The value-laden brand from Korea jumped on the SUV bandwagon nearly twenty years ago with the original Santa Fe. Priced thousands less than its main competition, it didn’t take long for the things to start cropping up along our roads like so much kudzu. Headed into 2020, Hyundai is armed with a fleet of SUVs and crossovers, two of which we’ll profile here.
In addition to the mainstream Santa Fe is the one-size-smaller Tucson. Originally intended as an entry-level ute into the brand, there are now two options in the Hyundai that are more diminutive than it. In fact, with a brace of littler and larger SUVs bookending the Tucson, it now represents Medium instead of Small in the Hyundai range.
And so the world turns. If you’re shopping these two vehicles, you’ll want to check out our comparison which starts right now.
Tucson: A brace of engine choices face shoppers of the Hyundai Tucson, though there is nary a turbocharger in sight. Base models get a 2.0-liter four banger making 161 horsepower and 150 lb-ft of torque. Snazzier trims are endowed with a larger displacement four-cylinder, a 2.4-liter unit good for twenty more ponies and twenty-five more torques. No matter the engine, the transmission will be a six-speed automatic. All-wheel drive is optional.
Santa Fe: There are two available engine options in the 2020 Santa Fe. All models are equipped with the 2.4-liter four-cylinder, making 185 hp and 178 lb-ft of torque in this application as standard equipment. Optional on all trims except the entry-level SE is a 2.0-liter turbocharged mill, capable of heaving out 235 ponies and 260 lb-ft of twist. Either way, you’ll get an eight-speed automatic and optional all-wheel drive.
SEE ALSO: Hyundai Santa Fe Review
Bottom Line: Like Shakira’s hips, numbers don’t lie. The larger Santa Fe more than makes up for its extra bulk with more power, particularly in the turbocharged model. With all of its torque online at a barely-off-idle 1450 RPM, the 2.0T provides plenty of grunt whether you’re squeezing into gaps on the morning commute or driving a dirt road up to the cottage.
Tucson: Selecting the 2.0-liter engine returns mileage of 23, 30, and 26 mpg on the city, highway, and combined cycles, respectively. Adding all-wheel drive to this equation reduces economy in town to 22 mpg and a shocking 25 mpg on the highway. As mentioned elsewhere, that’s a damning indictment of the 2.0-liter’s lack of power. The 2.4-liter engine is rated at 22 mpg in the city (21 mpg with AWD) and 28 mpg on the highway (26 mpg with AWD). The drop of just 2 mpg highway cycles when AWD is added suggests the bigger engine is much more suited for duty in the Tucson.
Santa Fe: The EPA suggests non-turbo, front-wheel drive 2.4-liter models should get 22 mpg in town and 29 mpg on the highway, making for a combined rating of 25 mpg. Adding all-wheel drive reduces those figures to 21, 27, and 24 miles per gallon, respectively. Stepping up to the torquey turbocharged engine knocks front-wheel drive mileage down by a pair of mpg across the board. Snazzy all-wheel drive turbo Santa Fe rigs are rated at 20 mpg city, 26 mpg highway, and a not-at-all-impressive 22 mpg overall.
Bottom Line: If it’s access to the 30 emm-pee-gee club you seek, sample a front-drive 2.0-liter Tucson. Volume models with power going to all four wheels are markedly similar in mileage measures, making one wonder if they’re better off trading up to Santa Fe for more space without much – if any – fuel economy penalty.
Tucson: Headroom in the front row measures 39.6 inches, 37.9 with the sunroof on night and Ultimate models. Legroom is an impressive 41.5 inches up front and a competitive 38.2 inches in the second row. Total passenger volume is measured at 102.2 cubic feet. The car’s width pays off, with its 57.1 inches of shoulder room. That space will certainly be felt when sitting two or three abreast.
Santa Fe: All trims have identical interior measurements and passenger volume, meaning that stepping up the ladder only brings more kit, not space. Front row headroom is an impressive 41.2 inches, with 39.2 inches of the stuff found in row #2. Legroom for occupants up front is a stretch-em-out 44.1 inches and 40.9 inches for kidlets astern. Total passenger volume is 110.7 cubic feet.
Bottom Line: A bigger car is a bigger car, with the Santa Fe handily beating the Tucson in about every measurable interior dimension. Even empty nesters will appreciate its extra three inches of legroom up front. Second row occupants may be less able to tell the difference between the two, with about an inch of room separating these two corporate cousins. Take your time when shopping and try them both.
Cargo Capacity & Trailering
Tucson: With the rear seats up, a total of 31 cubic feet of cargo space is at the disposal of people who own a Hyundai Tucson. Flip the seats down and 61.9 cubic feet are revealed. Properly equipped, the Tucson can tow a maximum of 2000 pounds.
Santa Fe: Cargo volume behind the rear seats is about six cubes greater than that of the Tucson. To put that in perspective, it’s about the size of two bar or dorm fridges. Folding the rear seats turns Santa Fe into a machine with 71.3 cubic feet of storage space. Naturally aspirated models can tow an even 2000 lbs, while those equipped with a turbo can haul 3500 lbs.
Bottom Line: Again, size is size. It’s difficult to break the laws of physics, no matter how much you tried to do so in that knacked old Ford Escort wagon back in college. The Santa Fe is bigger and, properly equipped, can tow more. Full stop.
Tucson: All trims come equipped with Apple CarPlay and a 7-inch color touchscreen for infotainment duties but satellite radio is not included on base models. Top-rung Ultimate trim gets upgraded to an 8-inch screen. A banging Infinity audio system is available as well. Wireless device charging shows up on the $24,600 Sport model but Smart Cruise Control (with Stop & Go technology) is only found on the top two models.
Santa Fe: Customers who pop for the Limited trim (which is really only limited to the exact number they can sell) will be rewarded with an expansive 8-inch touchscreen navigation setup and 12 speaker Infinity Premium Audio system. Apple CarPLay and Android Auto are standard across the board, as a rafts of USB ports and adaptive cruise control.
Bottom Line: Hyundai makes the puzzling decision to not make satellite radio or push button start available on these base models, knocks against those trims in your author’s flinty eyes. The presence of Smart Cruise Control on the entry-level Santa Fe is pretty impressive, as are the array of safety and convenience features further up the model food chain.
Tucson: This high-riding car is styled with the Hyundai corporate face, using a pair of headlights featuring Hyundai’s boomerang light signature to bookend a corporate chrome grille. As with most crossovers in this segment, Tucson’s wheel arches are painted black to provide the appearance of extra height. Upscale versions actually have some snazzy and complex-looking wheels, a styling touch not generally found in the compact-SUV set.
Santa Fe: For the 2020 model year, Hyundai has made the sensible decision to bin all suffixes from the Santa Fe line after it had become polluted with ‘Sport’ and ‘XL’ designations in recent years. They also gave the new Santa Fe a derivative look, not unlike that adorning the schnoz of the two-sizes-smaller Kona. Narrow daytime lights rest high on the front fascia, with the actual headlamps stuffed into the bumper cheeks like a squirrel storing nuts for the winter.
Bottom Line: If you’re considering Santa Fe, make sure to get an SEL trim or better with the LED headlamps. They do much to jazz the vehicle’s lighting signatures and end up making full use of its interesting styling decisions. Santa Fe wears its corporate grille well.
Tucson: Suggested retail of a front-drive Tucson SE is $23,500. This price undercuts a few of its competitors while still including a healthy amount of kit. All-wheel drive is a $1400 option. The more powerful 2.4L version will set you back at least $25,750 while the most spendy version of the Tucson, an all-wheel drive 2.4L Ultimate, costs $33,100.
Santa Fe: Hyundai is smart when it comes to pricing these two rigs, allowing for some overlap in which a shrewd salesperson can argue for an upgrade. A front-wheel drive Santa Fe SE starts at $25,900 with all-wheel drive being a $1,700 option. Stepping up to the SEL is a mere $1,750 walk, one we recommend you take with haste given the extra equipment included as standard equipment on that model. The most expensive Santa Fe is a loaded out Limited at $39,200.
Bottom Line: At these prices, a Santa Fe SEL seems like the sweet spot, ringing the register at $27,650. That’s a lot of SUV, both in terms of size and features, for not a lot of coin. It’s easy to spend more than that on a Tucson but it would be unwise to do so.
Hyundai Tucson vs Santa Fe: The Verdict
Everything considered – price, space, features, and the always subjective style – the Santa Fe wins this inter-showroom skirmish hands down. The combination of extra room and gadgets for only slightly extra financial commitment makes this an easy decision. Certainly, if you’re looking for a smaller SUV to fit in the condo parking spot marked ‘compact’, feel free to try and wrangle a deal on Tucson. Everyone else should stick with its larger brother.