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2022 Hyundai Santa Fe Test Drive Review

Value comes standard with the 2022 Hyundai Santa Fe, but that’s just one reason to seriously consider buying this midsize crossover SUV.

8.3 /10
Overall Score

Third-row seats add weight and reduce cargo space, so if you know you don’t need one but still want a roomy, midsize SUV, the 2022 Hyundai Santa Fe is a great choice.

This model year, a new plug-in hybrid version is the big news, but the standard 2022 Santa Fe model lineup gains a new XRT trim level that is, in Hyundai’s words, “designed to convey an outdoor lifestyle.” In plain language, that means it gets a mixture of blacked-out exterior details, unique black alloy wheels, additional lower body cladding, fake front and rear skid plates, nearly useless running boards, and roof-rail crossbars that look like basket handles.

More importantly, Hyundai also expands the availability of blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and Safe Exit Assist to the Santa Fe SE trim level, albeit not until later in the year.

Look and Feel

7/ 10

We’re not impressed by the Santa Fe’s new XRT treatment. A suspension lift and tires with a more aggressive tread pattern would be more convincing. Also, though the side steps are helpful for strapping stuff to the roof rack, they otherwise impede entry and exit and reduce the Santa Fe’s breakover angle when off-roading. So, unless you’re actually going to use the rack on a regular basis, we recommend skipping the XRT and its visual frippery.

The XRT is one of five gasoline Santa Fe trim levels for 2022 (Hyundai also offers Santa Fe Hybrid and Santa Fe Plug-in Hybrid models). The XRT is priced higher than the SE and SEL trims but lower than the turbocharged Limited and Calligraphy trims. It includes all of the equipment in the Santa Fe SEL and that trim’s Convenience Package and comes with front-wheel drive (FWD) or all-wheel drive (AWD). The price starts at $34,095, including a $1,295 destination charge.

Our test-drive vehicle came dressed in Portofino Gray paint with a black cloth interior, and due to the XRT treatment, it offered very little visual contrast inside and out. On an overcast day, looking at it was like viewing an old black-and-white image, the only color found in the taillights, rear bumper reflector, and the surrounding terrain. Equipped with AWD and a set of floor mats, the test vehicle’s Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) came to $35,940.

Fortunately, interior patterns and brightwork made the cabin a good place to pass the time. Though it doesn’t look or feel as upscale as what you get in a Santa Fe Limited or Calligraphy, the XRT demonstrates thoughtful design and high quality for the price point.

Performance

6/ 10

To keep the price low, Hyundai equips the Santa Fe XRT with the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine from the lower-level Santa Fe models. With 191 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque, and nearly two tons of curb weight to motivate, the XRT’s engine isn’t going to help it win many stoplight drag races, but the engine is adequate enough to get the Santa Fe up to prevailing freeway speeds by the end of the on-ramp and to effortlessly cruise at the posted limit on road trips. It also sounds refined when accelerating and is undetectable when cruising on the highway.

If you want more power, you’ll have to upgrade to the Santa Fe Limited or Calligraphy trim levels. They get a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine producing 281 hp and 311 lb-ft of torque.

An eight-speed automatic transmission handles shifting chores, and it performs its task without complaint. To choose a gear, you use simple pushbutton controls located on the center console. Comfort, Smart, Sport, and Snow driving modes are available, and at lower speeds, you can lock the AWD system to evenly split power to the front and rear wheels for maximum traction. Hill descent control and automatic brake hold systems are also standard.

The default Smart mode is best suited to low-demand driving situations. If you’re commuting, running errands, or shuttling kids to school, you may not find much to complain about because the powertrain is geared to deliver decent acceleration under these typical conditions. However, if you really need to hustle for any reason, the standard 2.5-liter simply cannot oblige.

Furthermore, the engine easily loses steam when climbing hills or mountain grades. You’ll also sense a delay in responsiveness when you round a corner or a curve and then push down on the accelerator pedal. It’s like Hyundai has calibrated the transmission to minimize downshifts in order to maximize fuel economy. You can switch to Sport mode, which helps by holding transmission gears a little longer, or you can choose any of the Santa Fe’s other available powertrains, which are far more rewarding.

Our test vehicle averaged 22.3 mpg on our Southern California testing loop. The official EPA fuel economy rating is 24 mpg. Not inconsequentially, the 281-hp turbo-four in the Limited and the Calligraphy models gets the same EPA fuel-efficiency rating, while Santa Fe Hybrid models return between 32 mpg and 34 mpg in combined driving while supplying 226 hp. We strongly encourage you to choose one of these.

As far as the XRT’s ride and handling go, the SUV demonstrates the composure and refinement we’ve come to expect from the Santa Fe. Suspension isolation over speed bumps, cracks in the pavement, and potholes is excellent, the SUV’s underpinnings muffling most impact harshness before it can reach the cabin.

In addition, the XRT is remarkably quiet on the highway, thanks in part to the acoustic front-side window glass. Roof-rack crossbars usually create extra wind noise, but that doesn’t appear to be the case here. The Santa Fe effectively quells engine noise, too, and a stretch of rougher pavement on our loop did not produce a significant uptick in the racket from the road.

The ride quality is good, though depending on how smooth the pavement is, you may detect occasional bounciness or stiffness. The Santa Fe’s handling, steering, and braking are fine, too, and the SUV feels secure and under control at all times. There’s nothing particularly laudable about how the Santa Fe drives, but there’s also nothing to complain about.

Considering the XRT treatment is cosmetic in nature, and the running boards could detract from the Santa Fe’s performance, we did not venture off-road. However, based on past experience driving this SUV in the dirt and mud, we know the Santa Fe is more capable on terrain than it might seem. It’s too bad the Santa Fe XRT doesn’t take that baseline talent to the next level.

Form and Function

8/ 10

Starting with the XRT trim, the Santa Fe includes a dual-zone automatic climate control system with a Clean Air ionizer. All trims include rear air conditioning vents to democratize environmental comfort to all passengers.

Dressed in a stain-resistant fabric that looks good and feels durable, the Santa Fe XRT’s eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat ensures a proper driving position and good comfort over longer distances. Plus, both front seats are heated. Unfortunately, Hyundai does not equip the XRT with a height-adjustable front passenger’s seat, which could make your significant other ornery. Ask us how we know.

The Santa Fe’s rear-seat accommodations are excellent. This SUV offers plenty of room for a family of four. You’ll have no trouble fitting a reverse-facing child-safety seat in the Santa Fe, and our XRT model had rear side-window shades to keep Mr. Sun out of your child’s eyes. The Santa Fe’s generous legroom and foot room mean it will continue to serve you well as your children grow, and the rear air conditioning vents and USB charging ports keep everyone satisfied. Furthermore, the seat itself is quite comfortable.

Storage space is adequate. In front, the largest space is also the hardest to see and access: the tray underneath the control “bridge.” Otherwise, there are nooks and crannies everywhere, including a shelf on the dashboard and a wireless device charging slot that is sure to collect all manner of crud over the Santa Fe’s lifetime.

Around the back, the Santa Fe XRT has Hyundai’s hands-free power-opening “Smart Tailgate.” What makes it so smart? It can sense when you’re standing there with the key fob, and after a few seconds, the liftgate will power open so that you can load whatever’s in both of your hands.

The benefit here is that you’re never forced to waggle a foot under the bumper to find the sensor while balancing yourself and your load on the other foot. The detriment is that the Smart Tailgate frequently opens when you’d rather it didn’t, possibly disgorging the cargo area’s contents if the SUV isn’t on level ground. You can turn this feature on or off using the vehicle settings menu.

The Santa Fe has 36.4 cubic feet of cargo space behind its back seat. You can slot in four full-size suitcases on their sides and still have a decent amount of space for backpacks or duffle bags. There are also good-sized storage compartments under the load floor.

From the back of the SUV, you can release the rear seatbacks to expand room for that garage sale find, but they don’t fold down. You need to finish the job by shoving stuff in or opening a back door to push them flat. Once you’ve completed that task, the Santa Fe offers 72.1 cubic feet of cargo space.

Tech Level

9/ 10

The Hyundai Santa Fe XRT has a 12.3-inch digital instrumentation panel paired with an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, along with Bluetooth, satellite radio, and Bluelink connected services with a complimentary three-year subscription. Bluelink equips the XRT with remote engine starting, a car finding feature, and more.

We like simplicity, and that describes the Santa Fe XRT’s infotainment system. With large power/volume and tuning knobs, it’s easy to adjust the stereo while driving. Clean on-screen graphics, logical menu structures, and the display’s location at the top of the center control panel make this infotainment system easy to reference and use. In addition, the wireless smartphone connectivity helps to eliminate the nest of wires common in modern vehicles.

Since the test vehicle did not have the infotainment system upgrade that Hyundai offers for the SEL, Limited, and Calligraphy, we could not assess the voice recognition system’s capabilities. However, previous experience with Hyundais that have the larger 10.25-inch touchscreen system and an active Bluelink account demonstrates that it is among the class leaders in the segment. Also, if you choose one of those trims and this system, an impressive 12-speaker Harman Kardon premium sound system is available to you.

While Hyundai doesn’t offer these features in the Santa Fe XRT, it does equip the SUV with its digital key technology. Digital key allows you to use an Android-based smartphone as the vehicle’s key to unlock the doors and start the engine. Unfortunately, Hyundai’s digital key technology does not work with Apple iPhones.

What’s more useful is the Santa Fe’s Leading Vehicle Departure Alert system. If you’re like many people, you’ll sit stopped in traffic and check your phone. When the vehicles ahead start moving, this feature gets your attention so that you’re not holding up everyone behind you. Of course, if you’re the lead vehicle at an intersection, the Leading Vehicle Departure Alert won’t help you. But it’s nevertheless a thoughtful way to address a problem that is only getting worse.

Safety

10/ 10

The 2022 Santa Fe XRT is equipped with numerous standard safety features bundled into a Hyundai SmartSense collection of driver-assist and collision-avoidance assist systems. They include forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, pedestrian and cyclist detection, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, lane-centering assist, and adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability.

According to Hyundai, the company’s Highway Driving Assist system is not available for the XRT trim level. However, during testing, the combination of adaptive cruise control and lane-centering assistance worked flawlessly, so it’s not entirely clear what more Highway Driving Assist would bring to the table.

Another highlight is the Junction Turning Detection system, which monitors oncoming traffic and can automatically brake if the driver attempts to make an unsafe left turn. We haven’t experienced this technology first-hand, so it’s unclear if it’s a good thing or a bad thing.

Safe Exit Assist is also standard on the Santa Fe XRT. It monitors for approaching vehicles and warns occupants not to open a door and leave the vehicle if the coast isn’t clear.

Every Santa Fe XRT also has an ultrasonic rear occupant alert system. This reminds the driver to check the back seat before locking and leaving the SUV but also monitors the Santa Fe’s interior for movement for up to 24 hours. That way, it can respond to a baby waking up from a nap, start honking the horn and flashing the lights, and send a text message to the vehicle’s owner requesting immediate attention to the situation.

Bluelink equips the Santa Fe with several safety features, including automatic emergency assistance, a panic notification function, and the ability to program alerts regarding vehicle speed, curfew time, and surpassing geographic boundaries. These are great for parents of teenage drivers.

During testing, none of the Hyundai SmartSense technologies misbehaved or drew attention to their work. This level of accuracy and refinement means people are more likely to keep them turned on, which enhances the SUV’s safety. On a twisty mountain road, the stability control activated unnecessarily, but this happened only one time.

If you’re unable to avoid a collision, rest easy knowing the 2022 Hyundai Santa Fe earns a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The SUV also gets five-star ratings in every test performed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), with the exception of a four-star rollover resistance score.

Cost-Effectiveness

10/ 10

Hyundais typically offer the most cost-effective choice in a new vehicle. That’s not always the case, as seen when comparing a Ford Maverick pickup truck with a Hyundai Santa Cruz. However, the majority of the time, you cannot go wrong picking a Hyundai.

From competitive pricing to long five-year, 60,000-mile, limited and 10-year, 100,000-mile, powertrain warranties, and from a generous three-year/36,000-mile complimentary maintenance program to a free three-year subscription to Bluelink service, a Hyundai is tough to beat, let alone match, when it comes to value.

Like other Hyundai’s the 2022 Santa Fe is also fundamentally likable even without the ownership perks. We’re not fans of the new XRT version, and we definitely think you should upgrade to a turbo, a hybrid, or plug-in hybrid powertrain. But otherwise, the 2022 Hyundai Santa Fe makes all kinds of sense if you don’t need a third-row seat.

Updated by Christian Wardlaw

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