2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited Ultimate AWD Review

The Limited Ultimate Hyundai

Building cars is a lot like baking. The underlying philosophies are similar even if the ingredients are completely different. 

To deliver a palette-pleasing dessert, savvy pastry chefs follow proven recipes, carefully preheating the oven, beating exactly enough egg yolks to just the right consistency, prudently measuring the prescribed amount of flour, tasks that need to be executed with precision if a desirable product is to be produced.

It’s much the same with automobiles, but instead of sugar, nutmeg or heavy-duty mayonnaise, industrial concerns play with glass, plastic and hot-stamped high-strength steel. Still, just because some cook or engineer follows a time-tested formula to the letter doesn’t mean the outcome will be as desired.

It’s disappointingly common for automakers to miss the mark; they’ll have checked all the boxes, delivered every feature they set out to, but for whatever reason, a particular car or truck won’t wow the way it should. There are hidden pitfalls in both the product-development and baking processes.

Luckily for crossover shoppers in need of a spacious, three-row schlepper, Hyundai has carefully followed a winning recipe with the Santa Fe. It offers comely exterior styling, a well-thought-out cabin, generous cargo capacity and even some great driver-assistance technology. In short, Hyundai’s family hauler is hard to fault.

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Check the Tape… Measure

Dimensionally, the Santa Fe matches up with vehicles like the Mazda CX-9, Ford Explorer and Nissan Pathfinder. Overall, it is slightly shorter than these products – with a wheelbase that’s a few inches less – but thanks to shrewd engineering it offers a touch more storage space, up to 80 cubic feet (2,265 litres) with everything folded flat.

But our resident-dad Yarkony insists that families spend most of their time with the seats up, and under those circumstances the Santa Fe offers 40.9 cu-ft (1,158 L) behind the second row and 13.5 cu-ft (382 L) behind the third row. Segment leaders like the Pathfinder and Pilot manage around 47 cu-ft behind the 2nd row (1,330 L) and over 16 (450 L) with all seats up (with the freakish Explorer somehow managing 21 cu-ft/595 L behind the rearmost seats!). That being said, the Santa Fe is about average for the segment when you consider rivals like the CX-9, Acadia and Highlander.

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Despite its cavernous cargo hold, the Santa Fe is still hospitable inside. Its second-row bucket seats are plenty supportive; certain models offer a bench with room for one more rider. Even the third row isn’t too bad for the small and spry among us. After making the trek back there they’re treated to reasonable amounts of room and even separate climate controls in our redundantly named Limited Ultimate test model, the Santa Fe’s top-of-the-line trim.

Tasteful Materials, Unimpeachable Quality

Matching its rich sticker price, which we’ll break down a little later, the Santa Fe’s interior is also well done, with attractively textured plastics and soft materials where you expect a sprinkle of cushiness, like the armrests and portions of the dashboard that are above waist level.

Despite the cabin’s multitude of surfaces and swoopy shapes, assembly quality is top notch, something rival automakers often fail to achieve with their more avant-garde designs.

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Our ambitiously luxurious all-wheel-drive test model featured niceties including leather trim, an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system that supports Android Auto and a 12-speaker Infinity sound system along with heated and ventilated front seats. Outside, 19-inch wheels up the style factor while a hands-free liftgate makes life just a little easier.

Spring for the Ultimate Tech Package, a $2,100 option, and you get automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, smart cruise control and automatic high-beams.

ENGINEering

The Santa Fe is hauled around by a 3.3-liter V6 that is wonderfully smooth, with an almost friction-free feel. It likes to rev, which is a good thing since it needs to. There’s not much torque down low, requiring about 4,000 RPM on the clock before it pulls with any authority. Output measures a strong 290 horses while the twist peaks at 252 lb-ft.

Whether you opt for front- or all-wheel drive, just one transmission is offered, a six-speed automatic. Eerily precise, it never botches a gear-change or misses a beat. It provides a completely seamless experience.

SEE MORE: Midsize Three-Row Crossover Comparison Test

According to Uncle Sam, the Santa Fe we sampled was rated at 17 miles per gallon in urban driving (12.8 L/100 km) and 22 on the highway (9.5 L/100 km), unimpressive figures that are par for the crossover course. In mixed motoring, you can expect to average 19 MPG (11.3 L/100 km, a figure that’s neither sipping nor spendthrift.

The Drive

With a few revs on the clock, Hyundai’s three-row offering scoots with reasonable authority; expect that to change when loaded up with a full complement of crew. Pushed to its limit, an extra squirt of pep might be appreciated.

In motion, the Santa Fe’s ride is unexpectedly firm for a family-hauler. Fortunately, the suspension does a remarkable job digesting harshness. Large body movements are clearly felt, but gritty, vibratory or otherwise uncouth sensations generally are not.

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Matching its refined ride, the interior is serene at all speeds. Ruckus from the tires or rushing air is minimal.

The Santa Fe is impressively refined but there is one glaring weakness to the way it carries itself. Steering feel is the only real dynamic weakness. It’s a lot like me in math class as a kid: completely disinterested. Numb and synthesized, this Hyundai’s electrically assisted rack makes no effort to engage or entertain. At best, it gets the vehicle pointed in roughly the right direction.

The Value Equation

I’ve been pretty vociferous about the 2017 Santa Fe, and for good reason. Thanks to its nicely trimmed interior, smooth powertrain and cavernous cargo hold, I think it’s one of the top three-row crossovers on the market today. The only problem is, you’ve got to pay to play.

SEE MORE: Hyundai Rolls Out Facelifted 2017 Santa Fe

Out the door our Limited Ultimate example cost $44,295 including $895 in delivery fees! In Canada, the Ultimate runs $49,994 with the $1,895 destination charges. Sure, you’re getting more bells and whistles than a cash-register factory but that seems like an awful lot. Remember, Hyundai built its reputation by offering more for less. Even this vehicle’s base price is rather much (About $34K in Canada). Just like major rivals including the Nissan Pathfinder, Ford Explorer or Toyota Highlander it kicks off around $30,000 (mid-thirties in Canada).

The Verdict: 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited Ultimate AWD

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The chefs in Hyundai’s kitchen have followed a proven recipe and delivered a gourmet vehicle in the process. The 2017 Santa Fe is tasty, nutritious and unexpectedly satisfying. Aside from dull steering, it’s nearly impossible to go wrong with this vehicle. However, if the thought of a mammoth monthly payment is as repulsive to you as sugar-free gummies and the digestive carnage they can cause, you’d be wise to consider the Santa Fe Sport. It’s slightly shorter, lacking both a third-row seat and V6 engine, but it provides the same basic excellence with a friendlier base price of around 25 grand (30 grand in Canada).

Discuss this story on our Hyundai Forum

  • Rocket

    Unless you intend to use the third row a lot, it seems the Sorrento is a better option. Same drivetrain but the interior materials seem to be of higher quality. Of course styling is subjective, but to my eyes the Sorrento is far better looking, too.