Hyundai has split the Santa Fe into two models: a two-row Santa Fe Sport that seats five passengers, and a three-row Santa Fe that totes either six or seven, depending on its seating configuration.
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 peice, 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? It's 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 backmost 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.
When unladen, the Santa Fe Sport's cargo bin has shallow, under-floor storage that's perfect for holding laptop bags securely out of sight. A cargo cover is also included, standard.
The Santa Fe's cargo bin 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's 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.
Hyundai's gone to more effort in this Santa Fe Sport than ever, to damp out noise and vibration. Suspension noise has been tamed with better isolation, and the turbocharged and V-6 drivetrains hardly makes a distant whir as it climbs through the revs. The isolation in the cockpit is a magnitude better than in the 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.
At the same time, 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.