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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Hyundai Santa Fe: Three-row crossover pursues value strategy

Its attractive base price, generous features packages and standard V-6 powerplant helps sustain the Santa Fe’s viability in the face of fresher competition. (Hyundai)
Its attractive base price, generous features packages and standard V-6 powerplant helps sustain the Santa Fe’s viability in the face of fresher competition. (Hyundai)

Last week, we noted the ways strategic automakers steep their lineups in pools of shared DNA.

"Driving one tells you all you need to know about the rest,” we said.

We used a pair of Mazda crossovers — the CX-5 and CX-9 — as our test cases. Their superior driving dynamics and engaging personalities constituted our points of departure.

Takes shared-DNA strategy to its limit

Today’s tester, the three-row Hyundai Santa Fe crossover, adds to our sample but extends the shared-DNA strategy a step beyond Mazda’s. The Santa Fe shares more than DNA with its smaller, five-passenger Santa Fe Sport.

The two rigs ride on the same platform and aside from size and power trains are essentially the same rig.

Think of the midsize Santa Fe as an extended version of the compact Sport. It’s longer by 8.1 inches and its wheelbase grows 3.9 inches. 

The extra length makes room for a two-person third-row bench and boosts cargo space.

Next-gen version on its way

The Santa Fe sibs are senior members of their respective segments and will be replaced this summer with their fourth-generation successors. The Sport name will be phased out this year and today’s three-row Santa Fe will be rebadged as the Santa Fe XL.

In 2019, Hyundai plans to replace the XL with an all-new, as-yet-unnamed, eight-passenger vehicle.

As is its wont, Hyundai pursues the value angle with its crossovers. The Santa Fe’s attractive base price ($30,850), lengthy features packages and generous warranty help sustain its viability in the face of fresher competition.

It also earns top safety marks; on the strength of their performance in the passenger-side small overlap front test and the improved-headlight rating, both Santa Fes earn the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) Top Safety Pick+ rating.

Smooth ride, quiet cabin

The Santa Fe is a smooth-riding rig and, for a car of its years, cabin noise is surprisingly subdued. Cabin design is dated and the instrument control panel is festooned with buttons; still, its touchscreen-based infotainment system is one of the industry’s quickest and most user-friendly offerings.

What the Santa Fe is not is engaging or dynamic in the way of the Mazdas. It’s relaxed and settled at speed but on our curvy and undulating two-lane west of town, it was given to excessive body lean. 

Steering is nicely weighted and has a good on-center groove but it’s neither quick nor communicative. The Santa Fe is prone to understeer on corner entry and is not thrilled when asked to execute quick lane changes. 

Strong but thirsty V-6

Where Mazda’s crossovers enjoy the occasional romp, Hyundai’s are happiest when charged with getting the goods from Point A to Point B with minimal drama.

The Santa Fe is powered by a strong but thirsty 3.3-liter V-6 that makes 290 horsepower. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard.

Properly equipped, the Santa Fe is tow-rated to 5000 pounds.

All-wheel-drive trims are equipped with Active Cornering Control (ACC). In corners, ACC scrubs speed from the inside front wheel to add stability in slippery conditions. A windshield wiper de-icer is also standard on AWD trims. 

Three years free Bluelink coverage

Last year, Hyundai updated the Santa Fe with revised exterior styling, LED accent lighting and infotainment system upgrades. For 2019, it deletes one midlevel trim and on the rest offers three-year’s free coverage under its Blue Link telematics service.

Blue Link bundles collision-notification coverage, emergency assistance and stolen-vehicle recovery services. Secondary services include remote Door lock, Remote Start with Climate Control, Destination Search by Google and the Monthly Vehicle Health Report, some of which can be accessed via smartphone, smartwatch and virtual-assistance devices like Amazon Alexa and Google Home.  

Standard features include a rearview camera, automatic on/off headlights, remote keyless entry, body-color power side mirrors with driver’s blind-spot mirror, LED headlight accents, daytime running lights, steering-wheel-mounted audio and cruise control and Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity.

Over the next two years, Hyundai plans to surgically separate these conjoined Santa Fes. For now, though, there’s no better example of automotive siblings whose DNA is inextricably linked.

Contact Don at

2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited Ultimate AWD
Vehicle base price: $30,850
Trim level base price: $41,300
As tested: $44,500
Options: adaptive cruise control with stop/start; automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection; lane-departure warning; electronic parking brake; high-intensity discharge headlights; dynamic bending headlights; high-beam assist; carpeted floor mats.
Tow rating: 5000 pounds
EPA rating: 19 combined/17 city/22 highway

Don Adair
Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer.