Santa Fe

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The Good

A hefty number of standard features, a potent V6 engine, an over-the-top warranty, scads of cargo space and a roomy cabin all help keep the 2012 Hyundai Santa Fe a sensible pick for the family auto.

The Bad

No third-row option, bland driving characteristics, a hesitant transmission, less than spiffy styling and a stiff ride might lead some to cast an eye toward the 2012 Santa Fe's competition.

The CarGurus View

There’s very little about the 2012 Hyundai Santa Fe that grabs you and holds on tight. But there’s also no denying that it does what it does pretty well. Roomy and, with the V6 powerplant, reasonably brawny, this compact crossover handles the commute, the vacation trip and those downtown errands with no-nonsense alacrity.

At a Glance

It may not be everybody’s idea of curvy, sexy or even attractive, but the 2012 Hyundai Santa Fe gets the job done, be it hauling commuters or schlepping stuff to and from the neighborhood yard sale. This 5-passenger compact crossover boasts more passenger room than mini-utes costing thousands more, and cargo area is a respectable 78.2 cubic feet with the rear seats folded, with 32.4 cubic feet available behind the second row.

The Santa Fe’s less-than-debonair façade also hides a wealth of amenities that belie its modest base price. But that’s how Hyundai made its reputation in the first place, with low-cost automobiles that at least equaled many domestic products in performance and features, if not reliability or safety. With steadily improving quality and attention to consumer needs, however, the Korean automaker’s rolling stock is now a fixture on U.S. roads, to the point where the Hondas, Chevys, Nissans and Toyotas of the world are taking worried notice… and aim.

Anyhow, look for a return of the three traditional trim levels this year, the base GLS, the sporty midlevel SE and the high-end Limited. Due for a hefty redesign for the 2013 model year, the 2012 versions boast standard descent control and a more squared-away grille across the lineup, as well as standard low rolling-resistance tires on the GLS trim. Oh, and all trims are eligible for available full-time all-wheel drive (AWD), which helps immeasurably in relieving the stress of winter driving.

Doubtless, the folks at Hyundai expect the usual stiff competition from Toyota’s stylish RAV4 and Honda’s refined but pricy CR-V. Kia’s smaller, yet sensible (and third-row-equipped) Sorento and GM’s Chevy Equinox and GMC Terrain twins also figure to blow away the Santa Fe in styling, though not in practicality or value. Even Hyundai’s own smallish Tucson has it over its beefier kinfolk in roguish good looks. However, the Santa Fe remains a likeable sort, capable, if a bit staid, dependable, if a bit aged, and affable, if a bit quirky.


A 2.4-liter inline 4-cylinder (I4) engine, boasting 175 hp at 6,000 rpm, is delivered standard with the base GLS and the flagship Limited trims. Mated with the 6-speed shiftable automatic transmission, now with standard descent control, the four-banger tosses out 169 lb-ft of torque at 3,700 rpm. Variable valve timing (VVT) results in gas mileage estimated at 20 mpg city/28 highway in standard front-wheel drive (FWD) versions, with AWD variants estimated at 20/25. And speaking of the AWD system, expect it to be under the management of a locking mechanical center-mounted limited-slip differential.

Standard aboard the SE trims is a 3.5-liter V6 engine that again combines with the 6-speed shiftable automatic with its standard descent control feature. This potent drivetrain throws out 276 hp at 6,300 rpm and 248 lb-ft of torque at 5,000 rpm, with estimated mileage slipping marginally to 20/26 in both FWD and AWD versions. An available tow hitch and wiring, meantime, will allow trims toting the six-banger to comfortably trundle up to 3,500 pounds of trailer.

Reviewers almost universally find the I4 powerplant to be anything but powerful, though all concede a certain usefulness when running errands about town. Its less-than-satisfying engine note on hard acceleration also occasions a bit of wincing among reviewers. The V6, on the other hand, draws kudos in virtually all reviews for its alacrity of acceleration and quasi-refined roar. Meanwhile, the 6-speed automatic managing both engines, when left in to its own devices, is occasionally indecisive at low speeds and, when mated with the I4, requires some extra pedal pressure to downshift for that added merging and passing oomph on the highway.

Ride & Handling

A 4-wheel independent suspension, especially with MacPherson front struts, should, one would think, provide a fairly stable, perhaps even cushy ride for Hyundai’s Tonka-toy ute. Not so, say several reviewers who find all-but-glassy surfaces to produce a ride far from the more composed glide that’s traditional in most of the Santa Fe’s competitors. And this less-than-forgiving ride is from the usually more forgiving 17-inch alloy wheels and tires that come standard with the base GLS trim. The 18-inch alloy wheels found on the SE and Limited editions are noted by most reviewers to be even worse, with rougher surfaces giving occupants a taste of what life was like on the Chisolm Trail.

In any case, a rear multi-link suspension, bolstered by stabilizer bars fore and aft, attempts, in the minds of a number of reviewers, to mitigate the Santa Fe’s over-friendly steering at low speeds and propensity toward precipitous leaning in sharp corners. That same feathery steering, reviewers are quick to note, as well as a compact turning radius, does have its advantages, however, in crowded parking lots and in downtown traffic.

Reviewer opinion is divided regarding the brakes on Hyundai’s staid crossover. A few note a confident sturdiness and truth in the braking system, while others say this mini-ute has a tad too much sponginess in the pedal.

Road and wind noise, finally, are noted to be present by many reviewers, but not to an unreasonable extent.

Cabin & Comfort

The 2012 Santa Fe’s stodgy exterior hides its surprisingly comfortable and well-equipped cabin. The base GLS, for example, sports a rather nondescript roof rack outside, while the cabin is endowed with such standards as cloth upholstery, a rear-seat center armrest with storage, remote power door locks, power windows and heated power-adjustable outside mirrors. Cruise control and telescoping tilt-wheel steering are nice convenience touches, while air conditioning and simulated wood cabin accents make occupants feel right at home—well, almost. Perhaps the 120-watt standard audio system, with its MP3-compatable single-CD player and 6 speakers, helps somewhat, as might the satellite radio service, USB connection and Bluetooth hands-free communications equipment.

The midlevel SE, meantime, adds a rear spoiler outside, as well as standard trailer wiring, an 8-way power-adjustable driver's seat, leather and cloth upholstery, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror and leather-trimmed steering wheel to the mix.

The Limited, as lord of the lineup, throws in a power sunroof, heated front seats, leather upholstery, a universal remote garage door opener and dual-zone climate control, just for starters. Then, to cement its lofty status, this high-end trim boasts an Infinity 605-watt stereo with 6-CD player, 10 speakers and 7.1 Surround Sound.

A tow hitch is available for all V6-equipped Santa Fe trims, with carpeted floor mats and remote engine start also optional for the entire lineup. The Santa Fe SE, meantime, is eligible for the Premium Package, with power sunroof, DVD navigation, NavTraffic, a rear-view camera and a 350-watt upgraded audio system with 4-CD changer and 7 speakers, including a subwoofer. Finally, the Limited is eligible for the navigation suite, which, incidentally, features a 6.5-inch dashboard-mounted display, but, in doing so, it loses the Infinity audio to the lesser system found with the SE’s Premium Package.

Wide-open spaces and an abundance of nooks and crannies for cabin storage are among the goodies that most impress reviewers about Hyundai’s compact crossover ute. Seats are described as comfy and supportive in most reviews, while cargo-carrying ability is helped by second-row split-folding seatbacks that actually fold flatter than many of the breed. A few reviewers note that many cabin surfaces sport good looks and racy textures, but not much in the way of softness, while virtually all reviews are dismayed by the poor sightlines aft due to thick roof pillars and tall rear-seat headrests.


A Top Safety Pick for 2012 from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Santa Fe lineup sports standard 4-wheel antilock brakes (ABS) with electronic brakeforce distribution and emergency braking assist and, of course, traction and stability control. Inside, look for dual front side-mounted airbags, front and rear head airbags, and active front headrests. A remote antitheft alarm is standard across the board, as well, while the SE and Limited trims are delivered with front fog/driving lights.

Tests by the IIHS resulted in its best score of Good for front, rear and side impact resistance, as well as roof strength. The National Highway traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), however, isn’t quite so impressed with Hyundai’s mini ute, giving it an overall score of 3 stars (out of 5), resulting from a second-best rating of 4 stars in front impact tests and rollover safety and a woeful 2-star rating in side-impact testing.

What Owners Think

Owner opinion is about evenly split on the 2012 Santa Fe’s looks, with half in favor and half not so beguiled. A good number of owners, however, note shaky build quality and a lackadaisical I4 powerplant to be pet peeves. Rearward visibility issues, and those less-than-cushy ride qualities, especially in SE versions, have also caused some frustration.

Owners, however, have no problem with getting a pretty darned good crossover for not a lot of money. And the peppy V6 gets a firm recommendation from nearly all owners who appreciate performance and efficiency in their Santa Fe. Cabin storage is rated high in owner satisfaction polls, as are this crossover’s tight turning radius, available AWD and comfy seats.


Have Laptop. Will Travel. I'm retired and travelling the country in a 34' motor home. I'm really digging meeting people . . and sometimes their cars . . . getting a sense of what makes this nation tick. The plan is to visit all the national parks in the continental US, then cruise to Alaska to visit Denali, and to Hawaii to check out Haleakala and the Hawaii Volcano's national parks. Anyhow, when I'm not horsing the motor home around the roadways, I'm tooting around in the 2012 Ford Focus that we tow behind, or making runs to Home Depot and various malls with the 2004 F-150 that just won't die.

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Hyundai Santa Fe Questions

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