2018 Hyundai Santa Fe

2018 Hyundai Santa Fe

The Basics:

The 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe is a three-row family crossover that's been in Hyundai's stable for several years. Next year the Santa Fe will be called the Santa Fe XL—who among us hasn't sized up to XL after families and time?

The 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport still does what good crossover SUVs do best: it delivers flexible space, decent performance, and great value.

The three-row crossover by Hyundai may be losing ground to comparable offerings from other automakers such as the Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot, both of which have ballooned in size to appeal to family buyers who are trending toward city buses.

While a new Santa Fe looms in the next model year or two, the current version’s still worth a look for its excellent crash safety and strong value. We give it a 7.3 out of 10 for those reasons, and for its comfort and versatility. (Read more about how we rate cars.)  

Styling isn’t the reason to seek out the Santa Fe. It’s anodyne, stamped out perfectly along the median of crossover SUV styling, from its six-sided grille to its gently rounded roofline. The cockpit’s more of the same, with subdued trim, a shield-shaped bank of controls, and woodgrain trim on expensive models.

Performance isn’t its strongest suit either. Gas mileage is middling, and so is acceleration from its V-6. The Santa Fe’s ride earns our kudos, and when its three-mode steering’s dialed to Sport, it tracks true down the highway.

We’re into the Santa Fe for its interior space. Hyundai surrounds the front passengers with all kinds of space, and heats and ventilates their leather seats, for a price. Second-row passengers have it pretty good, too. Reserve the third row for small people and plan ahead for light cargo if all the seats are in use: the Santa Fe’s less roomy back there than its newer rivals.

The Santa Fe has performed very well in crash tests, and comes with a rearview camera. Forward-collision warnings and automatic emergency braking are optional on top trims. Other nice touches include high-end audio, available all-wheel drive, and a panoramic roof–but Hyundai skips the rear-seat entertainment system, figuring your tablet and mobile data plan will do. (They do.)

Hyundai updated the Santa Fe in 2017 with a mild front-end makeover. It’s attractive inside and out, if unadventurous.

It earns a 7 out of 10 on our styling scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport still does what good crossover SUVs do best: it delivers flexible space, decent performance, and great value.

The Santa Fe glides along in the mainstream without so much as a ripple. The front end wears a six-sided grille that’s some kind of gold standard in the crossover-SUV world. A reshaped front bumper and LED fog lights haven’t hurt its benignly attractive face.

From the side, the Santa Fe’s proportions all but give away the goods. It’s a minivan without sliding side doors, and its tapered roofline and trim glass areas outpoint just about every minivan on the fashion scale, save for the suave Chrysler Pacifica.

The cockpit adopts another SUV gold standard, a shield-shaped control hub flanked by big air vents. It works well with the sheet metal. The dash surface undulates, dipping low in front of passengers and bubbling up for gauges and the center stack, and large knobs control fan speed and audio volume. Some versions get a larger touchscreen and electroluminescent gauges, with no dramatic departure from the crossover median.

Hyundai fits the Santa Fe with one drivetrain: a 3.3-liter V-6 and a 6-speed automatic. With front- or all-wheel drive, it doles out just enough power to pull a full carload of people and gear.

Ride and handling fare better in comparison, so we give the Santa Fe a 6 out of 10 for performance. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The drivetrain’s tuned to deliver more power low in its rev range. Still, acceleration is moderate, mostly because the lightest Santa Fe weighs about 4,000 pounds. Clean, quick shifts are the Santa Fe rule, and its manual-shift mode is somewhat unnecessary, but the gearbox can be caught off-guard when the gas pedal’s mashed.

The Santa Fe can tow up to 5,000 pounds.

The Santa Fe’s electric power steering has three selectable modes, from economy to normal to sport. Hyundai’s learning curve in electric steering has been a long one, and the Santa Fe’s no different. It’s not eager to respond off-center, and wanders slightly when tracking down interstates. Switching the steering to Sport adds weight, but helps it keep better in line on highways.

With a front strut and rear multi-link suspension, the Santa Fe makes a good compromise between its calm, quiet ride and rear cargo space (bulky but sophisticated suspension designs in back can eat up room). The Santa Fe’s biggest edge here is its length. The extra wheelbase damps out more of the road’s wrinkles, even when it’s fitted with 19-inch wheels.

The Santa Fe is the three-row version of Hyundai’s SUV duo. It’s spacious in its own right, though it’s significantly smaller than rivals like the Honda Pilot.

We give it a 9 out of 10, for all its people and cargo space, and for that versatile third-row configuration. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Hyundai sells this Santa Fe in 6- and 7-passenger form. Either way, it’s 193.1 inches long (8.5 inches longer than the Santa Fe Sport) and rides on a 110.2-inch wheelbase (up 3.9 inches on the Sport).

The front seat illustrates why so many minivan and SUV drivers have moved into crossovers like the Santa Fe. Head and leg room abounds, unless the Santa Fe has the panoramic sunroof included on Ultimate models. Soft cushions and firm bolsters in the front seats match up with ideally positioned headrests–it’s a big deal, if you’ve driven a Ford Flex and found your neck jutting forward.

Between the front passengers the Santa Fe has plenty of cupholders and bins, including one well ahead of the shift lever.

In the second row, the Santa Fe comes configured with a bench or with two captain’s chairs. The longer wheelbase affords it good leg room, and the seats have very good support as well as heating on some models.

It’s the third row where the Santa Fe lags behind its bigger rivals. The seats are small and sit low to the ground. They’re difficult to access, even with the second row moved forward. Knee and head room are scant.

The Santa Fe’s slim cargo space behind the third row is a liability in its class too, at just 13.5 cubic feet. Fold down the third row and the Santa Fe has more than 40 cubic feet of cargo space.

The Santa Fe has a pleasantly trimmed cabin, with woodgrain trim on more expensive models and less rich plastic on lower-priced versions. The V-6 emits just a distant whir, but tire noise intrudes more than it does in the Sport model.

The 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe has earned exceptional marks from federal and independent safety agencies.

The IIHS calls it a Top Safety Pick+ for this year thanks to its top "Good" scores on crash tests and its available advanced safety features. Federal testers give the Santa Fe a five-star overall score, including four stars for front and rollover crash protection.  

A rearview camera is standard, and surround-view cameras are an option. Blind-spot monitors are standard on Limited and Ultimate trim levels, but forward collision warnings with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warnings, and adaptive headlights are optional for those two top trims.

On our scale, that’s worth an 8 out of 10. Hyundai bundles its advanced safety features in a pricey tech package that adds $2,100 to the bottom lines of SE and Ultimate trim levels, which keeps it from a 9. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

As Hyundai’s biggest SUV, the Santa Fe gets stuffed with the most features, more than the related Santa Fe Sport. It’s sold in base, SE, Limited, and Ultimate trims.

Its standard and optional goodies, as well as its useful infotainment system, earn an 8 out 10 here. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Every Santa Fe comes with power features, cruise control, cloth seats, a rearview camera, a power-adjustable driver seat, dual-zone climate control, AM/FM/XM/CD audio with USB and Bluetooth connectivity, and a 7.0-inch touchscreen. On base, SE models, 18-inch alloy wheels are standard.

Santa Fe SE SUVs with the Premium add a power passenger seat, keyless ignition, blind-spot monitors, and a hands-free tailgate.

The Santa Fe Limited gains heated front seats and a heated steering wheel, second-row captain's chairs, leather, and electroluminescent gauges.

An Ultimate model has a surround-view camera system, parking sensors, heated and cooled front seats, an 8.0-inch touchscreen, and 19-inch wheels. It also gets standard forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and lane-departure warnings.

Hyundai doesn’t offer a rear-seat entertainment system. It thinks most buyers have moved on to streaming content to tablets, and we’re inclined to agree.

Hyundai's BlueLink telematics bring in a suite of services such as remote door unlock and start. For 2018, Hyundai adds in three years of BlueLink service.

The 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe posts good fuel economy when it’s configured with front-wheel drive. With all-wheel drive, it’s merely average.

With its standard V-6 and automatic, the front-drive Santa Fe earns EPA ratings of 18 mpg city, 25 highway, 21 combined. Those figures fall to 18/24/20 mpg with all-wheel drive.

On our green scale, those numbers earn a 6 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Compared to a Honda Pilot’s 22-mpg combined score, or the Dodge Durango’s 21 mpg, the Santa Fe AWD could use a boost.

Buying Tips:

If third-row seats are your first priority, look elsewhere. The Santa Fe’s wayback is small for its kind.

Other Choices:

  • 2018 Ford Explorer
  • 2018 Nissan Pathfinder
  • 2018 Kia Sorento
  • 2018 Toyota Highlander
  • 2018 Honda Pilot

Reason Why:

Among three-row SUVs, the Hyundai Santa Fe still lures in shoppers with size and value. The Nissan Pathfinder gets better fuel economy and has more space, but its CVT turns powertrain sounds into a drone. The Santa Fe has closed the gap on interior refinement against its corporate cousin—the Kia Sorento. The Ford Explorer drives big and feels burdened by some of its infotainment tech, and gets expensive in a hurry. The perennial powerhouse Toyota Highlander has a fresh face and a hybrid on offer. The Honda Pilot just underwent a thorough revamp and now has one of the most spacious, comfortable interiors of all crossovers, and excellent performance and safety ratings.

The Bottom Line:

The 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe has a small third-row seat, but delivers on almost every major crossover-SUV talking point.

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