2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Review
Liz Kim | Feb 07, 2018
IntroductionSometimes, people don't want the latest and greatest product, or the flashiest bauble. When it comes to vehicles for family hauling duty or delivering a peaceful commute, to many, little else matters but a car or SUV or minivan that offers plenty of safety, comfort, power, and features. And the simpler it is to live with, the better.
Five years ago, Hyundai figured this out with its three-row, midsize crossover SUV, the Santa Fe. Since then, this vehicle hasn't seen any drastic transformations. Nevertheless, it remains a solid choice in its segment, equipped with everything modern families want, and at a terrific value.
What Owners SayFor this review, J.D. Power evaluated a top-of-the-line version of the Hyundai Santa Fe, in Limited Ultimate trim equipped with the Tech Package and a set of floor mats. The price came to $42,750, including the $950 destination charge.Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the Santa Fe, it is helpful to understand who buys this Midsize SUV, and what they like most and least about their Santa Fes.
Compared to the segment, Santa Fe owners are more often female, are slightly older, and earn less money. J.D. Power data shows that 49% of Santa Fe owners are women (vs. 41% for the segment), they are 58 years old in terms of median age (vs. 56), and they earn $104,934 in terms of median annual household income (vs. $113,384).
Santa Fe owners are cost conscious. They are more likely to agree that that they avoid vehicles that they think will have high maintenance costs (95% vs. 91% for the segment), and that their first consideration in choosing a new vehicle is fuel economy (62% vs. 56%).
Along similar lines, Santa Fe owners are less likely to agree that they will pay more for a vehicle that is environmentally friendly (45% vs. 52%), and they are less likely to agree that they will pay extra to ensure their vehicle has the latest safety features (79% vs. 83%).
Image and utility are less important to Santa Fe owners, too. Compared to the segment averages, 65% of Santa Fe owners agree that they like a vehicle that stands out from the crowd (vs. 70%). Additionally, more Santa Fe owners report that to them a vehicle is just a way of getting place to place (41% vs. 36%). Finally, 83% of Santa Fe owners require a versatile vehicle that accommodates their busy lifestyle (vs. 88%).
Owners report that their favorite things about the Santa Fe are (in descending order) the exterior styling, interior design, driving dynamics, storage and space, and visibility and safety. Owners indicate that their least favorite things about the Santa Fe are (in descending order) the seats, infotainment system, engine/transmission, climate system, and by a wide margin, fuel economy.
What Our Expert SaysIn 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 2017 APEAL Study.
ExteriorSanta Fe owners love the way their vehicle looks, and for good reason. It is handsome, if not exactly distinctive.
Sleek and smooth, the Santa Fe has grown a bit too familiar, but its lack of boxy toughness and conservative design cues is refreshing. Compared to protuberance-laden crossovers like the Volkswagen Atlas, or the oddly minivan-ish Honda Pilot, the Hyundai Santa Fe is downright spiffy. It certainly does, however, lack the deftly conveyed ruggedness of a Chevrolet Traverse, or the upscale appeal of the Mazda CX-9.
InteriorSpeaking of Chevy, the Santa Fe's interior approaches Bowtie levels of visual cacophony. Though the test vehicle's high-contrast, two-tone, beige and dark brown color scheme was distinctive it was not quite cohesive.
Within the Santa Fe, there are plenty of textures, angles and seams to keep your hands and eyes busy, topped off by a plethora of metallic trim bits that unconvincingly frame vents, gauges, and other highlights. The Santa Fe could certainly use an upgrade in terms of its materials, too, in order to replace the brittle, hard plastics that inhabit the lower part of the cabin.
Still, it is important to note that owners of this SUV disagree with my assessment, and view the SUV's cabin favorably.
SeatsBoth the driver and front passenger get the choice seats in the house, as my test vehicle included heated and ventilated front chairs complete with multi-way power adjustment. (It's always good to report the presence of a front passenger's seat height adjuster, a much-appreciated feature that is often left out in other vehicles.)
Bolstering is good, as is thigh support, although I wished for a height adjustable center armrest because it was too low to be of any use with the driver's seat placed in my preferred position.
The Limited Ultimate trim level includes standard second-row captain's chairs, limiting the Santa Fe's seating capacity to six. However, it also gave each of my children clearly defined geographic zones to claim as their own. The kids also valued the manual window shades especially with low winter sunlight angling in from the sides of the vehicle.
As can be expected, the third-row seat is for those passengers who draw the short straw. There is very little leg, foot, or shoulder room and sparse cushioning and support make it unacceptable for anyone but kids who don't care about such things. In seeming acknowledgment of this shortcoming, Hyundai offers solace in the form of a separate climate control panel and a USB charging port. If you frequently carry more than five people, you should consider a more accommodating vehicle in order to remain a popular carpool parent.
Climate Control SystemWhich do you adjust more often when your car has automatic climate control? Temperature or fan speed?
If you said fan speed, you'll love the Santa Fe's oversized knob for this function. If you said temperature, you'll be less enamored of the rocker switches used to tap-tap-tap up and down to find greater comfort.
Personally, I prefer temperature knobs. Nevertheless, the Santa Fe's climate system is easy to figure out and to use. It also includes a CleanAir ionizer that aims to keep the air in the cabin smell-free, but I can't say I discerned any noticeable differences when my children were in the vehicle.
Infotainment SystemThe Santa Fe's infotainment setup emphasizes ease of use, but is visually dated. Its 8-inch touchscreen display relies on old-school graphics, and looks increasingly small in comparison to more modern systems.
With that said, it does incorporate all of the latest in technology, including Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, as well as Blue Link subscription services (now included for free for three full years, starting with the 2018 model).
Furthermore, this system is simple to understand and to use. For example, I certainly appreciated the power/volume knob and separate tuning knob, and I still appreciate a CD player, even though it's a fast-disappearing medium.
Storage and SpaceDespite its tidy exterior appearance, the Santa Fe delivers cargo numbers that are comparable to other midsize crossovers with a third-row seat squeezed in. Behind it, the Santa Fe supplies just 13.5 cu.-ft. of space. That's not much, because in order to use all of it you'll need to pack to the roof. Therefore, most of the time, you'll likely want to fold it down to enjoy 41 cu.-ft. of cargo volume. With both rows of seatbacks in the prone position you'll have 80 cu.-ft. of volume.
Thoughtfully, Hyundai provides a covered bin in the rear cargo floor in which to carry a few bags of groceries. There's also a useful household-style power outlet back there. In the cabin, the Santa Fe's numerous cubbies and bins should allow everyone to stow their small, loose belongings.
Visibility and SafetyA tall vantage point, slender windshield pillars, and a sloping hood make for an easy view out, but the wedge-shaped rear quarter windows will make you thankful for the Santa Fe's available blind-spot monitoring system (which is paired with rear cross-traffic alert and lane change assist).
Blind spot monitoring is one of several driver assistance and collision avoidance systems offered for the Santa Fe. As a part of the SE or Limited Ultimate Tech Packages, adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, and lane-departure warning systems can be installed, along with automatic high-beam HID headlights that swivel to help the driver to see around dark corners.
It's worth calling out the fact that as of January 1, 2018 the Santa Fe was the only three-row utility vehicle to get a "Top Safety Pick Plus" designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), meaning that meets or exceeds all evaluation parameters of this increasingly rigorous testing program. The Santa Fe also receives an overall rating of 5 stars from the NHTSA.
If you want a vehicle that protects you and your occupants in the event of a collision, you can't do much better than the 2018 Santa Fe.
Engine/TransmissionPop open the hood of the 2018 Santa Fe and you'll find a 290-horsepower 3.3-liter V6, a smooth, quiet engine that gets you to your desired speed in a refined manner. Power is delivered to the front wheels through a 6-speed automatic transmission that provides decisive shifts. All-wheel drive is an option for $1,750.
While commendable thrust is available across the engine's rev range and in a wide array of circumstances, there is little to be noted about this particular powertrain. It just works, drawing little attention to itself in the process. You'll enjoy spirited acceleration, drama-free passing, and plenty of mountain-climbing power.
Fuel EconomyWith front-wheel drive and Limited Ultimate trim, the EPA says to expect about 20 mpg in combined driving. That is exactly what I got on my test loop.
While Santa Fe owners cite fuel economy as the least satisfying aspect of owning this SUV, based on my experience it gets what the window sticker says it will. Plus, there is an Eco driving mode that might help light-footed drivers to maximize efficiency.
Driving DynamicsDriving a Santa Fe is unremarkable. Steering is accurate enough, but delivers little in the way of feel. The brakes are properly calibrated and easy to modulate for daily driving, but fade under duress. A forgiving suspension makes the Santa Fe a peaceful companion, but is uninspiring when the road turns curvy.
This is not a vehicle that brings a devilish smile to its driver, but it certainly is a fair-mannered addition to family adventures that, according to J.D. Power data, satisfies its owners despite its lack of personality.
The 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe may not be a vehicle that stands out in one particular area or the other (aside from safety), but as a whole package it's quite likeable.
It offers a smartly designed exterior, functional cargo- and people-carrying utility, and all the latest in tech features. It's also easy to own, featuring warranty, roadside assistance, and infotainment service programs that collectively are tough to beat.
Take it all together, and the Hyundai Santa Fe represents a wise choice in the midsize crossover SUV segment.
Hyundai Motor Co. supplied the vehicle used for this 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe review.
Subscribe to the J.D. Power Newsletter
You are now subscribed to the J.D. Power Cars Newsletter.
Explore new car previews
2020 Subaru Outback Preview
Read the full review
Introduced at the 2019 New York International Auto Show, the 2020 Subaru Outback has been optimized to offer better fuel efficiency, a quieter and safer ride, boosted technology, and turbocharged power, which is something Subaru hasn’t given its Outback in over ten years.
2020 Mazda CX-30 Preview
Read the full review
Based on the redesigned Mazda 3 platform, the new 2020 Mazda CX-30 is larger and more sophisticated than a Mazda CX-3, but smaller and sportier than a Mazda CX-5.
2020 Toyota Supra Preview
Read the full review
Developed in partnership with BMW, the 2020 Toyota Supra is set to debuts in the summer of 2019. It is a cousin to the recently introduced third-generation BMW Z4.