2012 Hyundai Santa Fe

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Martin Padgett Martin Padgett Editorial Director
January 3, 2012

Buying tip

If you're looking for a crossover with a manual transmission, keep looking: the Santa Fe, long a holdout, has dropped its stick shift for an all-automatic lineup.

features & specs

AWD 4-Door I4 GLS
AWD 4-Door V6 GLS
AWD 4-Door V6 Limited
20 city / 25 hwy
20 city / 26 hwy
20 city / 26 hwy

Still a great choice for families, the 2012 Hyundai Santa Fe has good safety scores and available V-6 power.

Priced and equipped with families in mind, the 2012 Hyundai Santa Fe isn't especially exciting to drive or to look at, but it's a very well-executed crossover vehicles with excellent safety scores and some made-in-America credibility. Competing with smaller utes like the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape, and bigger seven-seaters like the Ford Edge and Toyota Highlander crossovers, it's a "tweener" vehicle that takes great advantage of its size and space, though it no longer offers a third-row seat.

The Santa Fe does no harm with its looks. It's a little older than the rest of the Hyundai lineup, so the Santa Fe's plainly drawn panels and simple front-end treatment don't bear much relation to the extroverted Sonata, Accent and Veloster introduced in the past two years. It's somewhere on a styling curve between the Buick Enclave and the Toyota RAV4, and that's not a bad place to be. It's a bit warmer inside, with a theme that breaks rank from the usual Euro-worshipping and truck-reincarnating. The dash surfaces and seams are curved everywhere at least a little bit, and the gentle flow and contours of the cabin feel welcoming. Hyundai's improved the quality of interior trim over the Santa Fe's life, and added new colors and a sprinkling of buttons on the steering wheel, but has smartly avoided cluttering the cabin.

The new powertrains that made their way into the Santa Fe in 2010 roll on unchanged this year. The 2.4-liter, direct-injection four-cylinder makes 175 horsepower, and has enough guts to move the tall wagon briskly, while turning in 20/28 mpg fuel economy. Still, we'd opt for the much more powerful 276-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 available across the board. It's a strong, smooth performer, just a little shy of the Toyota Highlander or Chevy Equinox V-6 in refinement. Both engines are paired to a six-speed automatic that needs another round of night school: it's indecisive at times, as it tries to optimize gas mileage against leadfoot impulses. Front-wheel drive is the norm, but all-wheel drive is an option on the Santa Fe, and its power can be locked at a 50:50 split, front to back, for the worse weather and road conditions you'll encounter. Steering isn't a Hyundai strong suit, and it's a little vague and wandery here, but ride quality is on the right side of soft, with well-controlled motions, and the Santa Fe's cabin is generally quiet.

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By the numbers, the Santa Fe is a few inches longer than the Toyota RAV4 or Honda CR-V, and a few inches shorter than bigger crossovers like the Toyota Highlander. With its third-row seat discontinued a couple of years ago, it's not the all-around flexibility champ that its cousin, the Kia Sorento, might be, but it still offers seating for up to five passengers. The seats have short bottom cushions and some odd contouring, but are still supportive enough for longer drives. The smaller size means two adults max across the back row of seats, unless they're small. The cargo area's expansive for its size.

Though the NHTSA doesn't have all its crash tests completed just yet, the IIHS calls the Santa Fe a Top Safety Pick. Stability control and curtain airbags are standard, and so is Bluetooth, which we consider a safety device. Downhill braking control is added to the stability control programming for this year.

The Santa Fe comes very well-equipped even in base editions, which keeps down build complexity and keeps owners satisfied. Even the GLS edition gets standard cruise control; USB port; keyless entry; and power windows, locks and mirrors. Top Limited models get full leather upholstery, a sunroof, and dual-zone climate control, plus 605-watt Infinity surround-sound audio. An optional touchscreen navigation system brings with it a rearview camera and real-time traffic.

2012 Hyundai Santa Fe


The 2012 Hyundai Santa Fe fits in with the rest of the crossover pack just fine; but it's not nearly as bold, flowing, and nicely detailed as some of Hyundai's newer cars.

Compared to most other vehicles in the Hyundai lineup, the 2012 Santa Fe looks a little blander, a little more dated, and it lacks some of the contemporary, more curvaceous sheetmetal that's especially made the brand's newer passenger cars like the Sonata, Elantra, and Accent such standouts.

That said, Hyundai has kept the Santa Fe fresh enough to fit right in with other compact-to-mid-size crossovers, with a smooth and functional--if not overly attractive--design. At last 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. However we still do appreciate how the beltline hasn't been brought excessively high, and there's enough of a window greenhouse for good visibility.

Inside, the Santa Fe's cabin has no signs of Euro-worship and shows early signs of the bolder interior design that the brand has given its cars. Every surface and seam is a little curved, and the instrument panel is flowing and gently contoured. Hyundai's improved the quality of interior trim over the Santa Fe's life, and added new colors and a sprinkling of buttons on the steering wheel, but has smartly avoided cluttering the cabin.

Review continues below

2012 Hyundai Santa Fe


The 2012 Hyundai Santa Fe has powertrains that stand out in its class, though otherwise its performance is unremarkable.

Hyundai added some new powertrains to the Santa Fe lineup back in 2010--marking improvements to both performance and fuel economy--and those are still looking ahead of the curve even this year.

The 2.4-liter Theta II four-cylinder engine in the Santa Fe has direct injection and makes 175 horsepower. With it, you'll have enough power to move this tall wagon rapidly—albeit with a little economy-minded indecision from the six-speed automatic 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. Because of how much better it works with the transmission, we'd probably pick the V-6.

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.

In any of its variations, the Santa Fe handles responsively but with a somewhat rubbery, uncommunicative feel; in exchange for that, you get ride quality that's well controlled, without much body motion, and with a relatively quiet cabin.

Review continues below

2012 Hyundai Santa Fe

Comfort & Quality

The 2012 Santa Fe is roomy and comfortable, but neither as space-efficient nor as well-detailed as in other Hyundai models.

At a few inches shorter than the Toyota Highlander yet somewhat longer than the likes of the Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4, the 2012 Hyundai Santa Fe has a little more space for those who want a roomy family vehicle but don't need a third row.

Inside the Santa Fe there's seating for five adults, though having three in the back seat will probably mean that they'll be jostling shoulders (or staving off cooties). The seats have odd contouring and rather short cushions, and in front they're among the least supportive seats in this class for taller folks. But there's a lot of cargo space, especially if you fold the rear seats forward.

Trim and interior materials received an upgrade a couple of years ago, and the steering wheel now tilts and telescopes in all models. Up close, detailing isn't quite at the same caliber as what you find in many of Hyundai's more recently redesigned models. And while you might notice some road noise on coarse surfaces, the cabin in general stays pretty quiet, with ride quality on the soft but not queasy side.

Review continues below

2012 Hyundai Santa Fe


With top-notch safety features, plus all the features that are expected in a mid-size crossover, the 2012 Hyundai Santa Fe covers all the safety bases.

The 2012 Hyundai Santa Fe includes a strong list of safety features, and with some top safety scores as well, most families should have peace of mind in choosing it as a primary family vehicle.

Once again for 2012 the Santa Fe is an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Safety Pick, and the organization has given the Santa Fe top 'good' ratings in all tests, including the new roof strength test. Results haven't been released from the federal government, but the Santa Fe had done very well under the previous ratings system.

Stability control and curtain airbags are standard on the Santa Fe; so is Bluetooth, which we consider a safety device. And Hyundai has added downhill braking control to the stability control system this year.

2012 Hyundai Santa Fe


You won't have a lot of option and package choices for the 2012 Hyundai Santa Fe, but in any case you'll be getting a very well-equipped vehicle.

Because of the way Hyundai sells vehicles—with a very limited number of build combinations—the options list for the 2012 Santa Fe looks disconcertingly limited. But with nearly everything coming standard—including many features that are optional or relegated to top trims in competing models—these models deliver a lot of value for the money.

Particularly on the base 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, plus 605-watt Infinity surround-sound audio. An optional touchscreen navigation system brings with it a rearview camera and real-time traffic.

Review continues below

2012 Hyundai Santa Fe

Fuel Economy

The 2012 Hyundai Santa Fe might straddle the line between compact and mid-size, but its gas mileage is mid-size all the way.

For most crossovers in this class, if you go with the smaller four-cylinder engine you'll get a greener, more fuel-efficient vehicle. But that's not so much the case here; with its base engine, you might eke out a mile or two better per gallon if you drive gently, but with all-wheel drive, the V-6 is actually slightly better on gas.

Overall, with EPA ratings of either 19 or 20 mpg in the city and 25 to 28 on the highway, the Santa Fe is about as good on gas as a full-size sedan—typical for a mid-size crossover, though you have to keep in mind that with the Santa Fe you don't get the added flexibility of a third-row seat.

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May 16, 2015
For 2012 Hyundai Santa Fe

Great car, but does not handle well on steep snow ploughed hills.

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Hyundai sante fe does not handle steep hills in snow. I have to back it up to get out of the cottage, even though it is ploughed. Otherwise love the car.
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