Since the Hyundai Santa Fe debuted at the turn of the millennium, it has grown from an also-ran compact to a worthy mid-size SUV, but it's never been particularly memorable. That changes with the redesigned 2024 Santa Fe, which has been treated to a complete rethink. This new Santa Fe is significantly changed and, in our estimation, could have launched as a completely different model to sell alongside the company's three-row Palisade.
With its blocky and beveled styling, the 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe's look is a big departure from its predecessors and for Hyundai overall. The lighting has an H motif that's distinctive during the day or night—from the front, it looks like a next-generation Ford Flex, had that model lived on. The rear view isn't quite as attractive, with the low-mounted taillights adding a lot of awkward visual weight above.
In terms of size, the new Santa Fe is 1.8 inches longer than its predecessor—and there's even bigger news inside. It's now a six- or seven-passenger three-row SUV instead of a five-passenger two-row. As expected, interior styling has also been modernized, with new features to further freshen things up.
We had the opportunity to drive the Santa Fe in Korea and came away with favorable impressions of both models that are destined for the U.S. The standard Santa Fe, which arrives in March, is powered by a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder good for 277 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque. It's paired with an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that drives the front wheels or all four. The Santa Fe Hybrid, which gets here later in the spring, features a turbocharged 1.6-liter inline-four paired with an AC motor that together produce 232 horses and 271 pound-feet. It uses a six-speed automatic and sends torque to all four wheels.
Either Santa Fe is sufficiently powerful, though not what we'd consider impressive. The engines remain pleasantly quiet until you floor the pedal. At full throttle, there's some coarse engine sounds, but that's pretty typical for an inline-four. The Korean-spec vehicles we drove were tuned for highway comfort, ably smoothing over what few pavement imperfections we could find and exhibiting a few residual rebounds over some road undulations. We expect the U.S. versions to receive a slightly firmer suspension tune. Handling is more than adequate for most drivers and feels well settled when cornering. For more adventurous types who might actually venture off-road, an XRT model will sport 30-inch all-terrain tires and provide an additional 1.5 inches of ground clearance.
There's not much to say about how the Santa Fe drives, and that's actually a good thing for a three-row SUV. Shoppers in this class typically aren't seeking sporty and thrilling, more like comfort and convenience. To that end, it's what's inside that counts.
Up front, the new Santa Fe offers plenty of room, and outward visibility is excellent. The cabin is much nicer than before, with improved materials and a cleaner center console that isn't littered with a mass of buttons. The steering wheel looks as though it was pilfered from a Land Rover, but to Hyundai's credit, it fits in just fine with the cockpit. A single piece of curved glass houses two 12.3-inch displays—one for the instrument cluster and a touchscreen for infotainment. Separate climate controls reside in the center stack above a tray with twin wireless phone chargers and large cupholders.
The center armrest bin is both front- and rear-hinged to allow access by either front- or rear-seat passengers, though the latch required some effort to open. Another large bin is under the console, and there are also two gloveboxes. The top box is available with a UVC-sterilizing light that claims to disinfect phones, glasses, or other personal items.
The available second-row captain's chairs are almost as comfortable and adjustable as the those up front, and legroom is adequate if not generous. An elevated stadium-like seating position gives a good view out the front, which could be a big bonus for passengers prone to motion sickness. One glaring omission, however, is the lack of separate rear climate controls. As it stands, you can only adjust the fan speed for those passengers from the front console.
Accessing the third row is best accomplished by climbing between the second-row captain's chairs, as there's barely enough space to shimmy past when the middle seat is slid and tipped forward. Thanks to the Santa Fe's boxy shape, there's enough headroom for adults back there, but in most cases, second-row passengers may have to slide forward to allow for adequate third-row legroom. It's worth noting that the hybrid reduces second-row legroom by about half an inch.
Overall, this cabin isn't as spacious as the larger Palisade's, but the Santa Fe is a solid contender for buyers with only occasional third-row needs. Behind the second row, the Santa Fe can accommodate an impressive 41 cubic feet of cargo, five more than before. In the event you need more, the roof rack can hold a number of helpful pods, and there's even a hidden handhold behind the rear door windows to help you climb onto the rear wheel to access the roof rack.
After our first drive experience, we'd say the 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe has the goods to lead the field of smaller three-row SUVs that includes the Kia Sorento, Mitsubishi Outlander, and Volkswagen Tiguan. It also stakes out a viable middle ground between two-row mid-sizers and the larger mid-size three-row SUV class that has been dominated by the Kia Telluride, the Palisade, and new Honda Pilot. Pricing has not been released yet, but the Santa Fe should be less expensive than the larger Telluride. This Santa Fe stands out—with more than just head-turning looks.
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