Unlimiting Limited: Hyundai's Big Santa Fe Has Upscale Appeal

By Mark Maynard

April 29, 2014 9 min read

When shopping for a large family crossover with seats for six or seven, it's a smart idea to begin your walk-around at the back. This is the working end of what will be a long-term relationship.

How easy is it to hoist the tailgate? How convenient to fold the seats? Does the third row fold flat for easy slide-in of bikes, dog crates, playpens and sports gear? What's it like to climb into the third row?

Hyundai's engineers overthought and, in some ways, over-engineered the Santa Fe, which is now in its second year of a fashion-forward redesign. The nameplate does double duty as the midsize, five-seat Santa Fe Sport and the longer Santa Fe, with six or seven seats.

The Sport has choices of a four-cylinder or V-6 engine, front- or all-wheel drive and a starting price of about $26,000. Its competitors include the Ford Explorer, Chevy Equinox and Dodge Journey.

The Santa Fe is 8.5 inches longer than the Sport, with a wheelbase that is nearly 4 inches longer. Overall width and height increase slightly, but cabin spaciousness is apparent. It has one powertrain choice of a 290-horsepower, 3.3-liter V-6 and six-speed Shiftronic transmission. Competitors include the Honda Pilot, Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota Highlander.

The big Santa Fe is sold in GLS and Limited models with starting prices that range from $30,775 for the base, seven-passenger, front-wheel drive model to $36,425 for the six-passenger, all-wheel-drive Limited. The Limited FWD test truck had a starting price of $34,575 and was $39,675 as tested. All pricing includes the $875 freight charge from Ulsan, Korea.

Look around the interior of the Limited and it is obvious the engineers were tasked to, and had the budget to, push the calibrations a little farther to carve out space and clever features.

The cargo area opening is 38 inches wide and about 32 inches from floor to ceiling. With the second and third rows folded, there is nearly 7 feet of length. With the second-row captain's chairs, it is not contiguous flat space but will still hold a lot of gear.

The third row folds manually (with modest effort) flat into the floor, which creates square cargo capacity. Pets or humans benefit from third-row AC/heat vents and controls for temp and fan speed.

For driver visibility, second- and third-row headrests fold. Third-row seating has adult width but not legroom. And kids getting to the third row will have to shimmy between the second row buckets, which do not fold and tumble for access.

While some makers cheap out in the back seat, the Santa Fe Limited is finished well. The back doors are longer than the front doors, which create a wider entryway. The seats are substantial and almost as comfortable as those in front — and they have heaters. The second row has a low center-floor hump so occupants in the center seat will have more footroom. There are armrests, door-side cup holders and reading lights aimed at the lap. There's a seatback pocket, an air vent and a window shade. The seatback reclines and there is up to 41.3 inches of legroom.

Throughout the cabin, the materials and assembly feel durable. The color palette contrasts harmoniously and the design treatment is enduring and tasteful. There is discrete use of metallic trim and handsomely stitched leather.

In the front seat area, soft touch materials are used where hands and fingers will come in contact. And there are tougher plastics down low to weather scuffs and the environment. Visors, with lighted mirrors, slide to cheat glare.

While the driver gets a 10-way power seat, the front passenger has four-way movement and no height adjustment or lumbar adjustment. Sightlines can be complex over the hood and are somewhat restricted by the long windshield support pillars that are broad at the base where meeting the large side mirrors.

Cabin functions and audio are accessed by a large touchscreen and a series of buttons, but the process was not a quick read or intuitive in my weeklong test. At the base of the center stack in the instrument panel is an electronics charging area with two 12-volt plugs and auxiliary and USB ports.

The Santa Fe is a comfortable, solid ride with minimal wind noise and road harshness in the cabin. The 19-inch alloy wheels and touring tires have a wide and supportive footprint. While the Limited drives with the heft of a large vehicle, the electric steering is light and the turning circle of 36.9 is tighter than some midsize sedans. The V-6 has adequate power but its peak pulling power, 252 foot-pounds of torque, is at a high 5,200 rpm, so it takes a heavy foot to get the horses to respond.

Four-wheel disc brakes have a strong and reassuring response. But, as an observation, the discs are the same size — 12.6-inch vented front, 11.9 solid rear — as on the Santa Fe Sport, which is almost 500 pounds lighter.

With a curb weight of 4,057 pounds, fuel economy is competitive: 18 mpg city, 25 highway and 21 mpg combined, on 87 octane. According to the onboard computer, I was averaging 24 to 25.7 mpg city/highway. Opting for AWD trims mileage by just 1 mpg highway to 18/24 and 20 mpg combined.

Whether commuting to work or packing the soccer-club kids for an out-of-state tourney, this is an engaging environment to while away the miles and the years.

2014 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited FWD

—Body style: large, 6- to 7-passenger, front- or AWD crossover

—Engine: aluminum 290-horsepower, direct-injection 3.3-liter V-6; 252 foot-pounds torque at 5,200 rpm

—Transmission: 6-speed Shiftronic with manual mode

—Fuel economy: 18/25 mpg city/highway; 87 octane

—Fuel tank: 18.8 gallons

—Cargo space: 13.5 to 40.9 cubic feet

—Front head/leg/shoulder room: 39.6*/41.3/59.4 inches *38.2 w/moonroof

—2nd row head/leg/shoulder room: 39.4/41.3/58.6 inches

—3rd row head/leg/shoulder room: 35.7/31.5/53.9 inches

—Length/wheelbase: 193.1/110.2 inches

—Width/height: 74.2/66.9* inches *with roof rack

—Tow capacity: 5,000 pounds, w/trailer brakes

—Curb weight: 4,057 pounds

—Turning circle: 36.9 feet

—Standard equipment includes: Bluelink dual-zone automatic air conditioning with 3rd row controls and ceiling vent ducts, tilt-telescoping steering wheel, lighted window switches, locking glove box, heated front seats, leather-trimmed upholstery, 8-way power driver's seat, 4-way power front passenger seat, 2nd row captain's chairs, fold-flat 3rd row, rearview camera,

—Safety features include: Seven air bags, blind-spot detection, ABS disc brakes, brake assist, brake-force distribution, traction and stability control systems,

—Base price: $34,675, including $875 freight charge; price as tested $39,675

—Options on test vehicle: Technology Package, $4,850, includes 19-inch alloy wheels, HID headlights, LED taillights, panoramic sunroof, rear parking assistance system, navigation system with 8-inch touchscreen, 12-speaker Infinity Logic 7 audio system, heated steering wheel, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, 115-volt power outlet; carpeted floor mats $150

—Where assembled: Ulsan, Korea

—Warranty: 5-years/60,000-miles bumper to bumper with roadside assistance; 10-years/100,000-miles powertrain

 The Santa Fe's exterior styling is sharp without compromise to interior space.
The Santa Fe's exterior styling is sharp without compromise to interior space.

Mark Maynard is online at [email protected] Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage. To find out more about Mark Maynard and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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