Hyundai’s 2020 Santa Fe –
Best 2-Row SUV for the Money*
*At least, that’s what U.S. News & World Report says – and it may be right.
In the scrum that is today’s new car market, even the seasoned observer (and your correspondent is way seasoned) could be confused by the number of darn good small and midsized crossovers. And in that mix, the traditional players (think Honda, Toyota and perhaps Nissan) continue to hit homeruns, or – at the very least – get their products on base. Of late, the Koreans have been making multiple appearances at bat, and the results have been significant. And although Hyundai’s Santa Fe hasn’t generated the buzz associated with Kia’s Telluride in the awards sweepstakes, it’s worth your attention – and perhaps even more so since earning the attention of U.S. News.
As this is written, I’m a week removed from the DC Auto Show’s Media Day, where the team at U.S. News & World Report made a fairly big to-do (and why shouldn’t they?) over their 2020 Best Cars for the Money. As the online outlet’s executive editor, Jamie Page Deaton, put it, “cars with low price tags aren’t always good values. A cheap car can have high ownership costs, making it more expensive in the long run.” And ‘cheap’, as she points out, doesn’t guarantee a great ownership experience – it ain’t (OK, she didn’t use ‘ain’t’) if that cheap ride is not a good ride. And in the U.S. News evaluation of cars and SUVs, Hyundai’s Santa Fe got the nod for Best 2-Row SUV for the Money.
I’d agree that there’s a lot to like here, beginning with the Santa Fe’s almost perfect footprint. Compact crossovers, like the CR-V and RAV4, are almost ubiquitous, as are the larger 3-row crossovers – think Highlander, Pilot and Mazda’s CX-9. The midsize crossovers represent a smaller sample size, with Ford’s Edge, Honda’s new Passport and few others coming to mind. For those not needing three rows, but preferring something with more room than a CR-V, the Santa Fe and its ilk are a sweetspot, offering enough room to prove expansive, while still sufficiently compact to be easily maneuverable in what is all too often the congestion of urban/suburban spaces.
Sitting on a wheelbase of 109 inches, and with an overall length of 188 inches, today’s Santa Fe occupies roughly the same square footage as the folks’ Honda Accord from, say, thirty years ago. And these are user-friendly dimensions, small enough to conveniently park, but large enough to carry yourself and four of your dearest friends or family members. And that’s probably the clearest differentiator between this and those many 3-row crossovers in the market; you won’t need a tugboat to park this thing in the mall’s parking lot.
Inside, we continue to be impressed by what Hyundai does with its interiors, although you should know that the treatments tend to be formulaic; if you’ve examined Volvo’s XC40 or Mazda’s upscale CX-5 trims, you’ll know what we mean by formulaic; they’re not, while the Hyundai is. But in the Santa Fe material quality is good, seats are supportive, and there’s all the space four adults and their ‘stuff’ could reasonably need. And the infotainment system remains intuitive, a usability that not all of today’s OEMs offer.
Under the hood, lower Santa Fe trim levels come with a 2.4 liter normally aspirated four. With 185 horsepower and 178 lb-ft of torque, it’s adequate for Uber, but probably won’t excite anyone else. The SEL and Limited trims are offered with a 2.0 liter turbocharged four, and this formula is better. With 235 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, you’re not buying urgency so much as buying competence. This powertrain, delivering that power to the ground via an 8-speed automatic, does everything you ask of it…except deliver stellar efficiency. The Santa Fe gets an EPA estimate of 20/27/23 in city, highway and combined testing. Frankly, in 2020 I think most buyers – and U.S. News – would expect better.
With the Santa Fe starting at $26K, and our test Limited – with front-wheel drive – coming in at just under $40K, the value is obvious. We’d probably opt for the SEL trim with all-wheel drive, keeping the sticker at around $35,000, and a realistic transaction price (with incentives) some 10% below that. That’s a lot of bang for the buck – and perhaps the best 2-row SUV for the money.