SUV 101. Hyundai is more about pragmatism than verve, and it shows in the 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe XL, the seven-passenger, three-row variant of the nameplate. This vehicle is all about hitting the major targets: interior space, cabin technology, safety, and price. Personality isn't its strong suit, but it does cover a lot of bases.
The exterior is a greatest hits album of modern crossover SUVs: a gently sloping roofline, fashionably sharp creases, and the requisite six-sided grille. The interior is just as blandly pleasant. Plastics are visible, but no more so than other mainstream models. Aside from a little more tire noise than we’d like, there’s little to complain about.
Adequate performance, mediocre mileage. Things are just as sensible in the powertrain department. Only one engine powers all XLs, but power may be sent to two or four wheels. With all-wheel drive, the Santa Fe XL will tow 5,000 pounds – exactly the same as competitors like the Honda Pilot and the Toyota Highlander.
But while the engine is good enough for forward thrust, it falls behind in efficiency. The EPA estimates fuel economy at 18 miles per gallon city, 25 mpg highway, and 21 combined. That’s short of the 23 mpg combined achieved by the Pilot and the Highlander. All-wheel drive means another efficiency hit, dropping mileage to 18/24/20 mpg (city/highway/combined).
Space everywhere but the back. By most standards, the Sante Fe XL is a spacious vehicle. Up front, head and leg room are plentiful, as are storage nooks and cup holders. For the second row, Hyundai can fit either a bench or two captain’s chairs, for six- or seven-person capacities. So far, so good.
The third row is where the XL starts to falter. Small seats push knees close to the chest for the long-legged, and head room isn’t much more encouraging. Hyundai is likely betting that only children will sit back here – if they’re right, it might not be too great a sacrifice.
Things don’t improve too much in the rear. Behind the third row, cargo capacity is just 13.5 cubic feet. That lags behind the Pilot’s 16.5 cubes, and it’s even farther behind the Ford Explorer’s 21. Things get more competitive with the seats folded – the XL can hold 40.9 cubic feet behind the second row and 80 with both rows folded.
Feature-packed value. Where Hyundai really wants to wow buyers is included features. Standard features are decent on base models, with the highlight being a useful infotainment system running through the 7-inch central touchscreen. The Limited Ultimate trim is swankier with more luxury features like heated, cooled, and leather-trimmed seats.
All these features come at an MSRP that manages to undercut most of the competition. The lone sore spot is active safety features like lane-departure warning and automatic emergency braking. While available, this tech is bundled in a pricey package along with adaptive cruise control and adaptive headlights. Both the Pilot and the Highlander include their active safety tech standard on all trims.
That said, the XL’s safety reputation is otherwise excellent. Thanks to strong crash tests, the Santa Fe XL earned a Top Safety Pick Plus designation from the IIHS and five stars from the NHTSA.
Final thoughts. The 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe XL is riding out its last few months on sale. It’s due to be replaced by the 2020 Hyundai Palisade sometime this year. The new Palisade will have more cargo space and more modern tech, addressing some of our concerns with the 2019 model.
Where the current XL excels is value. It’s still one of the cheapest ways into a three-row crossover, and that'll only become more true as dealerships start to clear their lots to prepare for the new.
And for its age, the Santa Fe XL is remarkably competent. It keeps up in almost every department, earning few superlatives but making few missteps. If you’re in the market for a budget-friendly family utility vehicle, it’s worth a look.