Hyundai gave each of its larger crossover models—the three-row Santa Fe and two-row Santa Fe Sport—a freshening for 2017. Competing against such six- and seven-passenger models as the Dodge Durango and Honda Pilot, the Santa Fe is substantially larger than the Sport, and comes only with V6 power. A Limited Ultimate trim level is new for 2017.

Pricing and Equipment

Starting at $30,800 (plus destination charge), the Santa Fe contains a 3.3-liter V6 engine that develops 290 horsepower and 252 pound-feet of torque, driving a six-speed automatic transmission. A Santa Fe can have front-drive or, for an additional $1,750, all-wheel drive.

SE, Limited, SE Ultimate, and Limited Ultimate trim levels are offered. Standard Santa Fe equipment includes seven airbags, a rearview camera, a power driver’s seat, cloth upholstery, automatic climate control, Blue Link connectivity, satellite radio, and 18-inch alloy wheels. SE models have a bench seat in the second row for seven-passenger capacity, while Limited versions get captain’s chairs for six-passenger seating.

My 2017 Santa Fe Limited Ultimate AWD, with a starting MSRP (Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price) of $39,400, included:

  • Second-row captain’s chairs
  • Rear parking sensors
  • Surround-view cameras
  • Heated/ventilated front seats
  • Power passenger seat
  • Eight-inch touchscreen
  • Panoramic sunroof
  • Hands-free power liftgate
  • Nineteen-inch wheels

Available safety features include forward-collision warning with automatic braking, lane-departure warning, and adaptive cruise control.

Performance Pros

BMW 640
  • Pleasant ride, at least on good pavement.
  • Supremely smooth response from automatic transmission. Only by paying close attention is it possible to hear—or feel—most shifts take place.
  • Plenty of energy to accelerate briskly when needed. At times when starting off, response is almost startling, which is hardly common in a larger SUV. Acceleration isn’t quite as stirring higher up the speed scale, but the smooth flow of power makes up for any modest shortage of pickup. A Santa Fe does feel as if it’s pulling a fair amount of weight when accelerating, but without breathing very hard.

Performance Cons

  • Undulating pavement could reveal a little softness in the ride, even feeling a trifle woozy for the duration.
  • Possible transmission confusion. Once during my week-long test drive, while turning a corner at low speed, the transmission felt as if it was shutting down briefly, unsure what to do next.

Interior Pros

BMW 640 Interior
  • Quiet refinement is Number One. In this area, the Santa Fe stands close to the pinnacle of sizable crossover SUVs.
  • Excellent information/navigation screen, mounted high and tilted back slightly, so the driver’s eye need not move far.
  • Santa Fe is one of the easiest utility vehicles to enter and exit. Front or rear, it’s almost like stepping down rather than up. Front seat bottoms are about as long as any you’re likely to find, providing good thigh support.
  • Gauges are beautifully bright and clear, with crisp white numerals and markings standing out against a black background.

Interior Cons

  • Third-row headrests block the rearward view. Fortunately, they can be removed, or the seat folded down, from the cargo area. Also, entering the third row presents a challenge, though the walkway between captain’s chairs (if installed) helps. Riding back there won’t please many passengers, either, unless they’re quite small in size.
  • Cargo space is minimal unless third-row seats are folded. Under-floor storage compartment is rather small, but handy.
  • Dashboard contains a lot of flat buttons; but thankfully, nearly all are as clearly and sensibly marked as any that I’ve seen lately. I also appreciated the real knobs used for radio volume and tuning.

The Most Pleasant Surprise

Most evident is the level of subtle yet substantial improvement, compared to the last Santa Fe that I’d driven. That SUV came across as nondescript, even stodgy, lacking in character and failing to stand out in any way from the competition. In contrast, I looked forward to each outing in the 2017 model

The Least Pleasant Surprise

Gas mileage is nothing to boast about, though not out of line for a relatively heavy vehicle. With front-drive, the EPA estimate is 18 mpg in city driving and 25 mpg on the highway (18/24 mpg with all-wheel drive). Ultimate models are slightly less thrifty: as low as 17/22 mpg.

But the most unpleasant surprise happened just once: the powered liftgate raised up and stayed open, without being asked. Evidently, I must have inadvertently pushed the button on the remote long enough to actuate the liftgate. That’s surprising, because normally it has to be held down for a second or more.

The Bottom Line

Hyundai’s vehicles have long been well known for delivering good value. More recently, their quality and refinement have risen steadily, catching up with the value proposition. That’s definitely true of the Santa Fe, as well as its smaller Sport counterpart. No one needs to feel apologetic in any way about purchasing a Hyundai crossover rather than a competitor.