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2020 Hyundai Santa Fe Test Drive Review
Last year, Hyundai changed its approach to the Santa Fe. The smaller five-passenger Santa Fe Sport got drop-kicked from the automaker’s lineup, replaced by this completely redesigned version of the SUV. The larger seven-passenger Santa Fe got a new name for one year (Santa Fe XL), and then the all-new 2020 Hyundai Palisade replaced that vehicle.
With the Palisade’s arrival, there is just one Santa Fe for 2020, a five-passenger crossover that resides in a sweet spot between traditional compact and midsize models. It gets several updates, too, including a standard rear-seat reminder system, an available camera-based Blind-Spot View Monitor system, and new design accents to better distinguish the top trim level.
Look and Feel
When you go shopping for a new 2020 Hyundai Santa Fe, you’ll choose between SE, SEL, and Limited trim levels. Versions with a “2.0T” as part of the trim name get an upgrade in power and performance courtesy of a turbocharged engine. All-wheel drive (AWD) is an option, allowing the automatic transmission to transfer power from the front wheels to the rear wheels when necessary.
Aside from deciding about AWD, a turbocharged engine, and—if you’re getting the SEL—an optional Convenience Package, you pick a paint color, interior color, and upgrades from a shortlist of dealer-installed accessories. That’s all there is to selecting a new Hyundai Santa Fe, and our test vehicle had Limited 2.0T trim and a set of dealer-installed floor mats, bringing the price to $39,170.
As far as looks are concerned, the Santa Fe represents an acquired taste; this is no Mazda CX-5. As of late, Hyundai has been boldly experimental with design, and while the approach is commendable, the results don’t always work for everyone. Potential points of controversy include the Santa Fe’s grille shape, stacked front lighting elements, asymmetrical fender stampings and wheel well shapes, and the oversized rear “skid plate” trim.
A sense of drama gives the interior plenty of character. The dual-cowl dashboard design sweeps into door panels containing diamond-textured speaker grilles. Versions of the SUV with gray or beige interior colors present a high-contrast visual feast for the eyes. Even the flecked headliner pattern, which extends to include the windshield pillars, brings a sense of occasion to the Santa Fe.
Materials quality can’t quite match Hyundai’s high-style design, due to the glossy plastic covering the lower half of the interior and leather seat upholstery that’s fairly stiff and unremarkable. Build quality, however, is exceptionally good and the controls operate with refinement.
Overall, the Hyundai Santa Fe looks different, inside and out. If you can appreciate daring design, you might like this approach. If you prefer to fade into the background, you may not.
With a minimum curb weight of 3,591 pounds (and a maximum of 3,946) to haul around, the Santa Fe’s standard 185-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine (which it shares with the Kia Sorento) is not the one you want.
Instead, skip the base engine and choose a Santa Fe with a 2.0T in its name. That installs a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder in this SUV, one that makes 235 hp and a robust 260 lb-ft of torque between 1,450 rpm and 3,500 rpm. Those figures represent increases of 50 hp and 82 lb-ft over the standard power plant, and the torque is available much faster after you step on the gas pedal. Plus, turbocharged engines perform better at altitude, so if you live in a place like Colorado or you head to the mountains on a regular basis, you’re going to want the 2.0T.
Either way, an eight-speed automatic transmission funnels the power to the front wheels unless you get the optional AWD system. Our test vehicle had FWD, and it suffered from torque steer under hard acceleration. This issue disappears with AWD. Properly equipped, the Hyundai Santa Fe has a towing capacity of 3,500 pounds.
As far as fuel economy is concerned, the EPA says a Santa Fe 2.0T front-driver should get 23 mpg in combined driving. Our test model returned 22.1 mpg, which is in the right neighborhood.
Quick, compliant, and communicative, there’s nothing unpleasant about driving a turbocharged Hyundai Santa Fe. A smooth ride, decent handling, light-effort steering, and brakes that withstand some abuse while also letting a driver bring the SUV to a clean stop all make this Hyundai a good daily driver. Limited trim has laminated windshield and front window glass, so the highway ride is nice and quiet, too.
When Hyundai debuted the latest Santa Fe, we put the SUV through its paces in the wilds of Utah, where it handled moderate off-roading (and a pretty deep mud puddle) with unexpected ease.
At the same time, however, nothing about the Hyundai Santa Fe’s driving dynamics inspire you to take the road less traveled. Competent but lacking in terms of driver engagement, the Santa Fe is more a tool than a toy. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, given the target buyer.
Form and Function
Thoughtful attention to detail permeates the two-row Hyundai Santa Fe. From its creative storage spaces to the stain-resistant fabric in versions with cloth seats, this five-passenger SUV addresses the myriad requirements of an American family.
Our test vehicle had eight-way power-adjustable, heated, and ventilated front seats. Additionally, the driver’s seat included four-way power-adjustable lumbar support and an extending thigh support, and the test model included a heated steering wheel. During a round-trip drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, the Santa Fe Limited 2.0T proved mighty comfortable for long periods of time.
It is worth noting that the Santa Fe’s dual-zone automatic climate control system includes a Clean Air ionizer, and that the SUV’s air conditioning is effective even when the Santa Fe is equipped with its massive panoramic glass sunroof that extends beyond the rear seat head restraints.
Adults will find the Santa Fe’s back seat comfortable. Air conditioning vents help in this regard, and the Limited trim level includes rear side-window sunshades and heated bottom cushions. Legroom and thigh support make this a good place to spend time, and for longer trips, the rear seats recline for added comfort.
Where the Santa Fe stumbles in its quest to be a midsize SUV is with regard to cargo space. With 35.9 cubic feet behind the rear seat and a maximum of 71.3 cubic feet at your disposal, the Santa Fe falls a little short in this regard (but is big in comparison to most compact SUVs). On a positive note, however, there are large storage compartments under the cargo floor that will no doubt come in handy.
Hyundai also offers a hands-free “smart” liftgate for the Santa Fe. What makes it so intelligent? You don’t need to stand on one leg and wave your foot around under the back bumper in the hopes that a sensor will recognize that you want it to open. Instead, you patiently stand there while the SUV senses the key fob in proximity to the rear of the vehicle. After a few seconds, the tailgate rises all by itself.
Perched high atop the Santa Fe’s dashboard where it is easy to see, reference, and use, the touchscreen infotainment system is a shining example of this technology done right.
First, it has stereo control knobs. Second, it has main menu shortcut buttons on either side of the display. Third, one of those buttons is programmable for whatever function you wish it to perform. Fourth, every Santa Fe has Bluetooth connectivity and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration.
Choose SEL trim for SiriusXM satellite radio with a free three-month subscription. This version of the Santa Fe also adds Blue Link connected services with three free years of service. Three. Free. Years. That includes remote engine starting with climate pre-conditioning, automatic emergency assistance, a remote car finder function, and the ability to program speed, curfew, and geographic boundary alerts.
Limited trim adds a larger 8-inch display, a navigation system, a surround-view camera, wireless smartphone charging, and a 12-speaker Infinity surround sound system. Technology unrelated to the infotainment system includes a head-up display providing a wealth of data on the windshield within the driver’s line of sight. It even shows when another vehicle is in the Santa Fe’s blind spot.
Using this technology quickly becomes second nature. Even the voice recognition system is remarkably sophisticated, responding to naturally spoken commands with little trouble.
Looking for a safe family SUV? The 2020 Hyundai Santa Fe is a great choice, earning a five-star overall crash-test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and a Top Safety Pick rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
Like competitors from Honda and Toyota, Every Santa Fe is equipped with a slew of safety features, from adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, and lane-keeping assistance. A driver monitoring system is also standard, along with a rear-seat reminder system designed to prevent a driver from accidentally leaving a child or a pet in the SUV.
Unfortunately, Hyundai does not offer blind-spot warning or rear cross-traffic warning on the Santa Fe SE. You need SEL trim for that, which also comes with a safe exit assist system designed to prevent occupants from opening the side doors when parallel parked and traffic is approaching from behind the SUV.
The SEL Convenience Package equips the SUV with an ultrasonic occupant alert system that’s tied in with the owner’s Blue Link smartphone app. Let’s say it’s your turn to handle daycare drop-off, and you forget because you’ve got a big meeting that morning that is stressing you out. Your child falls asleep on your way to the office, you exit the Santa Fe and ignore the rear-seat reminder due to your mental distraction, and you head into the office.
When your child wakes and starts moving around, the ultrasonic occupant alert system springs into action, flashing the lights, sounding the horn, and sending you an alert via the Blue Link app. How many modern SUVs, regardless of price, offer something like this? Not many.
Limited trim includes a new Blind-Spot View Monitor, which uses cameras to show a live video feed of what’s in the Santa Fe’s blind spots. The camera feed is displayed in the center of the instrument cluster, and this feature supplements rather than replaces the traditional blind-spot warning system.
Still not sold on the 2020 Hyundai Santa Fe? Perhaps this SUV’s unmatched value equation will do the trick.
Starting with the industry-leading warranty, you get a five-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper plan plus ten years or 100,000 miles of powertrain coverage. Roadside assistance is free for five years and an unlimited number of miles.
On top of this, Hyundai provides free maintenance for three years or 36,000 miles. You also get three years of free Blue Link connected services, which is generous enough to help you overlook the Santa Fe’s lack of a WiFi hotspot.
You can get a front-wheel drive Santa Fe for as little as $27,415, but remember, you want the turbo engine, so you’re looking at an MSRP of $36,015 before any discounts. And there are always discounts. Plus, with a refreshed 2021 Santa Fe arriving soon, Hyundai is likely to continue offering 0% financing for 72 months until stocks of the 2020 model are cleared out.
What are the downsides to the Santa Fe? The standard engine is a bummer, the cargo volume measurements fall on the smaller side of the midsize SUV scale, you’ll need to use your phone’s WiFi instead of an extra-cost Blue Link service, blind-spot warning is unavailable with SE trim, and the styling isn’t to everyone’s preferences. Oh, and driving enthusiasts are unlikely to find anything here as a cause for celebration.
But as automotive criticism goes, that’s a really short list. If you’re shopping for a crossover SUV priced between $30,000 and $40,000, the Alabama-built Hyundai Santa Fe demands careful consideration.
Christian Wardlaw has 25 years of experience reviewing cars and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, J.D. Power, the New York Daily News, Autobytel, and Vehix. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.
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