2015 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited AWD Review
By Ken Glassman
These days, it seems like everyone loves the sport utility vehicle, and it’s the most hotly contested segment in the car market. Whether it’s the compact, midsize, or large version, the family hauler is now usually some form of SUV. And Hyundai’s Santa Fe models are serious players in that segment.
For those looking for a smaller midsize SUV, the Santa Fe Sport is Hyundai’s entry ticket. It seats five adults and their cargo comfortably and offers a choice of two different 4-cyclindar gas engines — a 2.4 liter making 190hp, and a 2.0 liter turbo that puts out an entertaining 265hp.
Our test vehicle, however, is the larger Santa Fe LTD, with all-wheel-drive. This 8.5” longer version can be equipped either as a 6 or 7 passenger vehicle depending whether you want a 3-person passenger bench seat or two captain’s chairs in the second row. We drove and enjoyed the 6-passenger model, which will compete with the Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot.
The 3-row Santa Fe’s have just one drivetrain, a direct-injected, 3.3-liter V6 engine, the same as in the Azera, producing 290 hp and mated to a 6-speed manumatic transmission which lets you shift through the gears yourself with the shift lever – no paddle shifters. Front-wheel drive (FWD) is standard, but all-wheel drive (AWD) is optional. Fuel economy is average for this crossover, and in AWD Limited form, it’s rated at 17 mpg city/22 highway/19 combined using regular unleaded fuel.
The V-6 may not be the most fuel efficient, but there is plenty of get up and go, to move this large vehicle away from stop lights and to merge onto highways. It will also haul up to 5,000 pounds in case a small boat or motorcycle trailer is part of the family lifestyle.
For 2015, Hyundai has enhanced the steering system with better electronics. There are push buttons for Normal, Sport and Comfort settings, but truthfully, there’s not a lot of difference between the three settings. We kept it in Normal or Sport. Ride quality has been improved with larger bushings in the independent suspension, and lateral stiffness is also improved. You get a comfortable boulevard ride going down the highway, thanks in part to the long 110.3 wheelbase, but it never gets wallowy. And it does well in turns, without a great amount of body roll.
The optional all-wheel-drive system uses an open center differential to distribute power from the front wheels to the rears when traction needs arise, and relies on anti-lock control to shut down wheelspin. The system also has a torque vectoring control on the rear wheels to assist in cornering, which means that the inside rear wheel gets a bit of braking applied automatically. That system can be shut down if desired. The all-wheel drive isn’t meant for serious off-roading, but is great in the winter for the Snowbelt.
Exterior styling is sleek and nicely proportioned, with a sloping roofline that is still able to provide good headroom for second row passengers. A sculpted character line runs from the back of the front fender to the rear of the vehicle, and the hexagonal grill is flanked by head lights and fog lights which wrap around into the front fenders.
The cabin is a handsome, very quiet, and pleasant place to spend time in. Our car was finished in two-tone colors with beige leather seats and chocolate dash and door accents. We could have done without the faux wood trim. The dash is a swoopy, flowing design which puts a nice electroluminescent gauge package in front of the driver. Two large round dials for speedometer and tach flank the LED info screen. Easy to see. Nice center stack with large Nav screen, flanked by two angular HVAC vents, and beneath are the controls for the radio and climate. Everything is well laid out, easy and intuitive to use. Another great feature is the very large storage cubby at base of stack, with USB, 12-V and AUX input. It holds your phone, music device, and other items conveniently and easily accessible. The navigation system is updated with improved displays, including speed-limit signs, and SD card slot for better updating, and voice recognition. Don’t plan on using the voice recognition to find an address, however. It will just be a frustrating experience, as it is with virtually all systems from all manufacturers, in any price vehicle. Pairing a phone to Bluetooth is easy, and that system works well.
One nit-pick is that the gear shift surrounded by inexpensive looking plastic that doesn’t fit with the rest of the cabin. The heated steering wheel houses redundant controls, which also are easy to operate. Too many interior designers over-think their designs which seldom makes then easier to use. Hyundai got it right.
The heated and cooled seats are wide, and supportive. Previous models had seat bottoms that were more park bench-like than easy chair. Big improvement. Long trips will be a breeze in these seats. And the second row heated captain’s chairs are equally inviting. Leg and head room are also ample. And the panoramic moonroof adds light and makes the cabin feel even larger.
The third row seats, like almost all of them, are best suited to children. Adults will feel cramped for any rides over ½ hour. But the captain’s chairs will make it a bit easier getting back there as you can pass between them, rather than the tighter squeeze from sliding the seat forward and entering from the rear doors. So don’t ask grandma to sit back there is you still want to be mentioned in her will.
This year Hyundai features a new hands-free liftgate system. Just stand behind it for a few seconds with the key fob, and viola! – it will open on its own. Like the Ford Escape’s foot activated control, it’s a great convenience when approaching the Santa Fe with an armload of groceries or packages. With the third row in place, you get 13.5 cubic feet of storage space, which is plenty for your average trip to the store. Fold the last row flat, and you’ll have more than 40 cubic feet. And a set of straps to fold the seat down is easily accessible from the rear. The second row seats also fold flat to really give you room for those trips to garden center. And the front passenger seat also folds down for those trips to the lumber yard. Also, there are handy shallow storage bins beneath the cargo floor for items you want to keep out of site. And there are 12-volt and 115 outlets in the cargo compartment for tail gate parties. There is also temp and fan controls for the third row passengers.
Standard features and amenities have always been a big part of the Hyundai appeal. The long wheelbase Santa Fe base GLS model, which is a 7-passenger configuration, features Bluetooth connectivity, rear-area climate control and keyless entry, and also steering-wheel audio controls and Blue Link with remote start via its smartphone app. Base models equipped with all-wheel-drive also receive an Active Cornering Control feature, as well as a windshield wiper de-icer.
Move up to the Limited, and you get the a six-passenger layout, with leather upholstery and heated second-row captain’s chairs, a power front passenger seat, the electroluminescent drivers gauges, 19-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control, power liftgate, proximity key with push button start, a 115-volt AC power outlet, and a few other goodies.
Our test Limited model added the $4,650 Ultimate Package. It includes HID headlights, LED taillights, the Panoramic Moonroof, the Nav system with 8”screen, 12-speaker sound system, the heated and cooled seats, with driver memory, heated steering wheel, rear park assist sensors, and other features. When you add this package to the MSRP of $36,000, and the freight charge, you get a bottom line number of $41,695. And while that is a strong number, you would be hard pressed to find a similarly equipped competitor within several thousand dollars of that price.
So if you’re looking for a mid-sized to large SUV, that is stylish inside and out, comfortable and capable, this is a good place4 to start. And with the various vehicle sizes, performance, and option packages, you’re bound to find one that fits your budget and needs.
By Ken Glassman
Ken “Hawkeye” Glassman has been a motor journalist for over 30 years, reviewing automobile, as well as motorcycle ride reviews and accessory reviews.
His car articles have appeared in Robb Report Magazine, Autoguide.com, Car-Revs-Daily.com and other media. His work has also appeared in Road Bike Magazine, Motorcycle Tour and Cruiser, SpeedTV.com, MotorcycleUSA.com and others.
As motorcycle columnist for The Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, the paper became the only major circulation newspaper in the country to have a separate weekly section devoted to motorcycles. Later he wrote a weekly column for Cyclefocus Magazine.