Better than expected? [First Drive] - SUV VEHICLE

Better than expected? [First Drive]


When you have high hopes for a vehicle, there’s often the chance for a huge letdown when you drive it. Kind of a like an over-hyped movie. So, I’ll admit I was nervous about driving the 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe because I expected a lot. A lot.

Did it deliver? Or was I disappointed? No spoiler alerts this time. You’ll have to keep reading to find out.

[Read more: 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe vs. Palisade: Are they too similar now?]

Cool tech on the 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe

The 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe is one of the most tech-forward Hyundais to date. From being able to use your phone as a key to Wi-Fi hotspots for up to five devices to everything in between, this new three-row SUV has all the things.

Most notably, Hyundai lacked wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto in its up-level infotainment system with the bigger screen. That is no longer the case. Hallelujah. The new Santa Fe also offers available dual wireless charging in the front, which is a nice add I haven’t seen on too many other vehicles.

On that topic, I will point out the wireless chargers did overheat my phone and stop charging at several points during our day-long drive. When I mentioned this to Hyundai, they told me that shouldn’t happen, that there’s a cool pad underneath. I showed them the “phone stopped charging” message I screen grabbed on my phone and shrugged my shoulders. They said they’d look into it – so TBD there.

The new Santa Fe also has Hyundai’s Digital Key 2, which is based on Bluetooth Low Energy and Ultra Wide Band rather than near-field tech. This means you can walk up to the car with your phone in your pocket, and the car will unlock – no more tapping your phone to the chicklet on the door to enable access. If you have the app on your Apple Watch, it will work the same way.

One of the things I truly appreciate about Hyundai tech, however, is that it’s not all subscription based. In fact, the Blue Link app features for safety, maintenance and convenience are FREE for first owners as long as LTE technology still functions.

Other available tech features to watch for include the digital rear-camera mirror, around-view cameras, heated-and-ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, a UV-C sanitizer box, Smart Park, ambient lighting and USB-C ports in every row.

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The 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe finally has wireless Apple CarPlay in its top infotainment system, and the top-tier Calligraphy trim is chockfull of luxury materials. (Photo by Jill Ciminillo)

Lux-level materials

Our primary test vehicle during the media preview was the top-tier Calligraphy trim, which had all the goodies. That means it also had the high-end materials. This is the trim that gets Nappa leather seats and sueded headliners. It has well-padded seats – even in the third row. It also included things like wood accents on the dash.

But all trims will get nice stitching accents and bright trim pieces. This is one of those things Hyundai does really well – even if you aren’t opting for the top trim, you’ll get more premium touch materials.

Exterior uniqueness

Beginning with the Ioniq 5 and Ioniq 6, Hyundai started to employ a “chess piece” design strategy that focuses more on how passengers will use vehicles than creating a family resemblance among its vehicles. Therefore, other than the “pixel” design elements on each vehicle, there are very few other similarities.

With the new Santa Fe, the goal was to evoke both adventure and utility. So, this becomes a vehicle you can drive in urban spaces or do some mild car camping in. It has a functional third row for small adults or children, plenty of cargo space when you fold down second and third rows and a wide-opening rear hatch for large loads.

The boxy shape is eye catching – whether you like it or not. And the unique and perhaps polarizing lighting signatures help the 2024 Santa Fe stand out from the crowd with its “H” shaped DRLs and brake lights.

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The 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe has a unique boxy shape, and the XRT trim with its 8.3-inch ground clearance can do some light to moderate off-roading with ease. (Photo by Jill Ciminillo)

Price-packed punch

The best part of the story, however, has to be pricing. When you look at all the tech and lux-level amenities you get in this vehicle, you might expect a much higher price tag. Instead, for the gas-only models, you’re looking at all-in pricing of less than $50k – and that includes the destination fee of $1,395. Adding all-wheel drive increases the price by $1,800, and the hybrid powertrain will only add $500.

The price breakdown for front-wheel drive models (except XRT, which is AWD only), including destination is as follows:

  • SE: $35,345
  • SEL: $37,845
  • XRT (AWD only): $41,995
  • Limited: $44,745
  • Calligraphy: $47,895
  • SEL Hybrid: $38,345
  • Limited Hybrid: $45,245
  • Calligraphy Hybrid: $48,395

For everything the Calligraphy trim includes – in terms of tech and convenience – it’ll be hard to beat that price when you compare apples to apples.

But how’d it drive already?

The 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe is one of those smooth and competent vehicles that feels familiar as soon as you sit behind the wheel. The driving position affords good visibility out all windows, and even petite drivers get a commanding view of the road and comfortable driving position.

We were driving the gas models equipped with the 2.5-liter turbocharged engine that delivers 277 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque, and this is well-balanced power for a vehicle of this size. It was peppy in hard highway-merging accelerations, and generally quiet at cruising speeds. While I wouldn’t call the Santa Fe sporty, I would say it has all the get-up-and-go you need.

We also had the opportunity to drive the 2024 Santa Fe XRT, with 8.3 inches of ground clearance, on a moderate off-road coarse, and it did remarkably well. While this three-row SUV isn’t going to tackle the Rubicon Trail any time soon, it will get you to off-the-beaten-path trails and camping spots with reasonable ease and comfort.

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The dual wireless charger on the Calligraphy trim of the 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe is a great idea, but it does tend to overheat your phone and stop charging randomly. (Photo by Jill Ciminillo)

A few misses

For all the good things the 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe has going for it, there are a few things that could have been done better. I’ll start with something I already mentioned: The wireless charging overheated my phone.

That’s my major thumbs-down critique. But other minor misses include the rear seats that are hard to pull up when they are in the down position, the super-low rear blinkers on the back of the vehicle and the hard-to-see gearshift on the steering column.

The other thing to note is that if you need to use the third row for passengers, the cargo space is severely limited. So, carrying six to seven people and things isn’t going to be possible unless you load a cargo shell to the roof or tow your luggage behind you.

None of those things are necessarily dealbreakers – just things you need to know.

The bottom line

The 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe is an excellent vehicle. It’s well-powered, well-priced and well-equipped. And even the things I didn’t like can be taken with a grain of salt. If you’re looking for a unique vehicle with a usable third-row, this is a great place to start.

So, was the new Santa Fe better than I expected? Yes. Yes, it was.

2024 Hyundai Santa Fe photo gallery


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