2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Ultimate LWB – Road Test Review

There should be a Buzzfeed-style online quiz for SUV and crossover shoppers.  “How big an SUV do you really need?”

You see, once the idea of a three-row truck enters some family minds, they go haywire and right to the extreme of a Tahoe or Land Cruiser-size vehicle.  Without thinking for a minute if one of these goliaths is actually the right vehicle.  Don’t spend years having trouble parking your big-rig and gassing up constantly.

If you answer No to very-heavy Towing, keep going to the car-based, mid-size crossover category.

If you value ultra-modern LED lighting and tech, carry on.

If a six-seater with captain’s chairs sounds about right.

And if you’d like:

A low floor,

Carlike entry/exit,

Relatively sporty dynamics.

Yes to all these and you should land on the 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe long-wheelbase.  Our tester is a V6 Ultimate front-wheel-drive variant for about $42k

Totally unique looks and engines to the Santa Fe Sport, and with a standard third row.

During a week of driving, we discovered one of the sportiest-driving family crossovers out there.  For pricing that is a cool $5 to $10k less than Highlander and Pilot.

We have an HD drive review, dozens of photos and cabin videos to share.  Read on after the video below!

HD Drive Review Video


Santa Fe wears the exterior silhouette that GMC copied for their lightweight new Acadia.  A size that can do everything the previous chubbo non-minivans could do, but smaller by every measure outside.  Chevrolet goes to extreme on the new Traverse with micro-motors and standard, non-defeatable stop-start.

Santa Fe LWB is, in a sense, a highly evolved look at where upper midsize SUVs are headed.

The Santa Fe Sport and LWB arrived around 2014 but the larger model got a totally unique and fresh face for 2017.  This helps the Santa Fe Ultimate be a real style and stance champ.

Few SUVs apart from the Dodge Durango are quite as sleek and low-roofed.

The new face up front for Santa Fe LWB Limited Iltimate gets even more special with a massive dose of new LEDs.

Three unique LED lighting looks can be had up front:

  • Spikes of LEDs as DRLs up the outer bumper edges
  • LED blades in the lower headlamp units as the parking lamps
  • HID low-high projectors, with LED foglamps in the inner spike down below.

This last setting has auto highbeams and adaptive cornering, too.  It is LED-tactular and looks posh and premium on the roads.

The Ultimate has a slightly more upscale grille and large five-spoke 19s to set it even further upmarket.

The sleek profile skips the roof rack nobody will use, and hides the tow hitch under a silvery tail protector/diffuser piece.  All part of the sleek look with steeply raked windshield.

Muscular rear fenders and a blocky tail with new full LED brake lamps complete the makeover – but like the LED fogs, these rear LEDs are just for the higher trim levels.

Santa Fe looks genuinely upscale and competitive beside the new Lexus RX and Toyota Highlander, while an order of magnitude lower and skinnier than Honda Pilot and VW Atlas – the tallest in segment.


Is the slim waist width a demerit inside?  Somewhat – if you really want eight-passenger haulage or want three adults in second row.

But not really, if seven seats in second/third benchs is OK.  Six seats for Santa Fe Ultimate LWB – with a passthru to the back row between the second-row buckets.

Up front, we have a bit of a throwback to Hyundai’s previous aesthetics.  This means a wide center stack, flat steering wheel and huge dashboard.  A bit minivan like in that way…!

Just kidding.  Not a van.

While slightly mature, this dash and tech are still ridiculously easy to use.  The driving position feels good after a few minutes and legroom abounds in first two rows.

Material quality and insulation are less impressive than Highlander Limited, and Santa Fe also goes without roof HVAC vents.  Just floor, B-pillar and console air vents for rear seaters here.

Atlas, Highlander and many others in segment have roof-level vents that are nice in hot weather.

Santa Fe does have an amazing moonroof that is simply gigantic and opens wide as well. Power sunshade, of course.

Santa Fe might not be classiest cabin, and might lack factory video monitors in back, but is up the test of wild kids occupants.  Tons of storage, cubby space and cargo room make this a rolling family HQ.




This is the category that really surprises a few into driving Santa Fe Ultimate LWB.  These machines have all gotten so bland and vanilla – we really thought Santa Fe would be as mushy as the rest.

Not so!  Even with front-wheel-drive, the 3.3-liter V6 in Santa Fe has character and muscle.  Six-speed automatic is again not at leading edge of tech – but gets the job done and delivers 17/23 MPG ratings.

Not terrific, those, but come with a throaty V6 growl and very good passing urge.

A low-mid 6 second sprint to 60-mph confirms that Santa Fe has plenty of power for a loaded family trip or towing its 5000-pound maximum.

Moreover, better-than-most grip from the front end meets well-managed body control.  A tiny bit of tail squat on full acceleration, but very little body lean in corners or nose dive on braking.

Overall, Santa Fe has the right power and right balance of ride/handling for sporty drivers.

Expect some of the acceleration potency to decrease with the AWD option, but with the side benefit of perfect traction.



Santa Fe majors on being extra affordable and quite easy to buy.  Stickers from $31k rise to $39,550 for the FWD Limited Ultimate.

An Ultimate Tech package for $2100 on the tester brings the HIDs, adaptive cruise and lane-departure warning.

All in, the loaded-to-the-gills Santa Fe is about $43k.



Santa Fe was one of those test cars we liked more and more each day.  It is rare to have a usable, spacious third row without all the compromises.  VW Atlas is certainly a lot bigger inside – but you never forget that scale behind the wheel.  Or its $50k pricing.

Santa Fe Ultimate is agile, easy and even somewhat playful around corners.  That along with its stylish looks and stellar value makes it a solid A-grade crossover in our books.