2024 Hyundai Santa Fe Review: Attractive, Versatile, And Surprisingly Rugged

Hyundai is on a roll, producing banger after banger in the last five years or so. And while the winning streak isn’t going to last forever, it’ll go a little longer at least thanks to the latest addition to the company’s lineup. The boldly styled 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe replaces a mostly forgettable previous-generation crossover with something that has panache, space, and even a small dose of rough-road capability, making it an oddly ideal machine for lots of different shoppers.

Part of its charm comes from the XRT trim level. While the previous Santa Fe XRT was mechanically identical to other trims, the new one’s lifted suspension, all-terrain tires, and off-road stability control tuning make it surprisingly capable off-road, helping the Hyundai appeal to Subaru and Jeep shoppers. At the same time, the synthwave styling and torque-rich standard turbo engine help set it apart from other, duller crossovers. And those who insist on thinking only with the left sides of their brains will appreciate the new Santa Fe’s much larger interior, standard third row, and capacious cargo area. What’s not to love? (Spoiler alert: very little.)

What is the 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe?

Now in its fifth generation, the Santa Fe is Hyundai’s tweener crossover, slotting in above the entry-level Venue and compact Tucson, but below the family-sized Palisade. Its 2024 redesign has ditched the previous model’s urbane-but-bland design with something far brasher. Gone are the soft curves and insectoid split-headlight design of the old Santa Fe, replaced with a flat hood, flatter roof, squared-off rear end, and pixelated lighting signatures that make the new crossover look like the love child of a Defender and an Ioniq 5. 

A turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-four comes standard, and in the Santa Fe it makes 277 horsepower and 311 pound-feet. An eight-speed dual-clutch transmission sends power to the front wheels, with all-wheel drive an $1,800 option on all trims but the XRT, where it comes standard. Hyundai will also offer the Santa Fe as a hybrid, pairing a 1.5-kilowatt-hour battery with a turbocharged 1.6-liter four for a total of 231 hp and 271 lb-ft. The electrified Santa Fe can tow up to 2,000 pounds, while the more powerful 2.5T can tug 3,500 pounds. Go for the XRT and you get extra transmission and engine cooling, as well as a 4,500-pound trailer limit.

The Santa Fe also gets a third-row seat for 2024, giving it space for seven passengers. What’s more, it’ll happily accommodate 14.6 cubic feet of cargo space with all seats in place, 40.5 cubes behind the second row, and 79.6 with all seats folded flat. Relative to the old Santa Fe, there’s much more cargo and people space, despite overall length going up just 2.0 inches and width remaining the same. 

Opt for that aforementioned XRT model and you’ll get Hyundai’s first-ever application of all-terrain tires in the US. The Continental TerrainContact A/T rubber measures 29.6 inches tall, making the most of the XRT’s higher ride height and additional 1.3 inches of ground clearance relative to other Santa Fes—8.3 inches in total. The XRT also gets retuned stability and traction aids, and it makes use of the HTRAC all-wheel-drive system’s standard center differential lock.

Pavement Princess

I would soon find out how that XRT model would perform off-road, but first, I had about 85 miles of weathered Tennessee asphalt behind the wheel of the flagship Calligraphy trim. With quilted Nappa leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, and Hyundai’s impressive Highway Driving Assist 2 active safety technology, the Calligraphy is an excellent pavement partner. The stiffer structure under the 2024 Santa Fe pays dividends with a composed, smooth ride, and Hyundai paid special attention to sound deadening to avoid the boxy interior from becoming an echo chamber. 

As a result, the Calligraphy is very quiet and poised on the freeway, even when encountering the gritty pavement in and around Nashville—the city saw some brutal weather this winter that left its roads roughed up, but the Hyundai shrugged them off. Although the all-wheel-drive Calligraphy weighs in at more than 4,400 pounds, the torquey engine and lag-free power delivery ensured quick on-ramp behavior, and if you like, the Santa Fe will even get a little frisky during the stoplight grand prix.

You feel every last inch of the crossover’s overall height when you chuck it into a corner, but while the handling demeanor isn’t entertaining, it’s at least competent and safe. Dial things back a skosh and the Hyundai is a serene grand tourer, with a comfortable and quiet interior, wiggle-free structure, and energetic powertrain.

Gravel Gridiron

A couple hours later, I found myself trading Calligraphy keys for those of an XRT. The first off-road stint was easy, and its only real challenge was a standing start up a rocky, 20-percent slope—a task the Santa Fe handled with zero drama. Otherwise, the generally smooth dirt road gave me a good chance to drive with some zest and experience the good loose-surface grip of those all-terrain Contis. Likewise, the relatively firm suspension had just enough travel to smooth out all but the worst divots, allowing me to keep my pace decently high.

The second stretch of trail was far more intense. The muddy, rutted river bottom showed some of the XRT’s weak points—namely suspension travel—but it also proved the worth of those all-terrain tires, as well as the center differential lock and off-road tuning. There were even some obstacles that had the Santa Fe teetering on two wheels, a situation the stability control adroitly sorted out by keeping power in the right place to continue forward momentum. Such behavior will feel foreign to seasoned off-roaders, who know to reduce throttle application when a wheel starts to slip, but in the Hyundai, you want to apply more to let the computer know to shuffle power around.

The Santa Fe also had no trouble with the muddy, boggy sections of trail. I wasn’t doing any serious climbing or anything, but the crossover didn’t slip around or follow the path of least-rutted resistance, exhibiting good stability even in the muck. In fact, the only time I noticed any electronic traction intervention was when there was a wheel suspended in the air, suggesting that off-road grip is rarely a problem as long as you’re four on the floor.

The only other issue I had in dirty driving had to do with the throttle tuning. On those steep grades and large ruts, it was difficult to meter in the right amount of gas to get moving without dipping into the turbocharger’s boost and running too hard. Traditional SUVs get around that issue with low-range transfer cases and blunt, trucky throttle mapping, which would be overkill for the Santa Fe’s intended mission of daily drivability and weekend ruggedness, but still, it’s odd that Hyundai doesn’t even include a dedicated off-road drive mode on the XRT.

Brunch With The Besties

Once hosed down and cleaned out, the Santa Fe would have no trouble accommodating one’s social calendar. An impressive tech suite includes dual 12.3-inch displays, and the infotainment finally incorporates wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Both the front and second rows incorporate two USB-C ports each, and the third row gets a 110-volt household plug on XRT, Limited, and Calligraphy trims so everyone can keep charged.

There’s ample space for five, and even though the third row is too cramped for adults to use over long distances, it’s just comfortable enough for a jaunt across town (especially if the second-row occupants are willing to slide their seats forward a bit). And when day turns to night, those rear seats fold completely flat, butting against one another to form a base for sleeping bags or a full-size air mattress—perfect for car camping or, um, whatever.

And if you’ve lost your keys in the scuffle, the Santa Fe has an enhanced version of Hyundai Digital Key. While before, you needed to position your phone in a specific place to operate the door locks or turn on the ignition, now you can just leave it in your pocket or bag, just like a traditional keyfob. And the best news of all is that Hyundai’s BlueLink connected services don’t come with a subscription fee; they’ll be completely free for the entirety of the first owner’s possession. 

Crossover Desire

Overall, the Santa Fe is a far more appealing product than ever before. While it’s always been a fine crossover for commuting and vehicular chores, it’s now an object of desire. The bold styling may be divisive (I for one love it), but at least it elicits reactions instead of yawns, and the rest of the package is very compelling, offering seven seats and commodious cargo room in something that casts a smaller shadow than a Subaru Outback.

As always, prices have gone up. While the old Santa Fe started at $28,750, the new one is $5,200 more expensive, not bad if you need a seven-seat crossover but a disappointment nevertheless. My pick would almost certainly be the XRT; I would miss the Calligraphy’s ventilated seats and surround-view camera, but I’ve never been able to turn away the tall ones. Hyundai’s simple trim and option pricing means the only thing you can spend money on is the $1,000 matte bronze color. Avoid it and your XRT is $41,995, a hair more expensive than the less powerful, smaller Outback Wilderness. If you simply must have the cream of the crop, a loaded Calligraphy trim costs a reasonable $50,695.

Apart from the higher base price, the Santa Fe still strikes me as a reasonable value. There’s just so much capability and space on offer, and I love the bizarre, Blade Runner styling so much. Although I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, Hyundai can’t help but mint winners, and the Santa Fe keeps up the tradition very nicely.

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