For consumers shopping for a crossover SUV with three rows of seating, the 2016 Hyundai Santa Fe isn’t an obvious choice. It doesn’t have the name recognition or history of other options in the crossover class, and it’s neither the biggest nor the newest entry in its price range. Nevertheless, there are good reasons to consider the Santa Fe.
It might not be the biggest or newest three-row crossover, but the 2016 Hyundai Santa Fe is worth checking out.
As is usually the case with family crossovers, most of these reasons are apparent once you get inside the vehicle. Although Hyundai’s crossover tops out at seven-passenger capacity (whereas some rivals seat eight), the first two rows offer generous headroom and legroom. The two-passenger third-row seat is best left to the elementary school crowd, but adults with a sense of humor will survive short drives to dinner. Apart from that, the Santa Fe’s cabin has a pleasant ambience thanks to its clean, attractive design, impressively rich materials and simple controls. You’ll be able to figure out the available touchscreen interface even if you’re bewildered by the apps on your smartphone.
Another desirable aspect of the 2016 Hyundai Santa Fe is its standard V6 engine. This potent yet quiet engine provides above-average acceleration and towing capacity. If you test-drive everything in this class, you’ll likely find that newer competitors steer with a touch more precision and ride with more composure and refinement than the 2016 Santa Fe. But if you’re mainly looking for an easy-to-drive crossover that goes down the highway swiftly, this Hyundai will do right by you.
Of course, you’ll want to explore your options before making a decision. The undeniable front-runners in the three-row crossover class are the redesigned 2016 Honda Pilot and the highly regarded (and Edmunds’ “A”-rated) Toyota Highlander. Both are impressive eight-passenger vehicles that are likely to check every box on your list and then some, though larger families will prefer the roomier third row in the Pilot. Another worthy alternative is the Chevrolet Traverse, which has gargantuan cargo capacity. We’re also fond of the wagonlike Ford Flex and the recently revised Kia Sorento. Even though the 2016 Hyundai Santa Fe doesn’t have any significant advantages over these rivals, we still think it’s a nicely executed crossover that offers strong value for families.
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Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
A midsize crossover SUV, the 2016 Hyundai Santa Fe can seat either six or seven passengers depending on how it’s equipped. It’s available in SE and Limited trim levels. (The smaller Santa Fe Sport seats five and is reviewed separately.)
Standard features on the SE include 18-inch alloy wheels, foglights, a rear spoiler, roof rails, windshield wiper de-icers, cruise control, full power accessories, air-conditioning (with second- and third-row rear vents and controls), a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, an eight-way power driver seat (with four-way power lumbar), heated front seats, a 40/20/40-split sliding and reclining second-row seat and a 50/50-split flat-folding third-row seat. Also standard are a rearview camera, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, Hyundai’s Blue Link telematics system and a six-speaker audio system with a CD player, satellite radio (three months free), HD radio, USB/iPod integration, an auxiliary audio input and a 4.3-inch touchscreen display.
The Santa Fe’s interior stands out for the simplicity of its design and high-quality materials.
The optional Premium package for the SE adds 19-inch wheels, keyless ignition and entry, a power liftgate (with hands-free automatic open), blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alerts, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, dual-zone automatic climate control, an upgraded gauge cluster, leather upholstery, a four-way power front passenger seat and manual rear window shades.
The Santa Fe Limited includes the contents of the Premium package and swaps out the second-row bench seat for captain’s chairs (reducing total seating to six).
Both trims can be optioned with the Ultimate package, which nets a panoramic sunroof, rear parking sensors, a heated steering wheel, ventilated front seats, heated second-row seats, driver memory settings, an 8-inch touchscreen interface with a navigation system and a 115-volt power outlet. This package also includes an audio system upgrade: Santa Fe SE models gets a 10-speaker system, while the Limited gets a 12-speaker Infinity surround-sound system. Limited models with the Ultimate package also pick up xenon headlights and LED taillights.
Powertrains and Performance
Powering the Santa Fe is a 3.3-liter V6 engine that produces 290 horsepower and 252 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard, and both trim levels give you a choice between front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive.
The EPA’s fuel economy estimates are 21 mpg combined (18 city/25 highway) on front-wheel-drive models and 20 mpg combined (18 city/24 highway) with AWD. The heavier Ultimate-package models are rated 1-2 mpg lower than their respective base models.
In Edmunds testing, an AWD Santa Fe Limited with the Ultimate package went from zero to 60 mph in 7.7 seconds, a good number for this class. Properly equipped, the Santa Fe can tow up to 5,000 pounds.
Standard safety features for all 2016 Hyundai Santa Fe models include antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, front seat side airbags, side curtain airbags and front seat active head restraints. Also standard are a rearview camera and Blue Link, Hyundai’s emergency telematics system, which provides services such as remote access, emergency assistance, theft recovery and geo-fencing.
Options include rear parking sensors and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alerts. Note that electronic safety aids like a lane departure warning system and a frontal collision mitigation system are not available on the Santa Fe.
In crash testing conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Santa Fe earned a top “Good” rating in moderate-overlap frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength tests and a second-lowest “Marginal” rating in the small-overlap frontal-offset test. Its seat/head restraint design was rated “Good” for whiplash protection in rear impacts.
In Edmunds brake testing, a Santa Fe Limited stopped in 125 feet, an average performance for this segment.
Interior Design and Special Features
Even though the current-generation Santa Fe has been on the market a few years, its cabin continues to stand out in the three-row crossover class. This is due in no small part to its high-quality materials, thoughtful placement of controls and impressive sense of spaciousness in the first two rows. Switchgear is well-organized and legible, while the available 8-inch touchscreen’s menus and functions are about as intuitive as it gets.
The Ultimate package doesn’t come cheap, but it’s your ticket to this easy-to-use 8-inch touchscreen interface.
The front seats are comfortable for longer drives, with enough adjustments to accommodate drivers of all sizes. Second-row passengers will also find the quarters to their liking, with a wide range of recline angle and plenty of head- and legroom, even with the optional panoramic sunroof equipped. The third-row seat is easy to get to, and acceptably sized for kids and teens. Adults will be OK in a pinch as well, though some other three-row crossovers offer better comfort and third-row headroom.
In terms of cargo and luggage space, the 2016 Hyundai Santa Fe can hold up to 41 cubic feet of cargo behind the second row of seats. With the second row folded, that figure grows to 80 cubic feet, but if all the seats are in use, it shrinks to just 13.5 cubic feet behind the third row. This is similar to what the Toyota Highlander offers, but bigger vehicles like the Pilot and Traverse give you more usable space behind the third-row seat.
By far the most striking thing about driving the Hyundai Santa Fe is the brisk acceleration provided by the standard V6 and smooth-shifting automatic transmission. The refined and quiet engine makes for relaxed highway travel, as do low levels of wind and road noise.
The best thing about driving a Hyundai Santa Fe is the strong response from its V6 engine.
Around turns, the Santa Fe feels steady and predictable, and its steering is precise as family crossovers go. Hyundai gives you three effort settings for the steering: Comfort, Normal and Sport. The differences are small yet distinct, and the Santa Fe responds well and tracks true in all three.
Ride quality is a bit of a wild card for the Santa Fe. Past versions that we’ve tested have provided a smooth ride over well-groomed pavement, but when loaded up with passengers and luggage, they’ve lost their composure. Hyundai says it has made suspension changes to rectify this issue, and we’ll update this review once we’ve driven a Santa Fe with the revised suspension.