2020 Hyundai Santa Fe Review
Offering value, practicality, and lately more than their fair share of head-turning style, Hyundai SUVs are increasingly popular. Just in the past two years, the automaker has redesigned, revamped, or refreshed its entire lineup of crossover SUVs, debuting the tiny Venue, small Kona, and family-sized Palisade while updating the popular Tucson and completely redesigning the Santa Fe.
Now firmly positioned as a 5-passenger midsize SUV, the Santa Fe boasts look-at-me styling and a slew of attractive features and technologies at an undeniably appealing price. Naturally, just a year after its thorough revision, few changes are made to the 2020 Santa Fe. Given its popularity, though, we wanted to examine the SUV within the context of owner data and feedback from the J.D. Power 2019 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.
For this review, J.D. Power evaluated a Hyundai Santa Fe Limited 2.0T equipped with all-wheel drive, and carpeted floor mats. The price came to $40,430, including the $1,095 destination charge.
What Owners Say…
Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the Hyundai Santa Fe, it is helpful to understand who buys this midsize SUV, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.
J.D. Power research shows that 55% of Santa Fe owners are male, compared to 56% across the midsize SUV segment. Santa Fe owners trend older, however, at a median age of 61 years (vs. 56 years). They also have a lower median annual household income at $98,448 (vs. $116,933). A third of Santa Fe owners (33%) call themselves Practical Buyers compared to 28% of all midsize SUV owners.
Naturally, Hyundai Santa Fe owners are less likely to agree that they prefer to buy a vehicle from a domestic company (35% vs. 56% for the segment). The Santa Fe is made in Montgomery, Alabama, which other midsize SUV owners might not realize.
Santa Fe owners are more likely to strongly agree that they avoid vehicles they think will have high maintenance costs (71% vs. 65%). Additionally, they’re more likely to agree that a first consideration when choosing a vehicle is miles per gallon (61% vs. 56%).
On the flip side of the coin, Santa Fe owners are less likely to agree that they like a vehicle that stands out from the crowd (65% vs. 69%), are less likely to agree that they like a vehicle with responsive handling and powerful acceleration (87% vs. 91%), and are less likely to agree that they need a versatile vehicle to accommodate a busy lifestyle (82% vs. 87%).
Owners say their favorite things about the Santa Fe are (in descending order) the exterior styling, the storage and space and the visibility and safety (in a tie), the driving dynamics, and the interior design. Owners indicate their least favorite things about the Santa Fe are (in descending order) the seats, the infotainment system, the climate control system, the engine/transmission, and fuel economy.
What Our Expert Says…
In the sections that follow, our expert provides her own perceptions about how the Hyundai Santa Fe measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the 2019 APEAL Study.
With the 2018 debut of the Kona, Hyundai introduced a new family look for its SUVs, and the design is especially appealing on the Santa Fe. In fact, owners of this vehicle rate exterior styling as their favorite aspect of the vehicle, and it does standard out as a handsome SUV.
With its mesh-textured grille and unique approach to lighting (hint: those narrow upper slits are not the headlights), the Santa Fe looks different and modern. The look isn’t for everyone, but once you get past the SUV’s face the styling is more conventional, including the requisite gray SUV-style cladding and, with Limited trim, thick chrome highlight trim.
The test vehicle came with 19-inch wheels featuring a rather complex design, but they complemented the Santa Fe’s overall look.
The Santa Fe’s interior is tasteful, if a bit my test vehicle came in. Matte metal dashboard trim, a classy gray heathered headliner, and white contrast stitching brightened things up some. Even the speaker covers are worthy of note, adding visual interest through an unusual quilted texturing.
Easily, the least impressive thing about the Santa Fe’s interior is the glossy and slippery hard plastic covering the lower half of the cabin. This otherwise high-quality vehicle deserves better. At a minimum, Hyundai ought to consider coating the panels up front in a low-gloss, low-slip finish.
My family of four found the Santa Fe mighty comfortable. Thanks to a typical fall heat wave in Southern California, we didn’t have much use for the heated front and rear seats or the heated steering wheel. My husband and I did, however, enjoy the ventilated front seats and, in spite of the huge panoramic glass sunroof, the Santa Fe’s air conditioning blew cold enough that we didn’t need it blasting the entirety of every drive.
Another big plus in my household is the Santa Fe’s available 8-way power adjustable front passenger’s seat. The seats themselves don’t envelope you in plush comfort, but the wide and flat cushions do provide good long-distance support. The Limited’s driver’s seat even supplied a cushion extension for better leg support during long drives.
Our kids appreciated the panoramic roof, the rear side window shades, the air conditioning vents, and the dual quick-charge USB ports. There’s plenty of room for adults in the Santa Fe’s back seat, too, and you sit up high on a cushion that provides excellent leg support.
Climate Control System
Hyundai offers a dual-zone automatic climate control system in the Santa Fe, equipped with a Clean Air ionizer and a refreshingly simple interface of clearly marked buttons and knobs.
While driving, the air conditioning is exceptionally effective. However, when stuck in traffic or while sitting at long traffic lights, the Santa Fe’s interior can heat quickly while the engine’s automatic stop/start system is engaged. Most of the time this isn't an issue, but during a hot week in Los Angeles, the trait called negative attention to itself.
The Santa Fe’s infotainment system is model for how this technology is done right. While it could use a display screen larger than the current maximum of 8 inches, the touchscreen is located high on the dashboard and close to the driver where it is easy to see and use.
Knobs control the stereo, and the tuning knob doubles as a navigation map zoom when that feature is displayed on the screen. Infotainment menu shortcut buttons surround the screen, helping to make it easy to find what you need.
Additionally, the Santa Fe supplies both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and all trim levels except for the base version get a complimentary 3-year subscription to Blue Link services. This includes important safety and remote services like automatic collision notification, SOS emergency assistance, safe teen driving features, remote engine starting, and more.
The test vehicle also had a wireless charging pad, which is always a welcome perk.
Storage and Space
Behind the Santa Fe’s rear seats you’ll find 35.9 cu.-ft. of space, with a useful bin on the side of the load floor, and two sets of bins underneath the floor that help to keep things from rolling around. We used them to securely haul Halloween pumpkins.
Fold the 60/40-split rear seats down to maximize space at 71.3 cu.-ft. This is in line with other 5-passenger midsize SUVs.
Throughout the cabin, there are plenty of useful bins, like the one in the back of the center console where rear seat passengers can stow their phones. The center console bin itself, however, should be larger.
The Santa Fe’s hands-free liftgate is also helpful, in part because it doesn’t require you to perform a chicken dance while hopping about on one foot trying to find a sensor under the bumper. Instead, it senses the key fob’s presence, and after three seconds it will automatically power open. However, if you’re simply in proximity of the Santa Fe’s back end and have no intention of opening the liftgate, this feature will still spring into action, creating a nuisance. Owners can deactivate the function using the driver information center, if it is preferable to keep it turned off.
Visibility and Safety
Like everyone who has little ones to shuttle, safety is of paramount importance, and the Santa Fe delivers with a standard suite safety features including forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, and lane keeping assist.
The Santa Fe also includes a driver monitoring system that can recommend taking a break if it senses that you’re sleepy or distracted. A rear door alert system is designed to prevent parents of children or pets from accidentally leaving a child or animal in the car.
Upgrades include adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability, a blind spot monitoring system, rear cross-traffic alert, and rear automatic braking. Safe Exit Assist is also available, designed to prevent occupants from opening the Santa Fe’s doors when traffic or cyclists are approaching from behind.
An upgraded Ultrasonic Rear Occupant Alert can detect motion inside of the SUV, flashing the lights, sounding the horn, and issuing text messages to drivers if a baby or pet has accidentally been left behind and woke up after you left and locked the Santa Fe.
New for 2020, the Santa Fe’s Blind View Monitor feature supplements the blind spot monitoring system, using cameras to project an image of what’s on either side of the SUV onto the instrument cluster. Personally, I didn’t find this feature to be of particular use.
The multi-view camera system, however, is terrific. The Santa Fe offers great visibility all around, and with this feature parking and maneuvering is easy. The available head-up display is also terrific, providing a comprehensive collection of data ranging from speed and safety status to navigation directions and blind-spot warnings.
In crash testing, the Santa Fe performs superbly, earning a 5-atar overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and a Top Safety Pick Plus rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Two engines are available in the Santa Fe, and its easy to recommend the more powerful turbocharged, 235-horsepower 2.0-liter 4-cylinder over the standard 185-hp 2.4-liter 4-cylinder. And the reason is torque, to the tune of 260 lb.-ft. peaking between 1,450 and 3,500 rpm.
While this makes the Santa Fe feel strong when accelerating from a stop, there is a 2,500 rpm gap between where torque starts trailing off and horsepower is still ramping up. In this range, the Santa Fe can feel a bit winded, and if you’re in Comfort or Smart mode the 8-speed automatic transmission isn’t in much of a hurry to downshift. Even in Sport mode, response wasn’t entirely satisfying.
Otherwise, the automatic was agreeable, in part because instead of using buttons or switches it has a classic PRNDL shifter that feels hewn from granite when you use it. And while we didn’t have a chance to test the all-wheel-drive system, previous experience with the latest Santa Fe in the wilds of Utah show that this Hyundai can go places you’d never imagine it could.
Over more than 800 miles of driving, more than half of which was at highway speeds, the Santa Fe Limited 2.0T AWD test vehicle averaged 21.3 mpg. That’s in the same neighborhood as the EPA rating. Official estimates are 20 mpg in the city, 26 mpg on the highway, and 22 mpg in combined driving.
Still, Santa Fe owners rank fuel economy as their least favorite thing about the SUV. Given that the bigger and heavier Palisade, which has a 291-hp, 3.8-liter V6 engine, is rated to deliver about 21 mpg with AWD.
When it comes to driving dynamics, the Santa Fe delivers what you expect from a modern crossover SUV. That is to say: no drama.
While driving enthusiasts won’t find much inspiration here, daily drivers will be quite happy with the connected ride quality, expertly managed body motions, tight turning radius, responsive brakes, and well-weighted steering. You can even toss it around a little without concern.
The Santa Fe isn’t necessarily a fun vehicle to drive, but nothing about its dynamic tuning makes it unpleasant to drive, either.
Boasting loads of practicality and tons of useful technology that you’ll enjoy using every day, the 2020 Hyundai Santa Fe is an exceptional value in the growing 5-passenger crossover SUV segment. And, it’s always worth mentioning the SUV’s unbeatable warranty.
Dynamically, the Santa Fe isn’t a standout in its class. But as a stylish daily driver, it might just be perfect, the kind of set-it-and-forget vehicle that makes your life easier.