: Braking is predictable and strong, though the pedal has some initial mushiness at the top.

Steering: The Santa Fe's steering is on the light and numb side, but it's on center and has a modicum of effort.

Handling: The body roll is noticeable but predictable. It doesn't corner nearly as well as the Mazda CX-9 but certainly better than the Nissan Rogue.

Technology

9.2

 

Hyundai is one of the few car companies that does infotainment consistently well. The in-car tech is ergonomic, easy to use, and visually appealing.

Infotainment System: The 7-inch system is now standard across all trims, and it's pretty responsive. The screen is good in bright sunlight, and the menus are intuitive. Apple Car Play and Android Auto compatibility are standard. Keep in mind that Toyota and Mazda don't yet offer this even as options.

Controls: Physical knobs for audio are excellent. Climate control knob and toggles work very well, too. Though the steering wheel controls are very good, we're not sure why the Kia-sourced ones found on the Sonata and Elantra aren't used here. They're a couple of notches better.

Styling

8

 

The refresh made a big difference in our opinion. Though the interior isn't changed much, the tweaks to the outside add up to a more refined look overall.

Front: The revised grille and lower fascia look great. We like the thinner grille bars and the vertical fog/driving lights that give the car a more upscale look.

Rear: The taillight housings are the same shape, but the backup lights and brake lights have switched positions. The rear reflectors are now vertical instead of

Profile: Aside from the addition of a brushed metal finish trim piece on the rocker panel and new wheels, the rest of the side view looks largely the same. That being said, these small touches make the Santa Fe look more upscale. From the side view, you can also see the updated foglights and rear reflectors, which make the front and rear overhangs actually look shorter.

Cabin: It's a little busy for our tastes with contours and cutouts in the dash that look overdone. Overall, however, it's still a very nice interior.

Comfort

7.9

 

The interior of the Santa Fe might not be simply designed, but everything is well put-together and easy to use.

Front Seats: Thought the seats are wide and supportive, they could use a bit more cushioning. The leather is also a bit on rough side.

Rear Seats: Our tester had captain's chairs which provided ample space for tall passengers, as well as good adjustability.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): The Santa Fe is well made with no vibrations and good sound insulation. Even at highway speeds, it remains quiet.

Visibility: The Santa Fe doesn't have any major demerits here. The sloping hood makes it easy to place. Its visibility is further enhanced by a great 360 camera and rear view camera.

Climate: The climate system works very well, and the heated/ventilated front seats are excellent, as are the heated second row outboard seats. There are far pricier crossovers that don't even offer these.

Safety

9.5

 

The Santa Fe is about as good as it gets when it comes to safety. Not only does it test well, but the level of accident avoidance tech is quite good, as well. The addition of the Ultimate Tech Package puts it at the top of the segment in terms of safety tech.

IIHS Rating: The Santa Fe attains the top score of Top Safety Pick+ thanks to superb crash test scores, superior front crash prevention and acceptable headlights.

NHTSA Rating: 5 stars in overall crash test ratings, the top marks.

Standard Tech: Blind Spot Detection, Rear Cross-traffic Alert, Lane Change Assist, rearview camera, rear parking sensors, and the Multi-view Camera System

Optional Tech: Our tester had the Ultimate Tech package with Smart Cruise Control with stop/start, Automatic Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, and Lane Departure Warning.

Storage/Cargo

8.8

 

There's ample space in the cabin of the Santa Fe for daily gear stowage. The vehicle also happens to be more spacious than competitors, besting even the Mazda CX-9 and the Kia Sorento.It even eclipsed the Audi Q7 we were reviewing at the same time.

Storage Space: The large cubby at the base of the center stack has space for phone, keys and more. The center armrest is also great for hiding away more small goods out of sight.

Cargo Room: It's a large, very accessible space with 80 cu. ft. with the seats folded flat, 40.9 behind the second row and 13.5 with all seats in place. Everything folds completely flat, making large cargo hauls much easier.

Fuel Economy

6.1

 

The V6 can get a bit thirsty, and Hyundai's aren't exactly known for their fuel efficiency. The sacrifice in terms of mpgs is worth the extra power that's delivered smoothly at all times.

Observed: 18.3 mpg

Distance Driven: 332 miles

Driving Factors: We drove in sport mode for the majority of the time, and about 80 percent of our miles were on the highway.

Audio

8.7

 

The upgraded Infinity system is a good one. It does need a bit more bass, but overall, we were pretty happy with the clarity and the lack of distortion.



Final Thoughts

Though the Santa Fe might not be the sportiest handling crossover at this price point, (the CX-9 nails that one), it's a very capable 7-passenger car with a good transmission and a very willing engine that's better than more premium crossovers with turbo fours. It does suffer when it comes to fuel economy, but the payback in terms of passing power and highway prowess is worth it in our books. It also happens to look much better with the refresh, and the interior features are top notch. Limited Ultimate trim makes it truly special in terms of tech and safety, and the Santa Fe is an excellent option for big families looking for a 7-passenger crossover.
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