2017 Hyundai Santa Fe vs. 2017 Honda Pilot: Compare Cars

December 5, 2016
2017 Honda Pilot

2017 Honda Pilot

The Hyundai Santa Fe and Honda Pilot are two popular picks that represent the shape of today’s family wagons. Both models work well for four or more, allowing enough flexibility for restocking the pantry, fitting infant seats, cargo-carrying, or even expeditions to a weekend campsite.

The Hyundai Santa Fe has been treated to a modest update for 2017 with a new look inside and out, but it remains essentially the same underneath for 2017 as it was when it arrived in 2013.

For the Pilot, everything has changed for 2016. The latest Pilot discards its super-upright, boxy look in favor of something a lot more urbane. Some are going to say the result is more ubiquitous, too, but it’s all really in the eye of the beholder and Honda has addressed fine details in a such a way that the Pilot continues to grow on you. The Pilot’s cabin in particular is a splendid interpretation of the well-finished look from current Accord sedans; it’s subdued yet classy, and it fits the mission perfectly.

MORE: Read our latest reviews of the 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe and 2017 Honda Pilot

So how do they match up? The Pilot handily outpaces the three-row Hyundai. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Meanwhile, the current Hyundai Santa Fe has held strong in the lineup since 2013, as a roomier three-row vehicle taking up the vehicle size that used to be badged Veracruz; the former two-row size of the Santa Fe is now called Santa Fe Sport. Although this design is a few years old, it’s been refreshed somewhat this year; the exterior tends to fade into the mix of other crossovers, although its interior is a distinctively swoopy, more design-daring counterpoint to the Pilot’s straightforward look.

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport

Powertrains

Both of these are powered by strong, normally aspirated (non-turbo) V-6 engines that are good fits for this type of vehicle. Neither of these vehicles feels shockingly quick, but they’re both confident and strong. The Santa Fe feels smooth and effortless with its 290-horsepower, 3.3-liter V-6, providing you’re carrying a light load; but it becomes it becomes a little more labored (and the shifts a little harsher) as you load it up or head up a steep highway grade. Oddly, the opposite is true of the latest Honda Pilot and its 280-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6. At least with its optional 9-speed automatic—the way we’ve spent most of our Pilot seat time so far—the Pilot can feel a little uncertain (almost jarring) in its low-speed shifts but then settles into confidence and smoothness with the entire family aboard. In handling, the Pilot’s a lot better than it looks like it might be, and its steering is quite direct and well-weighted for such a large vehicle. On the other hand, the Santa Fe isn’t in its element making quick transitions.

Fuel economy is close between these two models, but dig deeper and there are some key difference between these two models. The Pilot earns 19 mpg city, 27 highway, 21 combined with front-wheel drive, unless you opt for the Touring and Elite trim levels that swap out a 6-speed automatic for the 9-speed. Those extra cogs help boost fuel economy to 20/27/23 with front-wheel drive. 

All-wheel drive, predictably, reduces those figures—but only by 1 mpg combined. 

The Santa Fe is a simpler story: front-wheel drive models come in at 18/25/21, and all-wheel drive lowers the combined figure to 20 mpg. 

Interior space and safety

Let’s get real; three-row family vehicles like these are chosen more often because of their layout and interior comfort than because of what exactly is under the hood. In front, these models display some of the same focus on space efficiency and comfort, with good seats and plenty of cupholders and bins right where you need them. The Pilot’s front-row seating is ultimately a bit more upright—so that might be something that drivers will either like a bit more or less, depending on preferences and stature. The differences start to stack up in the second row, where the Pilot has either a bench or a pair of captain’s chairs (on upper trims). They’re adult-sized and super-comfortable, and a single-touch button folds and slides them forward for access to the third row. The Santa Fe offers the same choice of second rows, with great second row comfort as well—although it seems to be more at the expense of third-row and cargo space. The Santa Fe has a roofline that seems to arc downward just a bit more...or is it that the rearmost row is a little higher? In any case, there seems to be just a bit less headroom (and legroom) for those third-row riders.

2016 Honda Pilot

2016 Honda Pilot

Santa Fe cargo space is one the small side, at 13.5 cubic feet behind the third-row seat or more than 40 cubic feet with that third row folded; the Pilot compares at 18.5 and 55.9 cubic feet, respectively.

Safety is very important to shoppers in this class; considering just that, there’s a clear winner for this match-up, and it’s the Honda Pilot. The Pilot is one of the top-rated vehicles in its class for the safety-conscious; it’s earned an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ award, as well as five stars overall in the federal NCAP tests.

In IIHS testing, the 2017 Santa Fe scored mostly "Good" ratings for side-impact and moderate-overlap front crashes, but the last year's version scored a worrisome "Marginal" rating in the agency's small-overlap crash test. The 2017 model hasn't been rated in the small overlap crash test.

Both models offer automatic emergency braking.
 
The value picture
 
Hyundai has been a step ahead of Honda for a long time in value for money, and the same holds true this year, with the Santa Fe and the Pilot—even if Honda is coming to its senses about value, not only by packing in more standard features but by making certain desirable features more widely available across the lineup. On the Pilot, standard features now include touch-screen audio with audio streaming and Bluetooth, cruise control, air conditioning, and power accessories; but you’ll need to move up to higher trims to get satellite radio, leather upholstery, and heated/ventilated front seats. The Santa Fe, on the other hand comes with more; and you can add heated seats, heated mirrors, heated second-row seats, a heated steering wheel, a power passenger’s seat, navigation, and premium audio to the base GLS for a modest amount. And even base models with all-wheel drive get a windshield-wiper de-icer. The top end for a fully optioned Santa Fe Limited is nearly $42k, while you can run a Pilot Elite (with navigation) model up to nearly $47,500.

The Hyundai Santa Fe is a solid contender for the family; but in all fairness, this one isn’t all that close close. The Pilot’s powertrain is impressive and it handles better than the Santa Fe; it also has more third-row space, cargo space, and overall flexibility; and it has better safety ratings. On the other hand, the Pilot’s more expensive, and it’s a little more difficult to get some of the more desirable features. If value’s your only consideration, the Santa Fe delivers a strong punch.

But the Honda Pilot is the Best Car To Buy—especially for your family.

Summary

7.5
Expert Rating
The sharper-looking 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe is still a good value for families looking for a three-row hauler—but its powertrain is starting to show its age.
7.5
Expert Rating
The 2017 Honda Pilot is a capable, refined crossover SUV with all the goodness of a minivan, save for the sliding doors.

Styling

7.0
Expert Rating
The Santa Fe's styling update brings it smartly in line with the rest of the Hyundai lineup.
Read More
7.0
Expert Rating
A trim, sedately styled body and interior put the Honda Pilot right in the crossover mainstream.
Read More

Performance

6.0
Expert Rating
With V-6 power and predictable handling, the Santa Fe is a reasonable performer.
Read More
6.0
Expert Rating
The Pilot's amiable road manners put ride comfort ahead of sharp steering and quick shifts.
Read More

Comfort & Quality

9.0
Expert Rating
It's Hyundai's biggest SUV, but the Santa Fe is smaller than some of its rivals.
Read More
9.0
Expert Rating
The Pilot has one of the most useful interiors among crossovers; even adults can fit in its third-row seat.
Read More

Safety

9.0
Expert Rating
Federal testers and the IIHS agree: the 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe is among the safest crossovers on the road.
Read More
9.0
Expert Rating
The Pilot's very good crash-test scores are accompanied by lots of leading safety features.
Read More

Features

8.0
Expert Rating
The 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe can range from a base, seven-seat family hauler to opulent six-seater—with all-wheel drive available at every step in between.
Read More
8.0
Expert Rating
The Pilot adds CarPlay and Android Auto to its ample standard features list this year.
Read More

Fuel Economy

6.0
Expert Rating
The 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe is about average in front-drive, below average in all-wheel drive due to its 6-speed automatic.
Read More
6.0
Expert Rating
The Pilot's gas mileage is average, but we're seeing economy lower than official ratings.
Read More

MSRP

from $30,800
from $30,745

Invoice

from $29,335
from $28,117

Fuel Economy - Combined City and Highway

21
22

Engine

Regular Unleaded V-6, 3.3 L
Regular Unleaded V-6, 3.5 L

Drivetrain

Front Wheel Drive Read Full Specs
Front Wheel Drive Read Full Specs
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