2015 Hyundai Santa Fe Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
August 3, 2015

The 2015 Hyundai Santa Fe is really two vehicles in one, with the larger model geared toward big families and the smaller Sport version good for those with smaller broods.

Hyundai's Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport lineups compete with a tremendous variety of crossovers, ranging from compact vehicles such as the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V, to mid-size vehicles such as the Ford Edge and Toyota Venza, all the way out to three-row utes like the Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot. The larger Santa Fe is 8.5 inches longer than the Sport, and in some cases, you might find it cross-shopped against minivans, too.

The 2015 Hyundai Santa Fe badge now belongs to a whole family of crossovers—two different vehicles, really, including one with seating for five and the other sized up for seven. They're even built in different places, as the smaller Sport model is built in Georgia, while the larger three-row model, which is sized up to replace the former Veracruz, is imported from Korea.

Crossovers are all about room and utility, and both Santa Fe models fit that bill. The front seats are a step up from the most recent Hyundai vintage, with better support built into the bottom cushion. But the second row is where the action is: on some models, the second row slides on a 5.2-inch track for better flexibility, in the same way the seat in the Chevy Equinox moves. The seat also reclines and folds on a 40/20/40 split, making way for longer objects while preserving four seating positions. There's also some storage space below the cargo floor and even some space for a handbag ahead of the shift lever, though that'll block access to the audio ports. On three-row models, there's a choice between the 40/20/40 layout or a six-passenger layout with cozy captain's chairs in row two—and all of these models get Yes Essentials-brand  soil-resistant upholstery.

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Hyundai has put a strong emphasis on looks of late, and that goes for the Santa Fe too, which wears the most grown-up and modern sheetmetal in the model's history. The sharp edges and tight creases wrap around it in interesting ways, and Hyundai's hexagonal grille gets sees its best rendition here, bracketed by headlamps and foglamps. For 2015, Hyundai has switched to a two-tone grille for the Santa Fe Sport in an effort to make it look a little more sporty. The D-pillar's upkick and stance remind us a little of the Ford Escape, but the Santa Fe Sport's shape is more faceted and studied than the Ford's, no more or less handsome. The longer Santa Fe is slightly less distinctive, but as a minivan replacement, it doesn't need to be flashy. The interior is another bar raised for Hyundai, with some faint GM cues penned in its shield of controls, surrounded by the usual swoops and fluid curves--and trimmed in two-tone materials, an upscale touch that looks better when it's capped in glossy trim than in faux wood.

The two-row Santa Fe Sport is offered with both a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine producing 190 horsepower and a 264-hp, 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder producing. The turbo drops only a couple of miles per gallon highway while turning in very capable acceleration, making the trade-off of economy for performance pretty worthwhile.

The three-row Santa Fe model is powered by a 3.3-liter V-6 producing 290 horsepower--the same smooth engine used in the Azera. There's no choice with the Santa Fe, but its V-6 is fairly muscular--strong enough to tow 5000 pounds behind it without add-ons.

All three engines feature direct injection for better fuel economy and more power. They're backed by six-speed automatic transmissions with front- and all-wheel drive configurations available no matter which engine is selected.

As for the rest of the Santa Fe driving experience, it's mainly smoother and more effortless. The automatic sometimes gets caught napping between taps of the throttle, but the powertrains are muted well. The ride's improved greatly and also grown more quiet--bigger bushings in the independent suspension are engineered for the bigger Santa Fe, but also used on the Sport--but we'd just as soon leave the three-mode electric steering in Normal or Sport, because Comfort's just too slow for our comfort. For the 2015 model year, Hyundai has updated the steering system with better electronics and claims to have made the Sport setting more sporty. There have also been further adjustments to bushings and suspension geometry front and rear to increase lateral stiffness. 

The Santa Fe and Sport have the usual airbags (including a driver knee airbag) and stability control. Bluetooth is standard and a rearview camera is an option on all but the base model. Blind-spot monitors and parking sensors were new options for 2014, and the former is now standard as of the 2015 model year. The shorter-wheelbase Santa Fe Sport earned top 'good' scores in all categories. But the IIHS hasn't rated the three-row, longer-wheelbase Santa Fe, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has not tested either model.

With base prices of about $26,000 for the Sport and about $31,000 for the longer version, the smaller model makes more of the usual Hyundai case for value. It gets power windows, locks, and mirrors; air conditioning; cruise control; tilt/telescoping steering; steering-wheel audio and phone controls; and 17-inch wheels. The standard audio system is an AM/FM/CD player with satellite radio, USB and auxiliary ports, Bluetooth with audio streaming, and six speakers. A panoramic sunroof, Infinity audio, and an improved navigation system lift the Santa Fe to a higher price plateau. Push-button start, automatic climate control, and heated and cooled front seats are available on some models.

The Santa Fe duo also gets Hyundai's BlueLink telematics system as standard equipment. This OnStar-like system incorporates turn-by-turn navigation and Bluetooth streaming for apps such as Pandora, and works in conjunction with your smartphone and an owner website to set up functions like speed limits and geofencing--setting up boundaries for where the car can be driven. A BlueLink app for the iPhone is available, giving owners the ability to lock and unlock and to start the Santa Fe by remote, too.

Other updates for 2015 include a new hands-free liftgate system, which only requires the opener to stand near the rear of the vehicle with the proximity key for a few moments before it opens up. It replaces the conventional power tailgate on the Santa Fe and brings the convenience item to the Santa Fe Sport for the first time. Daytime running lights and an auto up/down front passenger window are now standard across the lineup.

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2015 Hyundai Santa Fe

Styling

The 2015 Santa Fe lineup has a particularly handsome cabin design, in two-tone trim; but its look is a mainstream one for the most part.

The Santa Fe was one of the first Hyundai products to move to a more mature styling language. Since it was introduced, the Genesis and Sonata have followed suit

Now there's a clear family resemblance through the Hyundai crossover lineup, from the brash, bristly Tucson through the very streamlined long-wheelbase Santa Fe. The Sport's the best-looking of the trio, with a right-sized hexagonal grille bracketed in place with coordinated fog lamps and headlamps trimmed with LED lighting. The side sills stand out in relief up and over the rear wheel wells, and the rear door handles sit well back of the rear wheel opening in a way Mazda's now-defunct CX-7 would be proud of. It's all summed up by a simple, balanced treatment of taillights and glass on the tailgate. We can't help but pick out some vague likeness to the new Ford Escape in the rear end and the proportions around the headlights, but Ford's almost-hatchback crossover doesn't quite have the size to play out the curves you'll find on the Santa Fe Sport.

It's less distinctive about the Santa Fe--some Dodge Durango in the way its rear quarter windows are shaped. Hyundai says it's essentially a minivan replacement, anyway, and we can't think of one three-row crossover with outre styling that's been a big hit.

More conventional than the one in the Tucson, the cockpit in the Santa Fe siblings has grown up, too. It carries a shield of controls at its center, and flanks them with big air vents--a theme that's recurring pretty often in compact-car design, and just happens to go well with the sheetmetal. The dash surface undulates, dipping low in front of passengers and bubbling up for gauges and the center stack, and large knobs control fan speed and audio volume. On crossovers with navigation, an 8-inch screen glows under a matte surface, and electroluminescent gauges toss in a few more subdued lumens.

Some Santa Fe crossovers sport woodgrain trim, while others have a gloss finish that's more appealing and fits more easily with the control-pod theme. Hyundai's found out how two-tone interior treatments can wake up a cabin, and the Santa Fe and Sport offer some earthy colors and trims that link them a little more directly to the crossover world than any of their lines or surfaces.The sides of the Santa Fe are heavily sculpted, as is Hyundai's recent tradition, with an upward swing in the shoulder lending a stylish look that does impede a bit on the airiness of the cockpit.

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2015 Hyundai Santa Fe

Performance

Acceleration and ride quality quite good, and despite three modes we're still not entirely happy with the steering.

The 2015 Hyundai Santa Fe is only offered with a V-6, while the Santa Fe Sport model is offered with a four-cylinder–and your choice of whether or not you want that engine turbocharged.

The base engine on the Santa Fe Sport is Hyundai's 2.4-liter four, with 190 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque, straight from duty in the Sonata sedan. With direct injection and a hookup with Hyundai's in-house six-speed automatic, the base Sport earns the best fuel economy ratings of the lineup, up to 33 miles per gallon on the EPA's highway cycle. Our first drive offered only a brief exposure to the normally aspirated four at high altitudes--not an ideal driving experience--so we're holding back those impressions until we can test this model over longer distances under more usual conditions.

The turbocharged 2.0-liter turbo four is another familiar piece, as it's also shared with the Sonata. In this application it makes 264 horsepower and 259 lb-ft of torque, while topping out in front-drive form at 29 mpg highway. It smoothly conveys abundant power through a fairly wide swath of the powerband; we'd estimate a 0-60 mph time at 7.0 seconds on lighter front-wheel-drive models, which weigh in at a lean 3459 pounds.

Even with less displacement, the Santa Fe Sport outperforms Hyundai's old V-6 crossovers, while the longer Santa Fe equals that performance and tops it with better towing capability. Both versions outshine the last Santa Fe and the former Veracruz in ride comfort, too.

Long-wheelbase Santa Fes get the only V-6 in the lineup, a 3.3-liter engine from the Azera sedan, with 290 horsepower, a six-speed automatic, front- or all-wheel drive, and a base curb weight of about 3900 pounds. Rolling on standard 18-inch wheels (19-inchers are an option), the Santa Fe comes out of the box, ready to tow 5000 pounds, its powertrain made more rugged and retuned for lower-powerband torque.

Both vehicles are connected with a six-speed automatic with a manual-shift mode available off the console-mounted lever. The shift quality's well sorted and the manual mode answers the call quickly, though deep calls for power can catch the gearbox napping. Step into the gas fully from a light throttle, and after a brief pause, the automatic shifts down eagerly, with a mild rebound felt through the drivetrain. You don't have to concentrate on being a smoother driver for the Santa Fe or the Sport to behave smoothly, though--an Active ECO mode will blur over shifts and throttle responses, saving very small amounts of gas at the same time.

Electric power steering has been a learning curve for all automakers, and Hyundai's path has taken it from the Sonata to the Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport with incremental improvements in feel and design. All these vehicles use a column-mounted motor, but the Santa Fe and Sport have the latest three-mode, driver-selectable steering that bowed on the Elantra GT. In that hatchback, we were happy to leave the heft-added steering in Normal mode all day. In the Sport, the "sport" setting's increased effort and later onset of assistance helped the car track better on the highway stretches of our test drive, just as the AWD system likely soaked up some of the on-center vagueness we've felt on the Elantra and Sonata. It's a good step forward; we'd leave Comfort's slow, light feel to anyone who thinks the last Santa Fe was a little too daring and sporty.

We've spent many hours driving the pair--in a turbo Sport and in the long-wheelbase Santa Fe. Either one can be fitted with an optional all-wheel-drive system that uses an open center differential to distribute power from the front wheels to the rears when traction needs arise, and leans on anti-lock control to clamp down on wheelspin. All-wheel-drive models also have torque vectoring control on the rear wheels via the same means; to aid cornering, the inside rear wheel gets some braking applied automatically. All the electronics can be shut off, for times when wheelspin is your ally. Ground clearance is down to 7.3 inches, and the light-duty traction system (on principle, like the one in the Mercedes M-Class) is more an all-weather friend than a trail-blazer.

All Santa Fe crossovers adopt a new suspension design, and a calmer, quieter ride is obvious after just a few miles of driving. The front struts and multiple links in the rear are fitted with bigger bushings and packaged more precisely inside the wheel wells, which Hyundai says frees up more cargo space and helps improve wheel control. The physics don't have to elude you--the silence from the wheel wells is proof enough, and the Sport feels absorbent and mostly controlled over freshly paved interstates and mildly broken back roads. When the gravel path gets really rutted, the Santa Fe Sport doesn't really lose its laid-back attitude, but does let its wheels (17-inchers are standard; 19-inchers are optional) rebound with a slightly firm thump. The longer-wheelbase Santa Fe uses its extra wheelbase to its advantage, damping even the worst surfaces well, even when those 19-inch wheels are specified.

For 2015, Hyundai has updated the computers controlling the electric power steering system and also claims to have made the Sport setting feel more sporty with added weight. The suspension has been retuned as well for both models, with tweaks to geometry and bushings that are aimed at improving lateral stability.

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2015 Hyundai Santa Fe

Comfort & Quality

The Santa Fe offers excellent interior space, while the sliding back seat in the Santa Fe Sport makes the most of what it has.

Two sizes of Santa Fe are now offered. The smaller model is the Santa Fe Sport, which offers two rows of seats for five people, and the non-sport model, which replaced the Veracruz, features seven seats in three rows.

By the numbers, the Santa Fe Sport rides on a wheelbase 106.3 inches long. It's 184.6 inches long, and 74.0 inches wide. That puts it in the ballpark of a wide swath of the crossover market, including everything from the Chevy Equinox to the Toyota Venza and Kia Sorento. It's larger inside than a Ford Escape or Honda CR-V, if not quite as big as a Toyota RAV4.

The three-row Santa Fe, meanwhile, has a 110.2-inch wheelbase that's 3.9 inches longer than the span on the Sport. It's slightly wider, too, and 193.1 inches long, 8.5 inches longer than the Sport. The Santa Fe GLS seats seven; the Santa Fe Limited seats six. Its overall interior volume of 146.6 cubic feet and 13.5 cubic feet of storage space behind third row make it more space-efficient than the Toyota Highlander--but smaller inside than a Honda Pilot, Nissan Pathfinder, and Ford Explorer.

In front of either Santa Fe, the size advantage over the smaller crossovers is clear. There's ample knee and leg room, though headroom for tall passenger will be slim if the panoramic sunroof option's ticked. The seats themselves are more shapely and supportive than in the last Santa Fe, with very good bolstering on the bottom cushion that's not overly firm. Most versions have a power driver seat, and richly optioned models have a power passenger seat and heating for both. It's worth noting that Hyundai's headrests sit back at an ideal angle--they don't jut too far forward, as some active headrests do.

There's storage for small items in the glovebox and console, and for drinks in the door pockets and dual cupholders. A deep, open-sided storage area ahead of the shift lever can swallow a medium-sized purse--but that will block the USB port and auxiliary jack.

The rear seat's a fixed bench on base Santa Fe Sport crossovers, but it splits and folds along 40/20/40 lines for better flexibility than most seats of its kind. Effectively it's a four-seater when the middle section is lowered for carrying long and skinny items, like copper pipe, toe molding, or skis. With the leather option package, the same seat adds a slide function that moves it along a 5.2-inch track--like the one on the Chevy Equinox and GMC Terrain, minus a few inches of travel. It's a very handy feature, and an underrated one if you've ever made a banzai Costco run without kids or a budget. The same sliding bench also has reclining seatbacks, a great feature we've grown to appreciate on long-distance trips where we're not in total control.

On the Santa Fe, the second-row seat is a shared piece, too. But with the longer wheelbase comes more rear-seat leg room to go with the very good seat comfort already in place. That's especially true of the Limited's second-row captain's chairs, which have properly placed armrests and an inch or so of headroom still in place, even with panoramic roof. Adults will find a couple of inches of knee room to spare--and a warm cushion, if it's fitted with heated second-row seats.

The third-row bench is only for very young passengers, because older people will get cranky at the thought of climbing through the Santa Fe's small passenger opening--even though the seats slide forward, there's still only a foot or so of wedgy space provided to get to the rearmost seat. It's capped at the knees and overhead, too.

When cargo rules the day, the Santa Fe Sport's rear seats fold down as a trio or individually, and flatly, to free up more cargo space. The front passenger seat folds flat too, for carrying very long objects. You can fold down two seat sections for a three-passenger configuration, or lay them all flat to maximize cargo space. With the rear seats raised, the Santa Fe Sport can hold 35.4 cubic feet of stuff; with the rear seats all down, the cargo hold grows to 71.5  cubic feet--about 8 cubic feet more than the Equinox. The Santa Fe Sport's cargo bin has shallow, under-floor storage that's perfect for holding laptop bags securely out of sight, which can be accessed only when the cargo area is empty. A cargo cover is also included, standard.

The Santa Fe's cargo area may be on the small side, at 13.5 cubic feet behind the third row, but it expands to more than 40 cubic feet when the third row is folded flat--accomplished by pulling on straps to fold it down or to raise it in place. From the cargo hold--accessed by a power tailgate--the Santa Fe's second-row seats can be lowered, too, via a lever. There's some shallow storage in a plastic bin beneath the cargo floor, too.

The textures and materials inside the Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport are drawn from a wider bin, and most pieces were well-fitted in our prototype testers. There's some textured plastic behind the steering wheel that doesn't look as rich as the rest of the dash, and the lower center console buttresses snap together in obvious ways during assembly--but from a driver's perspective, the cockpit's never looked better, and moves the needle authoritatively in the right direction, from the standard set by the Sonata, improved on by the Elantra.

Hyundai's gone to more effort in this Santa Fe to damp out noise and vibration. Suspension noise has been tamed with better isolation, and the turbocharged and V-6 drivetrains hardly make a distant whir as they climb through the revs. The isolation in the cockpit is a magnitude better than in the last Sonata sedan with nearly identical powertrains. On the three-row Santa Fe, there's some additional tire noise from second row back, which can make it a strain to hear first-row conversations. 

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2015 Hyundai Santa Fe

Safety

With excellent crash-test scores and an impressive safety set, with blind-spot monitors and parking sensors, the Santa Fe does well in safety.

The 2015 Hyundai Santa Fe models score well for safety.

All models have the usual standard front, side, and curtain airbags, as well as a driver knee airbag, for a total of seven. Hill-start and downhill assist also are standard, along with anti-lock brakes, stability and traction control.

The long-wheelbase Santa Fe hasn't yet been crash-tested by either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), or by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). But the shorter-wheelbase Santa Fe Sport earns top five-star scores as well as 'good' scores in most categories of IIHS testing it has been put through—except the small overlap frontal test, where its result is 'marginal.'

There is one other caveat in IIHS ratings, however: The Santa Fe doesn't offer any frontal crash prevention technologies, which the IIHS now requires for its top-tier TSP+ rating. Blind-spot monitors and parking sensors are available, though, and blind-spot monitors have become standard for 2015.

On the technology front, Bluetooth is standard across the lineup. A rearview camera is offered on models with leather seats, where it displays on a 4.3-inch color LCD screen. On navigation-equipped Santa Fe Sports, the camera sends its output to the GPS' 8-inch screen. However, on vehicles without leather, there's no rearview camera at all. Hyundai says it's studying solutions, including a rearview-mirror-based camera, for future model years. A rearview camera is an option on the Santa Fe GLS, too.

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2015 Hyundai Santa Fe

Features

The 2015 Hyundai Santa Fe lineup piles on the features, and the value, although it's missing some of the leading-edge items.

Hyundai offers the 2015 Santa Fe in a standard six- or seven-passenger model, and a shorter five-passenger 'Sport' model. Equipment is similar between them, but you get a few extra features with the larger version.

All Santa Fe Sport crossovers come with a good selection of standard features, including power windows, locks, and mirrors; air conditioning; cruise control; tilt/telescoping steering; steering-wheel audio and phone controls; and 17-inch wheels. The standard audio system is an AM/FM/CD player with satellite radio, USB and auxiliary ports, Bluetooth and audio streaming, and six speakers. Santa Fe Sports with the turbo four-cylinder include all these features and add 19-inch wheels and a trailer-towing prep kit.

Even with the base GLS model, standard features are numerous on the three-row Santa Fe. Bluetooth connectivity, rear-area climate control and keyless entry are all there; so are steering-wheel audio controls and Blue Link with remote start via its smartphone app. Base models equipped with all-wheel drive also receive an Active Cornering Control feature, as well as a windshield wiper de-icer.

There's also a Popular Equipment Package on the GLS that adds heated front seats, heated mirrors, fog lamps, a power driver's seat and roof rails. Opt for the Leather Package and you'll get all of that, plus side-mirror turn signals, heated second-row seating, power passenger's seat, heated steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, touch-screen navigation, a reverse camera, and premium audio. There's not currently a rear-sear entertainment option, and there are no signs that there will be anytime soon.

Santa Fe Limited models go to a six-passenger layout with leather upholstery and heated second-row captain's chairs, a power front passenger seat, dual-zone climate control, an electroluminescent gauge cluster, a power liftgate, proximity key, push button start, a 115-volt AC power outlet, and 19-inch alloys, among other features.

Hyundai has made daytime running lights, a driver-side blind-spot mirror, and an auto up/down front passenger window standard on all Santa Fe models for 2015.

On either model, a pair of option packages keep the ordering process simple. A technology package brings a panoramic sunroof with a sliding fabric sunshade, a navigation system, a heated steering wheel, and sunshades for the rear passenger windows. There's a slight difference in audio systems on this latter set of features: base crossovers get an in-house Dimension audio system with 10 speakers, while those with the turbocharged engine roll with a powerful 550-watt, 12-speaker Infinity system with surround sound (it's optional on the three-row Santa Fe, too). A leather/premium package adds a power front passenger seat; proximity-based keyless entry and pushbutton start; a slide-and-recline second-row seat with heating; a rearview camera with a 4.3-inch screen; and HD Radio.

The navigation system is updated with improved displays, including speed-limit signs, and voice recognition, and SD card slot for better updating. Pairing a phone to Bluetooth is easier, with pop-up commands, too.

Prices range from about $26,000 for a base Sport to just over $39,000 for a long-wheelbase Santa Fe Limited with all-wheel drive and the Technology package.

One new item for 2015 is Hyundai's Hands-Free Smart Liftgate with Auto Open. This piece of tech, which was introduced on the Genesis sedan, allows whoever's holding the proximity key to open the liftgate just by standing near it for a few seconds, without requiring a wave of a leg like systems on some competitors. It replaces the power liftgate on the Santa Fe and adds the functionality to the Sport model, which previously wasn't available with a motorized hatch.

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2015 Hyundai Santa Fe

Fuel Economy

Gas mileage is strictly middle-of-the-road, and there's no hybrid on offer.

The 2015 Hyundai Santa Fe crossovers return solid fuel economy within their segments when equipped with front-wheel drive and are about average when all-wheel drive is selected.

If you opt for the Santa Fe Sport with the base 2.4-liter four-cylinder, expect to achieve 20/27 city/highway mpg for front-wheel-drive models, and 19/25 mpg with all-wheel drive. There isn't much of a penalty for choosing the turbocharged model in this case, which can also run on regular unleaded gasoline. It's rated at 19/27 mpg for front-drive models, and 18/24 mpg for all-wheel-drive.

The three-row Santa Fe with front-wheel drive earns 18 mpg city, 25 mpg highway, and only highway mileage suffers–by a single mpg–if you opt for all-wheel drive.

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December 30, 2015
2015 Hyundai Santa Fe AWD 4-Door Limited

Dont recommend it

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Unfortunately I didnt listen to people telling me not to buy a 38000 Hyundai as its a bad quality car but I didnt listen. I bought the car recently and the $550 keys dropped of in pieces and lost three times... + More »
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September 28, 2015
2015 Hyundai Santa Fe AWD 4-Door GLS

excellent vehicle

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looks great; powerfull brakes; turbo has great acceleration; good gas mileage if you keep out of the turbo
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September 27, 2015
2015 Hyundai Santa Fe FWD 4-Door Limited

Hyundai Sante Fe is one of the best all round SUV's I have owned-

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I drive it with ECO on and return average 26/27 MPG Has plenty of power in 4th for overtaking Like any vehicle you have to keep it serviced . I do, per the book, and the dealer has been so far really good The... + More »
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August 24, 2015
2015 Hyundai Santa Fe FWD 4-Door GLS

Horrible Experience

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My 2015 Hyundai Sante FE 6 months post warranty had he following problems. 1. Engine seized with oil in it 2. Front and Back end rotors shot 3. Driveshaft crumbled 4. Front brakes gone Total bill $9000.00 @... + More »
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