Segment-jumping at its best


Driving the (really new) Hyundai Santa Fe


The new Hyundai Santa Fe has some very big shoes to fill. The extremely popular SUV did well for several model generations because it had a much-desired combination of value, flexibility, and comfort. This new one is short-listed for the World Car Of The Year Awards already. How does it stack up to both its history and its anticipation?

The new vehicle is a stunner. Walking up to it, especially in the daring new colors being offered, makes you think sleek and sizable. And very alluring. Straight lines draw you in where you used to see more swoopiness and curves. This is a trend to the more modern large SUVs, yes, but does that mean the Hyundai Santa Fe is different past the looks?

Happily, the new vehicle seems to be as comfortable and practical-oriented as it has always been. The interior followed the straight sleek and somewhat boxy lines of the exterior, and that actually seemed to create space while still giving a feel of softness through the choice of materials and finishing. The front area between the seats alone had space enough for two wireless charging pads for two large phones but it also had the needed ports to connect to audio/entertainment. Yet, this didn’t seem to take too much space away from the passenger or driver. Instrumentation and screen are on a piece that floated in front of and on top of the dashboard, so the info and access were complete, while still giving the feel of a full-sweeping surface behind it. This has been a trend lately, as opposed to dedicated pods and nacelles for increasingly large screens. It is nice to see it being used so well here. That screen sweeps over towards the passenger side but stops after the center console, so the passenger can easily access infotainment. Below it, and above the floor-mounted center console, sit the knobs and switches to control things like temperature and airflow in a nice and easy tactile way. Much appreciated. The switches for things like drive mode selection, parking assist and the like are also there, arranged in a ‘smoothish’ line that follows the design language quite well while still being quick and easy to access.

The Santa Fe has always been about usability and space, and in the second row the attention to detail continues while also having more usable space thanks to the increased dimensions. The second-row seats are easy to enter and exit and adjust, and there are spaces and compartments and cubbyholes all over. The center console storage area can be accessed from the back, making it even more usable. The third row is ample if you need it, but the big increase in size benefits most the first and second row which is where it is most used anyway.

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How does the car drive with all this mass and space? We drove it with a 1.6-liter hybrid up and around curvy mountain roads. This powerplant was meant for the US market and skewed for more electric use, but it showed how Hyundai dealt with the increased weight and size. The new Santa Fe follows the family line of comfort, and it isn’t a ‘handling car’ but it does settle easily into corners with stability and smoothness.

If you are familiar with the previous Santa Fe models, this will feel like a big jump forward, much more of a head-turner than before. It almost feels a segment above already, though Hyundai says it is not, at least, for some global markets. We think it is. You will be happy with the attention to detail that makes things easier, like the use of space in the interior and the hidden handholds on the exterior that allow you to step up for any rooftop storage or cleaning.

We have been spending a lot of time with the full electric Hyundais such as the Ioniq 5 and 6, which are both multiple winners for previous World Car Of The Year Awards. It is very nice to see that the Santa Fe can still provide real-world value to real-world families while also taking advantage of the strengths and forward-thinking shown by the other cars in the group.