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2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited Ultimate AWD Review by Carey Russ +VIDEO

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Hyundai's Santa Fe combines practicality, luxury, and performance for value


                • SEE ALSO: Hyundai Research and Buyers Guide

Hyundai’s Santa Fe crossover SUV has been a success for the Korean manufacturer since its debut as a five-seat midsize vehicle for model year 2001. A second generation refined the formula for 2007. Major changes came about with the third generation for 2013. The Santa Fe was stretched to become a three-row vehicle, replacing the Vera Cruz. The two-row five-seater continued as the Santa Fe Sport.

The Santa Fe gets a mid-product cycle freshening for 2017, with revised exterior styling and interior enhancements. Unusually for a less-than-behemoth three-row SUV, the third row can actually hold real (if midsize) adults. Trim levels are SE, SE Ultimate, Limited, and Limited Ultimate. Power for all is a 3.3-liter, 290-horsepower V6 matched to a six-speed automatic transmission, now with multiple drive modes. Front-wheel drive is standard, with all-wheel drive available across the lineup.

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My test “car” for the past week has been, typically for press-fleet spec, an AWD Limited Ultimate with the Ultimate Tech Package. Meaning: all of the appointments and comfort and safety features that were the province of luxury brands not too long ago, for less to much less than what is now a luxury-brand price. The pejoratively-cheap cars that gave Hyundai entry into the bottom of the American automotive marketplace thirty-plus years ago are ancient history. Hyundai learned, and improved. And has kept improving. Outfitted as my tester, the Santa Fe has room and comfort aplenty for four and a large amount of luggage. (The SE is outfitted with a three-place second row, while the Limited gets two captain’s chairs.) Six real humans are not a stretch, although luggage is compromised. Hey, there are roof rails…

Power from the V6 was good, with no problems merging into fast traffic from a too-short onramp. A 21-mpg average for the week was a surprise, as driving was biased a bit more to city and backroads than highway, with city driving being closer to 16. Not bad at all for a six-passenger crossover SUV. The suspension is tuned for comfort, not for speed, but is well-balanced for control and safety, and stability in crosswinds is good. In premium trim, the Santa Fe has all of the current electronic safety and connectivity features available, with a relatively simple interface for the cabin electronics. Don’t linger outside of the tailgate too long — it has an auto-open feature that is eager to work.

The large-midsize CUV segment is crowded and competitive, but Hyundai’s Santa Fe plays well.

APPEARANCE: Yes, the Santa Fe follows the familiar, and functional, two-box crossover SUV form — just like all others. It gets new front and rear styling this year, bringing it in line with the latest Hyundai design language. The grille and headlights have been reshaped, and LEDs are used for at the front for daytime running lights (DRLs), headlight accent lights, and foglamps. The taillights are also LED. Chrome trim is used around the side windows, on the door handles, and around the grille and foglamps, plus above the license plate at the rear. The usual SUV textured cladding surrounds the lower perimeter, with a sporty-looking lower intake at the front and matching panel with oversized exhaust finishers at the rear.

COMFORT: Convenience? Indeed — approach the premium Santa Fe at night, and it will automatically unlock and LEDs in the front door handle pockets light. Once inside, it’s contemporary upscale middle-class with a twin-cockpit design utilizing quality materials and first-rate fit and finish. Varying textures and materials keep it interesting but never distracting. Here, the wood’s not real but the leather is, and the front seats are both heated and ventilated — great for highly-variable spring Spring weather. The second-row captain’s chairs are heated. All seats offer a comfortable high-eyepoint seating position. Fronts are power-adjustable, with two-position memory for the driver’s seat. The second row chairs are manually-adjustable, with about six inches of fore-and-aft travel and some back angle adjustment. The two third-row positions have plenty of headroom, and more leg- and hip-room than expected. Even with the second row all the way back, legroom beats airlines. A near full-length panoramic moonroof gives everyone light and a good overhead view.

Back up front, the steering wheel manually adjusts for tilt and reach, and has a heatable rim. Electroluminescent instruments are easily visible and glare-free, with useful information displayed between the tachometer and speedometer. The touchscreen in the middle of the center stack is the interface for audio and navigation/map systems. Hard buttons below it are well-marked and lit at night, while the dual-zone climate control system uses simple buttons and knobs. Audio choices are AM, FM, and Sirius/XM radio, external players via USB or jack, and streaming such as Pandora and Sound Hound. Android Auto is supported. Interior storage includes a locking glove box, pockets and bottle holders in all doors, and the console box.

SAFETY: The 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited Ultimate has a full complement of airbags, Vehicle Stability Management (VSM) with traction control, a tire-pressure monitoring system, blind-spot monitoring, and a multi-view camera system that shows the rear view plus a small surround, left, right, or right rear view or a full rear view. The side and right rear views are large enough to navigate tricky objects like the 4x4 posts at the end of my driveway, and help when parking. The Tech Package includes Smart Cruise Control (SCC) with stop-start, Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection, Lane Departure Warning (LDW), Electronic Parking Brake (EPB) with Auto-Hold, High-Intensity Discharge (HID) headlights, Dynamic Bending Light (DBL), and High-Beam Assist.

RIDE AND HANDLING: A sturdy, rigid unibody structure and good soundproofing mean a quiet interior and solid mounting for the fully-independent MacPherson strut front, multilink rear suspension systems. Tuning is moderately soft, for comfort even over poor surfaces, but good matching of spring and damper rates means good response and handling characteristics. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist ensure safe stopping, and electronic stability management, downhill brake control, and hill-start assist offer further help. The all-wheel drive system works transparently.

PERFORMANCE: At around 4200 pounds, the Santa Fe Limited Ultimate AWD is a lightweight only compared to a larger SUV, especially one with body-on-frame construction. That said, its 3.3-liter V6 is well-suited to its task, making 290 horsepower at 6400 rpm, with torque peaking at 252 lb-ft at 5200 rpm. If it seems that the peaks are at relatively high revs, continuously-variable cam phasing on both intake and exhaust cams of the 24-valve DOHC aluminum alloy engine ensures plenty of low- and mid-range urge. Power is routed to the front or all wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission. New this year are multiple drive modes, which change throttle responsiveness and shift points. The default is “normal”, with Eco decreasing throttle response and keeping revs low, in higher gears, to improve economy and Sport increasing throttle response and keeping revs higher for better performance. If that doesn’t quite do it, manual shifting is available. Using mostly the default, with no complaint about performance, and a relatively even mix of highway and city driving I managed around 21 mpg overall. With trailer brakes, all varieties of Santa Fe can tow up to 5000 pounds.

CONCLUSIONS: In premium Limited Ultimate trim, Hyundai’s Santa Fe combines practicality, luxury, and performance for value.


2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited Ultimate AWD

Base Price $ 41,160

Price As Tested $ 44,295

Engine Type DOHC 24-valve aluminum alloy V6 with direct fuel injection and continuously-variable cam phasing

Engine Size 3.3 liters / 204 cu. in.

Horsepower 290 @ 6400 rpm

Torque (lb-ft) 252 @ 5200 rpm

Transmission 6-speed automatic with manual-shift mode

Wheelbase / Length 110.2 in. / 193.1 in.

Curb Weight 4169 lbs.

Pounds Per Horsepower 14.4

Fuel Capacity 18.8 gal.

Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline

Tires Kumho Crugen Premium P235/55 R19 101H

Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, EBD, BA standard

Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent multilink

Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive


EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 17 / 22 / 21

0 to 60 mph est 8.5 sec

Towing Capacity 2000 lbs without trailer brakes, 5000 lbs with trailer brakes


Ultimate Tech Package —includes: Smart Cruise Control (SCC) with stop-start, Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection, Lane Departure Warning (LDW), Electronic Parking Brake (EPB) with Auto-Hold, High-Intensity Discharge (HID) headlights, Dynamic Bending Light (DBL), High-Beam Assist $ 2,100

Carpeted Floor Mats $ 150

Destination Charge $ 895