Over the past half decade, Canadians have gone a bit cold on Hyundai’s Santa Fe SUV (sport-utility vehicle). Sales have been sliding, while just the opposite has been happening with the compact Hyundai Tucson.
Confusion and price.
Hyundai, in baffling bit of decision-making, chose to turn the Santa Fe into two vehicles, the midsize Santa Fe Sport and the even larger Santa Fe XL. Prices went up, too, and Santa Fe sales went sliding.
Meantime, Hyundai gave the Tucson a milestone makeover for 2015, and things have gotten better year after year ever since. Tucson sales have nearly doubled in that time, while Santa Fe sales have trended downward.
The Tucson is now one of Canada’s most popular compact SUVs, though to be fair only half as popular as Toyota’s RAV4, the segment leader. The Santa Fe is also a leader among midsize SUVs, but it’s been taking a smaller chunk of a diminishing midsize SUV segment.
In any case, I would recommend the Tucson to anyone shopping for a well-made, competitively priced, modern, reliable and safe compact SUV. Indeed, the Tucson, because the Hyundai brand is not nearly the equal of Toyota’s, is a relative bargain as a new model and an absolute steal as a used one.
As for the Santa Fe, the confusion has ended. Credit the arrival of the gargantuan Hyundai Palisade SUV. That hulking beast is now in place for big-rig buyers. Hyundai Canada, as a result, now sells the one version of the Santa Fe, starting at $31,399 and topping out at a whopping $47,499 for the modestly named Ultimate Calligraphy.
I’ve only recently finished with the Calligraphy, which nudged $50,000, destination charge included. It is, to say the least, a beautifully executed, roomy, technologically sound and comfortable SUV. The quality history is first rate, which is why I would certainly buy the Hyundai over the historically troublesome Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Ford’s Edge is the top seller in this segment, but the Hyundai is better built. Toyota’s Highlander is also worth a thorough test drive, though it’s a bit of a lumbering beast compared to the nimbler Santa Fe.
Others? Ford’s Explorer is more truck-like, if that’s what you want.
The Murano from Nissan just seems old and dated.
The GMC Terrain is just okay.
Volkswagen’s Atlas isn’t really a player at all (clumsy and the styling was old before it was launched).
Subaru’s Outback is pricy, but superbly built, sure-footed and if you’re happy to see the Outback pumped up like a bodybuilder on ‘roids, have a look.
The Santa Fe ticks all the boxes for me. Here’s a rundown:
Design: The overall look is a clean, two-box execution, lacking unnecessary creases and other silly flourishes. The grille is strong but not stupidly big. The headlamps blend nicely into the front end with LED lighting signatures. The power folding side mirrors and puddle lamps add flair, as does the new wheel design.
Propulsion: My tester had the strong direct-injection, four-cylinder turbo (277 horsepower), but you can also get a gasoline-electric hybrid Santa Fe with all-wheel drive. The 2.5-litre four-banger is modern and thrifty enough (8.5 city/11.0 hwy/9.9 combined L/100 km). The eight-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox is as modern as they come. Engine responses are very strong, shifts are seamless and the whole package delivers effortless motivation.
Interior: I’d ague the cabin here is the richest looking of any SUV in this segment. The Nappa leather seating surfaces in the Calligraphy are lovely, the suede-ish headliner is a big step up from the usual felt, the ambient lighting delivers a luxurious effect and the cargo area is bigger for 2021 than 2020.
Displays? Well, this is where buyers in 2021 are won and lost. The audio display is 8.0 inches, the navigation is 10.25 and crystal clear, and the 12.3-inch digital cluster display is easy to read with graphics that look modern and compelling.
The infotainment interface is intuitive and responsive and works with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Harmon Kardon sound system is compelling, there’s wireless device charging and remote parking assist. Pretty luxurious, then.
Safety: Hyundai has for more than a decade emphasized quality and safety as core competitive matters. Of course, the safety scores are good, and third-party research confirms quality. The list of electronic safety systems is too long for this space, and thoroughly comprehensive.
In sum, the Santa Fe is a segment leader in every way. There is no confusion about that fact.