By Eric Peters
Crossovers are criticized — correctly – -for looking and being the same, as if cut from the same mold, regardless of badge.
Most of them have similarly bland drivetrains — and not much choice about the drivetrain. It comes as it is — and that’s all there is.
The Hyundai Santa Fe does a good job of not being like most of the rest. It’s another crossover, yup — but it doesn’t look so much like the rest that it’s hard to tell it apart. But it’s what’s under the hood — or rather, what you can choose to be under the hood — that sets the Santa Fe apart.
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What It Is
The Santa Fe is Hyundai’s next-up-in-size crossover after the compact-sized Tucson. It is a two-row, mid-sized alternative to the three-row, full-sized Palisade and can be compared with other two-row, mid-sized crossovers such as the Ford Edge.
It is also related to its cousin, the Kia Sorento, which is slightly longer and offers a third row at the expense of some cargo-carrying capacity behind that row.
The Santa Fe (like its Kia-badged cousin) is available with either of two engines and your choice of AWD or not, with either engine — a rare choice among crossovers in this class.
Prices start at $27,200 for the base SE trim with a 2.5-liter engine, eight-speed automatic and front-wheel-drive. You can opt for AWD, which increases the MSRP to $28,900.
If you want more power, a turbocharged version of the 2.5-liter engine is available in the Limited and Caligraphy trims, which sticker for $38,960 and $40,960 to start, respectively.
A new XRT trim is available that includes a roof rack, lower perimeter body cladding (with built-in side steps) that won’t get chipped by rocks, skid plates, an 18-inch wheel/-tire package and various trim upgrades.
You can get the optional, more powerful engine without paying extra for AWD – unless you want to.
Conventional, eight-speed automatic rather than CVT automatic.
Priced lower to start than its Kia-badged cousin (which starts at $29,390).
What’s Not So Good
You can get the more powerful, optional engine — the same engine — in the Santa Fe’s Kia-badged cousin at a much lower price point ($34,990 for the EX Turbo versus $38,960 for the Santa Fe Limited).
You can’t get a third row.
All trims come standard with driver “assistance” electronics, including Lane Keep Assist, Automated Braking Assist and a “drowsy driver” monitor.
Under The Hood
The Santa Fe is a crossover, which is as unusual as sunlight in the morning. But there are a few unusual things about it. It offers the usual standard and optional engine — the former being a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder, without a turbocharger, that makes 191 horsepower and 181 ft.-lbs. of torque; the latter being a turbocharged version of this engine that makes 281 horsepower and 311 ft.-lbs. of torque.
So far, nothing unusual.
It’s what you can pair them with that makes them unusual.
FWD — or AWD. Your pick with either engine. You don’t have to pay more for AWD to get more power.
And you don’t have to pay extra — for more power to — to get AWD.
On the Road
With the optional turbocharged engine, the Santa Fe is capable of reaching 60 MPH in six seconds, which (for those who remember) is as quick as most V8 muscle cars of the ’60s were. The little four’s swell of torque is also comparable to that produced by many the V8s of that era (compare the numbers to those of a ’66 Mustang GT’s 289 Hi-Po V8) and gives this Hyundai — and its Kia-badged cousin — a stronger low and mid-range than the base-engined versions of these vehicles, which require more pressure on the accelerator to get them accelerating.
At The Curb
Hyundai decided to offer the new Santa Fe in two-row configuration only, as opposed to offering a smaller, two-row version and a larger, three-row version as previously.
If you need a third row, there’s the full-sized Palisade — or the Santa Fe’s Kia-badged cousin, the also mid-sized Sorento — which sacrifices behind-its-third-row cargo capacity to carve out the space for it.
Instead of 36.4 cubic feet with the two rows in place, as in the Hyundai, you get the extra row but only 12.6 cubic feet behind it. Both cousins have about the same total cargo capacity when their second (and second and third) rows are down: 72.1 cubic feet for the Santa Fe and 75.5 for the Sorento.
Hyundai does a top-shelf job of blending tech with function. LCD displays abound, but there are rotary knobs with feel to adjust volume and change channels. You can feel the click as opposed to the tap and swipe.
The Bottom Line
It’s not easy, usually, coming up with a reason to buy one crossover versus another. But Hyundai gives you a couple of them.
Eric’s latest book, “Doomed: Good Cars Gone Wrong,” will be available soon. To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
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