In a contest not unlike the ’16 Republican primary, the rush by OEMs to grab any – or all – of the market for 3-row crossovers goes (and grows) unabated. You need only divert your glance for a nanosecond and – wait! – there’s another one. From Acura and its upscale MDX to Volvo and its upscale XC90, there’s seemingly a 3-row for every butt and every budget. And if said butt finds itself on a budget, it might reasonably – and responsibly – have a seat in Hyundai’s well-regarded Santa Fe.
First introduced as a 2013 model at the 2012 New York Auto Show, the Santa Fe is of a generation eschewing stylistic gimmicks in favor of a clean, 2-box design that mixes ample utility with more than a little – to this set of eyes – eye appeal. In its overall proportion there’s a little last-gen CX-9 Mazda, although the Santa Fe is a tad more angular, a little less organic. But the overall impression is that you can park it anywhere. Obviously, it won’t displace the Audi Q7s and Bentley Bentaygas at the valet stand, but neither will it be shuffled off to the Back 40 with a bag over its hood.
Inside, our 2018 Limited Ultimate AWD (I’ve no idea who comes up with this sh*t…it’d seem either ‘Limited’ or ‘Ultimate’ would have sufficed) is perhaps less fresh, but remains competent in transporting six in more than reasonable comfort. Perforated leather covers the seats, the front buckets are both heated and ventilated, while the rears are only heated. And everyone has ample room, although you won’t wish to install your team’s receiving corps in the third row. It’s only in the plastics and Hyundai’s less-than-successful application of ‘wood’ that the eye is disappointed; none of it is poorly done, but then, neither will you include details in next year’s Christmas update.
Under the hood, those of us continuing to beat the normally-aspirated V6 drum will be pleased; here you will still find a normally-aspirated V6. Hyundai’s trusted 3.3-liter powerplant delivers 290 hp (more than Mazda’s CX-9, Nissan’s Pathfinder or Honda’s Pilot) through a 6-speed auto, and nets you an EPA estimate of 25 (front-wheel drive) on the highway cycle. Load it up, of course, with everything a young family of six can bring won’t net that, but then, you’re the one with the family of six. (You should have known.) But responsiveness is good, and cruising at highway speed is unflappable.
So, happily, is the Santa Fe’s handling. Obviously, we won’t be using this thing for track days (for that, there’s the redesigned Veloster!), but you can use it to get to the track. With the addition of trailer brakes, you can tow a track-specific car with its 5,000 pound tow rating, while without those brakes you can tow a couple of bikes. And not incidentally, with the third row seat folded you have roughly 40 cubic feet of stowage, which is more than enough for the kit any aspiring racer might take to the track.
With retail pricing ranging from the low $30s (SE) to the low $40s (Limited Ultimate), we’d opt for the nicely equipped base SE, add the available Premium package for around $3,600, and stick it for a transaction price of roughly $35K. That ‘premium’ up spec gets us leather seating and heated front seats, a power height-adjustable passenger seat, hands-free ‘smart’ liftgate, blind spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert and lane change assist.
You’ll not have the Limited Ultimate’s panoramic sunroof or 19-inch wheels, but then, you’ll also have saved $5K. And on $5K you can visit Santa Fe!
At what we’ll assume is the end of its product cycle (renderings of its replacement have already floated), there’s a lot to be said for what is essentially an analog crossover in an era of digital reinvention. Dimensionally, the recently introduced Subaru Ascent sits on a wheelbase three inches longer, is two inches wider and almost three inches taller. And rather than a V6, the new Subie goes with a 2.4 liter turbocharged four. It’ll sell like hotcakes, but will prove more cumbersome at the mall and in the drive-thru.
We like the Santa Fe’s sanitary approach, along with the assurance that comes from a reliable reputation, backed up by ten years of powertrain warranty. This Santa Fe may no longer be an out-of-the-park homerun, but it’s in the park – and remains fully in the game.