In deep segment, Korea has its act together

Midsize crossovers are plentiful. They’re among the most popular vehicles on our roads today. As such, the 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe has its work cut out for it. After all, this is the segment of such titans as the Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Traverse, Nissan Pathfinder, Honda Pilot, and Toyota Highlander.

Those who pay attention to the vehicles around them on the road every day probably see a lot of midsize crossovers. It’s a super-popular class. Right-sized and relatively budget-friendly, these are the station wagons of our day.

With so much competition, it would be easy to get lost in the crowd. Ask Mazda’s CX-9 – the slowest-selling in this class in the 2016 calendar year, not counting the oddball, high-priced Volkswagen Touareg. With that in mind, Korean automaker Hyundai has its act together, and sales bear this out: The company moved 131,257 Santa Fes in 2016, an 11.1-percent increase over the year prior.

Continue reading for the full story.

Exterior

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe – Driven High Resolution Exterior
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Hyundai’s exterior style has really come together in the last few years, and the Santa Fe is no exception.

The 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe wears Hyundai’s family grille up front, framed by large headlights streaking back to the fenders. A vertical stack of LEDs sits low on either side below the headlights, and a wide, functional air inlet rounds out the lower fascia.

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe – Driven High Resolution Exterior
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2017 Hyundai Santa Fe – Driven High Resolution Exterior
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2017 Hyundai Santa Fe – Driven High Resolution Exterior
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2017 Hyundai Santa Fe – Driven High Resolution Exterior
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The 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe wears Hyundai’s family grille up front, framed by large headlights streaking back to the fenders.

From the side view, the 2017 Santa Fe is inoffensive, if somewhat hard to pick out of a crowd. The window line sweeps upward as it travels back, as does a horizontal crease that starts at the front wheel well and travels through both door handles on its way to the top of the taillight. Black plastic cladding lines the bottom of the body, protecting from road debris and adding a rugged design cue.

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe – Driven High Resolution Exterior
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2017 Hyundai Santa Fe – Driven High Resolution Exterior
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2017 Hyundai Santa Fe – Driven High Resolution Exterior
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2017 Hyundai Santa Fe – Driven High Resolution Exterior
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At the rear, taillights sweep up at their outer edges, with a big rear glass that mimics the shape leading up to a discreet spoiler with integrated third brake light. The motif is repeated in the license plate mounting area. The bumper is chunky and supported by a faux diffuser that houses two rhomboid exhaust outlets.

The design is cohesive and, to Hyundai’s credit, original. It’s not going to set anyone’s heart on fire with sex appeal – but neither will its competitors, mind you.

Exterior Dimensions

Wheelbase (Inches) 110.2
Overall length (Inches) 193.1
Overall width (Inches) 74.2
Overall height (with roof rack) (Inches) 66.5
Wheel Tread, front/rear (Inches) 64.1/64.5
Coefficient of Drag (Cd) 0.34

Interior

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe – Driven High Resolution Interior
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Inside the 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe is a nice place to be. My tester was a Limited Ultimate trim and featured soft tan leather seats with contrasting black dash and console trim. Also present was a glass roof that let in tons of light and made the interior feel airy.

Sizewise, the Santa Fe offers plenty for families on-the-go. Front and middle-row occupants get just shy of 40 inches of headroom. Those same two rows get 41.3 and 40.4 inches of legroom, respectively. If you have to use the third row, it offers 35.7 inches of headroom and 30.9 inches of legroom.

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe – Driven High Resolution Interior
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2017 Hyundai Santa Fe – Driven High Resolution Interior
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2017 Hyundai Santa Fe – Driven High Resolution Interior
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2017 Hyundai Santa Fe – Driven High Resolution Interior
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As for cargo, families who are only using those first two rows get a generous 40.9 cubic feet of space behind the second row. Using the third row cuts that down to 13.5 cubic feet.

Front and middle-row seats are all-day comfortable. The driver’s seat in my tester offered four-way lumbar support in addition to heating and ventilation.

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe – Driven High Resolution Interior
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2017 Hyundai Santa Fe – Driven High Resolution Interior
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My sons, ages 5 and 1, enjoyed the middle row captain’s chairs and that glass roof. My wife and I were easily comfortable in the front, and there was ample room in the back for us to haul a load of bulk grocery items from the local discount warehouse once we stowed the third row.

Interior Dimensions

Headroom front/middle/rear (Inches) 39.9/39.4/35.7
Leg room front/middle/rear (Inches) 41.3/40.4/30.9
Shoulder room front/middle/rear (Inches) 59.4/58.3/53.9
Hip room front/middle/rear (Inches) 56.7/55.4/44.1
Passenger Volume (cu ft) 146.6
Cargo volume behind 3rd row seats/2nd row seats/1st row seats (cu ft) 13.5/40.9/80.0

Driving Experience

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe – Driven High Resolution Interior
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The 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe drove silky smooth when commuting, even on the poor roads and construction zones near my home. The suspension did an excellent job soaking up jarring seams and potholes, and those imperfections were not transmitted to the steering wheel.

Of course, that tends to be the weakness of many vehicles nowadays, especially in the crossover category: numb, non-communicative steering. But nobody buys a midsize, front-wheel drive crossover expecting the handling of a Ferrari.

Hyundai deserves praise for sticking with the six-speed automatic transmission in the Santa Fe instead of going for more speeds like some manufacturers. The transmission was predictable in its behavior and never hunted for the right gear like some eight- and nine-speed units I have experienced.

There was a manual shift gate to the right of “D,” but even when passing slower traffic on a two-lane road, I never had to use it. The transmission remained smoother than most dual-clutch transmissions at low speeds and when parking. Hyundai should take note, since it saw fit to equip the latest version of the smaller Tucson with a DCT. I prefer the smoothness of the Santa Fe’s traditional automatic.

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe – Driven High Resolution Exterior
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The Santa Fe’s 3.3-liter gasoline V6 engine is powerful, with 290 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 252 pound-feet of torque at 5,200 rpm.

The Santa Fe’s 3.3-liter gasoline V6 engine is powerful, with 290 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 252 pound-feet of torque at 5,200 rpm. Unless you toe into the throttle pretty heavily, the engine remains unobtrusive, quietly helping you check off your errands.

EPA rates the Santa Fe at 18 mpg city, 25 mpg highway, 21 mpg combined in front-wheel drive trim. Knock one mile per gallon off the highway and combined numbers if you want all-wheel drive. That’s about par for V-6 entries in this class. However, there are four-cylinder offerings cropping up now that can do better. For instance, the newly redesigned GMC Acadia registers 21 mpg city, 26 mpg highway, 23 mpg combined.

In my testing, I averaged on the high side of the EPA estimates, with 23.8 mpg reported on the trip computer after my test week driving country backroads most of the time with very little time idling.

Drivetrain Specifications

Engine 3.3-liter GDI DOHC 24-valve V6
Horsepower 290 HP @ 6,400 RPM
Torque 252 LB-FT @ 5,200 RPM
Transmission 6-speed electronic automatic
Curb weight FWD/AWD 5,512/5,622 Lbs
Towing capacity 2,000 Lbs
Fuel economy city/highway/combined 18/25/21

Competitors

GMC Acadia

2017 GMC Acadia
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2017 GMC Acadia
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I reviewed the newly redesigned Acadia not too long ago. I give its design the edge over Santa Fe. I also liked its driving manners better. It was a bit stiffer than Santa Fe, with better steering feel and handling as a result.

The leather in the GMC felt thicker than that of the Santa Fe. This likely has to do with GMC’s use of grain and texture more than any actual difference in thickness. Hyundai prefers smooth, clean-looking leather surfaces. However, on frequently touched areas such as the steering wheel, this can feel lower-quality.

The Acadia available four-cylinder engine will return better fuel economy than the Santa Fe’s 3.3-liter V-6. However, if equipped with the 3.6-liter V-6, expect very similar fuel economy in the GMC.

Pricing is a wash. Both start at about $30,000 and top out nearly $20,000 north of that, if loaded with every possible option package.

Read more about the GMC Acadia here.

Nissan Pathfinder

2017 Nissan Pathfinder High Resolution Exterior
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2017 Nissan Pathfinder High Resolution Exterior
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The Pathfinder is even softer-sprung than the Santa Fe, but that suits its character and delivers one of the smoothest driving experiences in the segment. Adding to this sense of softness is buttery soft leather seating in the top trim levels.

Like Hyundai, Nissan only offers a V-6 – no four-banger here. But unlike Hyundai, Nissan utilizes a continuously variable transmission for all Pathfinders. The result is slightly better fuel economy despite comparable engine power and torque. The Pathfinder is rated at 20 mpg city, 27 mpg highway, and 23 mpg combined in front-wheel drive guise.

Hyundai beats Nissan on the infotainment experience. Pathfinder’s infotainment is among the oldest in the industry. While it does offer Bluetooth handsfree calling and music streaming, it lacks Santa Fe’s Android Auto/Apple CarPlay capability. Also, Pathfinder’s controls are less intuitive.

Again, pricing is competitive between the Pathfinder and the Santa Fe. Base Pathfinders start at about $30,000 and top out just shy of $50,000 if loaded with all options.

Find out more about the Nissan Pathfinder here.

Toyota Highlander

2017 Toyota Highlander Wallpaper quality
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2017 Toyota Highlander
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Toyota has won a lot of buyers in this segment with its Highlander. A refreshed design for the 2017 model year kept the model relevant with handsome good looks, while Toyota continued to develop things buyers in the segment want, such as safety and infotainment tech. Those efforts have paid off: Toyota sold more Highlanders in 2016 than in any year since the model’s introduction. It outsold Santa Fe by some 60,000 units that year.

Toyota gives buyers one of the widest powertrain selections in the segment, offering a four-cylinder engine, a strong 295-horsepower V-6, and a hybrid model. The hybrid is good for an EPA-estimated 30 mpg city, 28 mpg highway, and 29 mpg combined. Those opting for the non-hybrid, V-6 model get a new eight-speed automatic transmission and stop-start engine technology to bring fuel economy to a respectable 27 mpg highway, according to EPA.

I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but a Highlander offers the same basic pricing spread as the Santa Fe, albeit with many more options and trim levels along the way. Base Highlanders start at $30,630 and work their way up to $47,880 for a hybrid model in Limited Platinum all-wheel drive trim.

Read our full review on the Toyota Highlander here.

Conclusion

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe – Driven High Resolution Exterior
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Hyundai is right in the thick of this segment. Iif you’re the type of shopper who is looking for the kind of practicality, size, and utility offered by midsize crossovers, you’ll probably appreciate it as a quiet, capable, competitive offering.

Hyundai packs a lot of equipment into the loaded Santa Fe at a price that will make you look twice – ours had every option except all-wheel drive and carried an MSRP of $42,885.

It’s not the sports car of the segment. That honor probably goes to the Dodge Durango, which I did not include in the comparisons above because it is based on a rear-wheel drive platform. But to get serious performance from the Durango or its close cousin, the Jeep Grand Cherokee, requires a serious investment in an SRT package.

In sum, those of us who use our daily drivers for grocery-getting and kid-hauling will find a lot to like in the 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe. The minority of drivers who have delusions of driving at the Indy 500 might find it a bit disappointing. As Fats Domino sang, “Ain’t That a Shame?” For the price of an SRT Grand Cherokee, those folks could buy a Santa Fe and a weekend/track toy – like, say, a Fiata.

Disclosure: Hyundai provided the vehicle, insurance, and one tank of gas for this review.

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