The 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe is one crossover offered in two flavors. It’s still available as a compact- to mid-size five-seat ‘Sport’ version, but it’s also stepped up in size as a seven-seat family car–meant to replace the full-size Veracruz. The Sport model is built in Georgia, while the larger model is imported from Korea.
The two models compete with a tremendous variety of crossovers, ranging from compact vehicles like the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V, to mid-size vehicles like the Ford Edge and Toyota Venza, all the way out to three-row utes like the Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot. The larger Santa Fe is 8.5 inches longer than the Sport, and in some cases, you might find it cross-shopped against minivans, too.
There’s something seemingly more mature about the Santa Fe’s design than the rest of the Hyundai lineup. If the Sonata was a little too curvaceous for your taste, the Santa Fe’s calmer lines will look a little less busy and a lot more cohesive–and we’d call that progress.
More conventional than the one in the Tucson, the cockpit in the Santa Fe siblings has grown up, too. It carries a shield of controls at its center, and flanks them with big air vents–a theme that’s recurring pretty often in compact-car design, and just happens to go well with the sheetmetal. The dash surface undulates, dipping low in front of passengers and bubbling up for gauges and the center stack, and large knobs control fan speed and audio volume. On crossovers with navigation, an 8-inch screen glows under a matte surface, and electroluminescent gauges toss in a few more subdued lumens.
Some Santa Fe crossovers sport woodgrain trim, while others have a gloss finish that’s more appealing and fits more easily with the control-pod theme. Hyundai’s found out how two-tone interior treatments can wake up a cabin, and the Santa Fe and Sport offer some earthy colors and trims that link them a little more directly to the crossover world than any of their lines or surfaces.The sides of the Santa Fe are heavily sculpted, as is Hyundai’s recent tradition, with an upward swing in the shoulder lending a stylish look that does impede a bit on the airiness of the cockpit.
Now there’s a clear family resemblance through the Hyundai crossover lineup, from the brash, bristly Tucson through the very streamlined long-wheelbase Santa Fe. The Sport’s the best-looking of the trio, with a right-sized hexagonal grille bracketed in place with coordinated fog lamps and headlamps trimmed with LED lighting. The side sills stand out in relief up and over the rear wheel wells, and the rear door handles sit well back of the rear wheel opening in a way Mazda’s now-defunct CX-7 would be proud of. It’s all summed up by a simple, balanced treatment of taillights and glass on the tailgate. We can’t help but pick out some vague likeness to the new Ford Escape in the rear end and the proportions around the headlights, but Ford’s almost-hatchback crossover doesn’t quite have the size to play out the curves you’ll find on the Santa Fe Sport.
It’s less distinctive about the Santa Fe–some Dodge Durango in the way its rear quarter windows are shaped. Hyundai says it’s essentially a minivan replacement, anyway, and we can’t think of one three-row crossover with outre styling that’s been a big hit.
The 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe is only offered with a V-6, while the Sport model is offered with a four-cylinder–and your choice of whether or not you want that engine turbocharged.
Both vehicles are connected with a six-speed automatic with a manual-shift mode available off the console-mounted lever. The shift quality’s well sorted and the manual mode answers the call quickly, though deep calls for power can catch the gearbox napping. Step into the gas fully from a light throttle, and after a brief pause, the automatic shifts down eagerly, with a mild rebound felt through the drivetrain. You don’t have to concentrate on being a smoother driver for the Santa Fe or the Sport to behave smoothly, though–an Active ECO mode will blur over shifts and throttle responses, saving very small amounts of gas at the same time.
Electric power steering has been a learning curve for all automakers, and Hyundai’s path has taken it from the Sonata to the Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport with incremental improvements in feel and design. All these vehicles use a column-mounted motor, but the Santa Fe and Sport have the latest three-mode, driver-selectable steering that bowed on the Elantra GT. In that hatchback, we were happy to leave the heft-added steering in Normal mode all day. In the Sport, the “sport” setting’s increased effort and later onset of assistance helped the car track better on the highway stretches of our test drive, just as the AWD system likely soaked up some of the on-center vagueness we’ve felt on the Elantra and Sonata. It’s a good step forward; we’d leave Comfort’s slow, light feel to anyone who thinks the last Santa Fe was a little too daring and sporty.
Long-wheelbase Santa Fes get the only V-6 in the lineup, a 3.3-liter engine from the Azera sedan, with 290 horsepower, a six-speed automatic, front- or all-wheel drive, and a base curb weight of about 3900 pounds. Rolling on standard 18-inch wheels (19-inchers are an option), the Santa Fe comes out of the box, ready to tow 5000 pounds, its powertrain made more rugged and retuned for lower-powerband torque.
The base engine on the Santa Fe Sport is Hyundai’s 2.4-liter four, with 190 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque, straight from duty in the Sonata sedan. With direct injection and a hookup with Hyundai’s in-house six-speed automatic, the base Sport earns the best fuel economy ratings of the lineup, up to 33 miles per gallon on the EPA’s highway cycle. Our first drive offered only a brief exposure to the normally aspirated four at high altitudes–not an ideal driving experience–so we’re holding back those impressions until we can test this model over longer distances under more usual conditions.
The turbocharged 2.0-liter turbo four is another familiar piece, as it’s also shared with the Sonata. In this application it makes 264 horsepower and 259 lb-ft of torque, while topping out in front-drive form at 29 mpg highway. It smoothly conveys abundant power through a fairly wide swath of the powerband; we’d estimate a 0-60 mph time at 7.0 seconds on lighter front-wheel-drive models, which weigh in at a lean 3459 pounds.
Even with less displacement, the Santa Fe Sport outperforms its Hyundai’s old V-6 crossovers, while the longer Santa Fe equals that performance and tops it with better towing capability. Both versions outshine the last Santa Fe and the former Veracruz in ride comfort, too.
We’ve spent many hours driving the pair–in a turbo Sport and in the long-wheelbase Santa Fe. Either one can be fitted with an optional all-wheel-drive system that uses an open center differential to distribute power from the front wheels to the rears when traction needs arise, and leans on anti-lock control to clamp down on wheelspin. All-wheel-drive models also have torque vectoring control on the rear wheels via the same means; to aid cornering, the inside rear wheel gets some braking applied automatically. All the electronics can be shut off, for times when wheelspin is your ally. Ground clearance is down to 7.3 inches, and the light-duty traction system (on principle, like the one in the Mercedes M-Class) is more an all-weather friend than a trail-blazer.
All Santa Fe crossovers adopt a new suspension design, and a calmer, quieter ride is obvious after just a few miles of driving. The front struts and multiple links in the rear are fitted with bigger bushings and packaged more precisely inside the wheel wells, which Hyundai says frees up more cargo space and helps improve wheel control. The physics don’t have to elude you–the silence from the wheel wells is proof enough, and the Sport feels absorbent and mostly controlled over freshly paved interstates and mildly broken back roads. When the gravel path gets really rutted, the Santa Fe Sport doesn’t really lose its laid-back attitude, but does let its wheels (17-inchers are standard; 19-inchers are optional) rebound with a slightly firm thump. The longer-wheelbase Santa Fe uses its extra wheelbase to its advantage, damping even the worst surfaces well, even when those 19-inch wheels are specified.
The Santa Fe is offered in two sizes: there’s the standard model with three rows of seats and room for as many as seven passengers, and there’s the Sport model with two rows and seating for five.
Hyundai’s gone to more effort in this Santa Fe Sport than ever, to damp out noise and vibration. Suspension noise has been tamed with better isolation, and the turbocharged and V-6 drivetrains hardly makes a distant whir as it climbs through the revs. The isolation in the cockpit is a magnitude better than in the Sonata sedan with nearly identical powertrains. On the three-row Santa Fe, there’s some additional tire noise from second row back, which can make it a strain to hear first-row conversations.
At the same time, the textures and materials inside the Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport are drawn from a wider bin, and most pieces were well-fitted in our prototype testers. There’s some textured plastic behind the steering wheel that doesn’t look as rich as the rest of the dash, and the lower center console buttresses snap together in obvious ways during assembly–but from a driver’s perspective, the cockpit’s never looked better, and moves the needle authoritatively in the right direction, from the standard set by the Sonata, improved on by the Elantra.
In front of either Santa Fe, the size advantage over the smaller crossovers is clear. There’s ample knee and leg room, though headroom for tall passenger will be slim if the panoramic sunroof option’s ticked. The seats themselves are more shapely and supportive than in the last Santa Fe, with very good bolstering on the bottom cushion that’s not overly firm. Most versions have a power driver seat, and richly optioned models have a power passenger seat and heating for both. It’s worth noting that Hyundai’s headrests sit back at an ideal angle–they don’t jut too far forward, as some active headrests do.
There’s storage for small items in the glovebox and console, and for drinks in the door pockets and dual cupholders. A deep, open-sided storage area ahead of the shift lever can swallow a medium-sized purse–but that will block the USB port and auxiliary jack.
The rear seat’s a fixed bench on base Santa Fe Sport crossovers, but it splits and folds along 40/20/40 lines for better flexibility than most seats of its kind. Effectively it’s a four-seater when the middle section is lowered for carrying long and skinny items, like copper pipe, toe molding, or skis. With the leather option package, the same seat adds a slide function that moves it along a 5.2-inch track–like the one on the Chevy Equinox and GMC Terrain, minus a few inches of travel. It’s a very handy feature, and an underrated one if you’ve ever made a banzai Costco run without kids or a budget. The same sliding bench also has reclining seatbacks, a great feature we’ve grown to appreciate on long-distance trips where we’re not in total control.
On the Santa Fe, the second-row seat is a shared piece, too. But with the longer wheelbase comes more rear-seat leg room to go with the very good seat comfort already in place. That’s especially true of the Limited’s second-row captain’s chairs, which have properly placed armrests and an inch or so of headroom still in place, even with panoramic roof. Adults will find a couple of inches of knee room to spare–and a warm cushion, if it’s fitted with heated second-row seats.
The third-row bench? It’s only for very young passengers, because older people will get cranky at the thought of climbing through the Santa Fe’s small passenger opening–even though the seats slide forward, there’s still only a foot or so of wedgy space provided to get to the backmost seat. It’s capped at the knees and overhead, too.
When cargo rules the day, the Santa Fe Sport’s rear seats fold down as a trio or individually, and flatly, to free up more cargo space. The front passenger seat folds flat too, for carrying very long objects. You can fold down two seat sections for a three-passenger configuration, or lay them all flat to maximize cargo space. With the rear seats raised, the Santa Fe Sport can hold 35.4 cubic feet of stuff; with the rear seats all down, the cargo hold grows to 71.5 cubic feet–about 8 cubic feet more than the Equinox.
When unladen, the Santa Fe Sport’s cargo bin has shallow, under-floor storage that’s perfect for holding laptop bags securely out of sight. A cargo cover is also included, standard.
The Santa Fe’s cargo bin may be on the small side, at 13.5 cubic feet behind the third row, but it expands to more than 40 cubic feet when the third row’s folded flat–accomplished by pulling on straps to fold it down or to raise it in place. From the cargo hold–accessed by a power tailgate–the Santa Fe’s second-row seats can be lowered, too, via a lever. There’s some shallow storage in a plastic bin beneath the cargo floor, too.
By the numbers, the Santa Fe Sport rides on a wheelbase 106.3 inches long. it’s 184.6 inches long, and 74.0 inches wide. That puts it in the ballpark of a wide swath of the crossover market, including everything from the Chevy Equinox to the Toyota Venza and Kia Sorento. It’s larger inside than a Ford Escape or Honda CR-V, if not quite as big as a Toyota RAV4.
The three-row Santa Fe, meanwhile, has a 110.2-inch wheelbase that’s 3.9 inches longer than the span on the Sport. It’s slightly wider, too, and 193.1 inches long, 8.5 inches longer than the Sport. The Santa Fe GLS seats seven; the Santa Fe Limited seats six. Its overall interior volume of 146.6 cubic feet and 13.5 cubic feet of storage space behind third row make it more space-efficient than the Toyota Highlander–but smaller inside than a Honda Pilot, Nissan Pathfinder and Ford Explorer.
The 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe models score well for safety.
On the technology front, Bluetooth is standard across the lineup. A rearview camera is offered on models with leather seats, where it displays on a 4.3-inch color LCD screen. On navigation-equipped Santa Fe Sports, the camera sends its output to the GPS’ 8-inch screen. However, on vehicles without leather, there’s no rearview camera at all. Hyundai says it’s studying solutions, including a rearview-mirror-based camera, for future model years. A rearview camera is an option on the Santa Fe GLS, too.
Blind-spot monitors and parking sensors are newly available for the 2014 model year.
All models have the usual standard front, side and curtain airbags, as well as a driver knee airbag, for a total of seven. Hill-start and downhill assist also are standard, along with anti-lock brakes, stability and traction control.
The long-wheelbase Santa Fe hasn’t yet been crash-tested by either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). But the shorter-wheelbase Santa Fe Sport earns top ‘good’ scores in all categories, earning the IIHS Top Safety Pick rating. It’s also a top five-star performer according to the federal government.
The 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe is offered in standard six- or seven-passenger model, and a shorter five-passenger ‘Sport’ model. You get a few extra features with the larger model, though.
Even with the base GLS model, standard features are numerous on the three-row Santa Fe. Bluetooth connectivity, rear-area climate control and keyless entry are all there; so are steering-wheel audio controls and Blue Link with remote start via its smartphone app. Base models equipped with all-wheel drive also receive an Active Cornering Control feature, as well as a windshield wiper de-icer.
There’s also a Popular Equipment Package the GLS. It adds heated front seats, heated mirrors, fog lamps, a power driver’s seat and roof rails. Opt for the Leather Package and you’ll get all of that, plus side-mirror turn signals, heated second-row seating, power passenger’s seat, heated steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, touch-screen navigation, a reverse camera, and premium audio. There’s not currently a rear-sear entertainment option, and there are no signs that there will be anytime soon. (Turn on your phone’s data hotspot, buy a couple of iPad Minis–problem solved.)
Santa Fe Limited models go to a six-passenger layout with leather upholstery and heated second-row seats, a power front passenger seat, dual-zone climate control, an electroluminescent gauge cluster, a power liftgate, proximity key, push button start, a 115-volt AC power outlet, and 19-inch alloys, among other features.
All Santa Fe Sport crossovers will include a good selection of standard features, including power windows, locks, and mirrors; air conditioning; cruise control; tilt/telescoping steering; steering-wheel audio and phone controls; and 17-inch wheels. The standard audio system is an AM/FM/CD player with satellite radio, USB and auxiliary ports, Bluetooth and audio streaming, and six speakers.
Santa Fe Sports with the turbo four-cylinder include all these features, and add 19-inch wheels and a trailer-towing prep kit.
On either model, a pair of option packages keep the ordering process simple. A leather/premium package adds a power front passenger seat; proximity-based keyless entry and pushbutton start; a slide-and-recline second-row seat with heating; a rearview camera with a 4.3-inch screen; and HD Radio. A technology package brings a panoramic sunroof with a sliding fabric sunshade, a navigation system, a heated steering wheel, and sunshades for the rear passenger windows. There’s a slight difference in audio systems on this latter set of features: base crossovers get an in-house Dimension audio system with 10 speakers, while turbos roll with a powerful 550-watt, 12-speaker Infinity system with surround sound (it’s optional on three-row Santa Fe, too).
The navigation system is updated with improved displays, including speed-limit signs, and voice recognition, and SD card slot for better updating. Pairing a phone to Bluetooth is easier, with pop-up commands, too.
Prices range from about $26,000 for a base Sport to just over $39,000 for a long-wheelbase Santa Fe Limited with all-wheel drive and the Technology package.
The 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe’s fuel economy ranges from pretty decent in front-wheel-drive models, to around average for the respective segments in all-wheel-drive vehicles.
The three-row Santa Fe with front-wheel drive earns 18 mpg city, 25 mpg highway, and only highway mileage suffers–by a single mpg–if you opt for all-wheel drive. If you opt for the Santa Fe Sport with the base 2.4-liter four-cylinder, expect to earn 20/27 mpg for front-wheel-drive models, and 19/25 mpg, respectively, with all-wheel drive. There isn’t much of a penalty for choosing the turbocharged model in this case, which can also run on regular unleaded gasoline. It’s rated at 19/27 mpg for front-drive models, and 18/24 mpg for all-wheel-drive.
Hyundai’s betting that new styling, along with better performance and a more flexible interior, will vault the Santa Fe into the top tier of those ranks. It’s easy to see how its looks will go far. The Santa Fe’s a grown-up ute from the outside alone, and its new two-tone interior makes for one sophisticated crossover. The sharp edges and tight creases wrap around it in interesting new ways, and Hyundai’s hexagonal grille gets its best treatment thus far here, bracketed by headlamps and foglamps. The D-pillar’s upkick and stance remind us a little of the Escape, but the Santa Fe Sport’s shape is more faceted and studied than the Ford’s, no more or less handsome. The longer Santa Fe? It’s a little less distinctive, but as a minivan replacement, it doesn’t need to be flashy. The interior is another bar raised for Hyundai, with some faint GM cues penned in its shield of controls, surrounded by the usual swoops and fluid curves–and trimmed in two-tone materials, an upscale touch that looks better when it’s capped in glossy trim than in faux wood.
Crossovers are all about room and utility, and neither Santa Fe comes up short. The Santa Fe’s front seats are a step up from the most recent Hyundai vintage, with better support built into the bottom cushion. But the second row is where the action is: on some models, the second row slides on a 5.2-inch track for better flexibility, in the same way the seat in the Chevy Equinox moves. The seat also reclines and folds on a 40/20/40 split, making way for longer objects while preserving four seating positions. There’s even some storage space below the cargo floor and even some space for a handbag ahead of the shift lever, though that’ll block access to the audio ports. For three-row models, shoppers have a choice between the 40/20/40 layout or a six-passenger layout with cozy captain’s chairs—and all of these models get Yes Essentials soil-resistant upholstery.
The two-row Santa Fe Sport is offered with both a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine producing 190 horsepower, and a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder producing 264 horsepower. The three-row Santa Fe model is powered by a 3.3-liter V-6 producing 290 horsepower–the same smooth new engine used in the Azera. All three engines feature direct-injection technology and six-speed automatic transmissions for better fuel economy and more power. Front- and all-wheel drive configurations will be offered with both engines. In the Sport, there’s no doubt which engine’s a more convincing trade-off of economy and performance: it’s the turbo by far, which drops only a couple of miles per gallon highway while turning in very capable acceleration. There’s no choice with the Santa Fe, but its V-6 is fairly muscular–strong enough to pull 5000 pounds behind it without add-ons. As for the rest of the Santa Fe driving experience, it’s mainly smoother and more effortless. The automatic sometimes gets caught napping between taps of the throttle, but the powertrains are muted well. The ride’s improved greatly and also grown more quiet–bigger bushings in the independent suspension are engineered for the bigger Santa Fe, but also used on the Sport–but we’d just as soon leave the three-mode electric steering in Normal or Sport, because Comfort’s just too slow for our comfort.
The Santa Fe and Sport have the usual airbags (including a driver knee airbag) and stability control, and the option of all-wheel drive. Bluetooth is standard and a rearview camera is an option on all but the base model. Blind-spot monitors and parking sensors are new options for 2014. The shorter-wheelbase Santa Fe Sport earned top ‘good’ scores in all categories, and the IIHS Top Safety Pick for 2013. It’s also a top five-star performer according to the federal government. But those agencies haven’t yet rated the three-row, longer-wheelbase Santa Fe.
With a base price of about $26,000 for the Sport or about $29,000 for the longer version, the Santa Fe Sport makes the usual Hyundai case for value. It gets power windows, locks, and mirrors; air conditioning; cruise control; tilt/telescoping steering; steering-wheel audio and phone controls; and 17-inch wheels. The standard audio system is an AM/FM/CD player with satellite radio, USB and auxiliary ports, Bluetooth and audio streaming, and six speakers. A panoramic sunroof, Infinity audio, and an improved navigation system lift the Santa Fe to a higher plateau. Push-button start, automatic climate control, and heated-and-cooled front seats are available on some models.
The Santa Fe duo also gets standard Hyundai’s BlueLink telematics system. This OnStar-like system incorporates turn-by-turn navigation and Bluetooth streaming for apps such as Pandora, and works in conjunction with your smartphone and an owner website to set up functions like speed limits and geofencing–setting up limits on where the car can be driven. A BlueLink app for the iPhone will be available, giving consumers the ability to lock and unlock and to start the Santa Fe by remote, too.