2011 Hyundai Santa Fe Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
February 18, 2011

The 2011 Hyundai Santa Fe has is a great choice for small families, thanks to its strong safety, spacious interior, and great feature set.

Landing at the small end of mid-size, the 2011 Hyundai Santa Fe is a good, value-priced vehicle for small families. Looking a bit closer, while its performance and appearance are by no means exciting, the Santa Fe has impressive cabin comfort and standard features—along with top-notch safety.

Last year, Hyundai rolled out all-new powertrains for the Santa Fe, and we're glad they didn't wait; these new engines and transmissions not only give the Santa Fe better responsiveness and acceleration but also improved fuel economy. The 2.4-liter Theta II four-cylinder engine in the Santa Fe makes 175 horsepower, and it has enough power to move this tall wagon rapidly—albeit with a little indecision from the transmission. The 3.5-liter Lambda V-6 engine makes 276 horsepower feels strong and smooth, even if it isn't as sweet as Toyota's V-6 in the Highlander or even GM's in the Chevrolet Equinox. A new six-speed automatic transmission comes with either engine for the Santa Fe. Front-wheel drive is standard, with an optional electronically controlled all-wheel-drive system that can send power to whichever wheels have the best traction or locked 50/50 between front and rear wheels for light off-road conditions.

With its in-between dimensions, the 2011 Hyundai Santa Fe is a few inches longer than the likes of the Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4, and Just three inches short of the Toyota Highlander. Yet it sticks to a two-row layout (the third row was discontinued last year), to seat up to five. Seating in the Santa Fe is pretty good all around, although the seats have odd contouring and rather short cushions; five can fit in a pinch in the backseat, though they'll jostle shoulders.

Review continues below

Trim and interior materials received an upgrade last year, though they're still closer to par for the class than representative of what you see in Hyundai's all-new vehicles. Ride quality is on the soft side, but well controlled, and the cabin generally stays pretty quiet—though with noteworthy road noise on some surfaces.

The options list for the Hyundai Santa Fe looks remarkably empty. That's because of the way Hyundai sells vehicles—with a limited number of trims and builds—but it's also because nearly everything comes standard. The entry Santa Fe GLS includes a number of features that cost extra in this class—or at least aren't typically included in base models—such as Bluetooth, keyless entry, cruise, and USB and iPod inputs. Top Limited models get full leather upholstery, a sunroof, and dual-zone climate control, plus 605-watt Infinity surround-sound audio.

7

2011 Hyundai Santa Fe

Styling

The 2011 Hyundai Santa Fe is reasonably attractive, however it's not as fresh and voluptuous as some of the brand's other models.

Relative to the newer vehicles in Hyundai's lineup, like the Sonata, Elantra, and even the Tucson, the 2011 Santa Fe just feels a little bit on the bland side in nearly every styling respect, inside and out.

Last year, as part of a mid-cycle refresh, the bumpers were smoothed over very slightly, and it got a new grille and a new lineup of wheels, but overall this crossover wagon hasn't changed substantially since 2007. The design is smooth and functional, if not overtly attractive, and it doesn't have the extremely high window sill that affects visibility in so many models.

Inside the Santa Fe makes a nice design statement that both breaks from Euro-worship and doesn't quite fit the mold with other Japanese-brand crossovers; every surface and seam is a little curved, and the instrument panel is flowing and gently contoured. Last year also brought an upgraded look to some of the materials, a new range of colors, and new features, including steering-wheel audio controls for all models.

Review continues below
7

2011 Hyundai Santa Fe

Performance

The 2011 Hyundai Santa Fe has plenty of passing power, but its performance isn't pulse-raising.

Last year, Hyundai rolled out all-new powertrains for the Santa Fe, and we're glad they didn't wait; these new engines and transmissions not only give the Santa Fe better responsiveness and acceleration but also improved fuel economy.

The 2.4-liter Theta II four-cylinder engine in the Santa Fe makes 175 horsepower, and it has enough power to move this tall wagon rapidly—albeit with a little indecision from the transmission. The 3.5-liter Lambda V-6 engine makes 276 horsepower feels strong and smooth, even if it isn't as sweet as Toyota's V-6 in the Highlander or even GM's in the Chevrolet Equinox. A new six-speed automatic transmission comes with either engine for the Santa Fe. Front-wheel drive is standard, with an optional electronically controlled all-wheel-drive system that can send power to whichever wheels have the best traction or locked 50/50 between front and rear wheels for light off-road conditions.

Handling in the Santa Fe is responsive but unremarkable in its class, precise but with a slightly rubbery feel.

Review continues below
8

2011 Hyundai Santa Fe

Comfort & Quality

The 2011 Hyundai Santa Fe has a comfortable ride and quiet interior, though its front seats could be better.

With its in-between dimensions, the 2011 Hyundai Santa Fe is a few inches longer than the likes of the Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4, and Just three inches short of the Toyota Highlander. Yet it sticks to a two-row layout (the third row was discontinued last year), to seat up to five.

Seating in the Santa Fe is pretty good all around, although the seats have odd contouring and rather short cushions; five can fit in a pinch in the backseat, though they'll jostle shoulders. With no third row, there's a lot of cargo space, especially if you fold the rear seats forward. In front, the steering wheel now adjusts for tilt and telescopically on all models.

Trim and interior materials received an upgrade last year, though they're still closer to par for the class than representative of what you see in Hyundai's all-new vehicles. Ride quality is on the soft side, but well controlled, and the cabin generally stays pretty quiet—though with noteworthy road noise on some surfaces

Review continues below
9

2011 Hyundai Santa Fe

Safety

The 2011 Hyundai Santa Fe has top-notch safety ratings plus all the expected features in this class of vehicle.

The 2011 Hyundai Santa Fe includes a strong list of safety features, but what's more important and noteworthy is that it's been a top performer in crash tests.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has given the Santa Fe top 'good' ratings in all tests, including the new roof strength test, and it earns Top Safety Pick status for 2011. And while the Santa Fe hasn't yet been tested in the revised U.S. NCAP tests introduced this year, under the previous tests it achieved top five-star results in all crash test categories.

Standard safety features on the Santa Fe include electronic stability control, electronic brake force distribution, side and side-curtain airbags, and active head restraints. The side-curtain airbags have rollover sensors, and backseat head restraints have an auto-fold feature.

Review continues below
8

2011 Hyundai Santa Fe

Features

While the Santa Fe doesn't offer the library of features available on some crossover models, it's very well equipped with standard features.

The options list for the Hyundai Santa Fe looks remarkably empty. That's because of the way Hyundai sells vehicles—with a limited number of trims and builds—but it's also because nearly everything comes standard.

The entry Santa Fe GLS includes a number of features that cost extra in this class—or at least aren't typically included in base models—such as Bluetooth, keyless entry, cruise control, a trip computer, air conditioning, and USB and iPod inputs. Mid-range SE models get lots of appearance upgrades like 18-inch alloys, adjustable roof-rack rails, fog lamps, body color molding, an LED stop lamp, heated mirror and wiper deicers, and other extras. Top Limited models get full leather upholstery, a sunroof, and dual-zone climate control.

For 2011, Hyundai has made the 605-watt Infiniti Logic 7 surround sound system standard on all Limited trims, and solar glass is now standard on all models.

Review continues below
7

2011 Hyundai Santa Fe

Fuel Economy

The 2011 Hyundai Santa Fe is a reasonably green pick in its class, though stepping to a sedan or a slightly smaller crossover will get you better fuel economy.

No need to stick with the smaller engine here because you think it's greener, as it's actually not true here: The 2011 Hyundai Santa Fe gets roughly the same fuel economy whether you choose the base four-cylinder engine or the available V-6. And if you want all-wheel drive, the V-6 is actually slightly better on gas.

With EPA ratings of either 19 or 20 mpg in the city and 25 to 28 on the highway, the Santa Fe gets numbers that are about on par with other vehicles in this class—or about the same as mid-size V-6 sedans.

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April 13, 2015
For 2011 Hyundai Santa Fe

More substantial vehicle than comparable Honda and Toyota offers

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Styling 7
Performance 7
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