- Easy-to-use infotainment system
- Plenty of standard features
- Attractive styling
- Sliding second-row seat option
- All-wheel drive exacts bigger gas mileage penalty
- Steering feel isn't sharp
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.
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.