Review: 2015 Hyundai Santa Fe LTD

When we get the keys to a midsize crossover, we can never really be sure where to set our expectations. Is the third row really a full third row of usable seating? Do you have to stow the third row to have a reasonable amount of space for cargo? The 2015 Hyundai Santa Fe surprised us.

Under the Hood

The 2015 Hyundai Santa Fe LTD features a 3.3-liter 6-cylinder gasoline engine that produces a healthy horsepower and 252 lb-ft of torque. The power runs to the front wheels (AWD is an available feature) through a 6-speed automatic transmission with Hyundai’s version of the ubiquitous manumatic which they have dubbed Shiftronic. Our test Santa Fe came equipped with the Active ECO System which is essentially a fuel management system designed to increase fuel economy.


While the 2015 Santa Fe is not sexy, it is an attractive vehicle. Its strong, upright grille, wide front, and smooth, tall sides give it a stalwart appearance—less underwear model and more Russell Crowe in Gladiator. A crease runs just below the beltline from the doors along to the rear and break up the tall sides just enough to keep it from looking boring.

The appearance grade moves from a B to a solid B+ due to the Santa Fe looking like nothing else on the road save for other Hyundai’s. We applaud any automaker that manages to design a unique vehicle while still maintaining a solid brand aesthetic across their line like Hyundai does.

The overall dimensions of the Santa Fe keep it in line with its competitors; however, the design of the exterior helps it to look like it actually fits into the mid-size category.


Our Santa Fe tester continued the actually-bigger-than-it-looks theme inside. The feature we felt was most notable was a useable third row. The second row captain’s chairs folded easily out of the way to allow access to a third row that is among the most comfortable our tween testers have ever experienced in a mid-size crossover. Their adventure in the rearmost seating included a drive along some North Carolina mountain roads that would surely have elicited complaints in most vehicles in its class. We’re not sure we would subject most adults to the third row other than for maybe a short ride, and that out of necessity.

The instrument cluster and glove compartment/passenger airbag areas form two shallow arcs from the center stack that create the sense of two distinct areas for the driver and front passenger. The console features a storage area/armrest that is wide enough for two elbows, but narrows as it moves forward and manages to keep the front occupants from feeling isolated from each other.

The center stack is a unique wedge shape that manages to very efficiently house every control you need to access while driving in an intuitive layout. This efficient use of space also contributes to the feeling the vehicle is smaller than it is. The instrument panel is very driver-centric. A small driver information screen sits between two gauge clusters set on a flat panel. A cat-eyed plastic shroud curves toward the driver on each side and forms two tunnels. The shape of the tunnels aid visibility and limit glare and sunshine.

While most of the interior aesthetic was a tad on the vanilla side, our test vehicle featured an available panoramic sunroof we can only describe as massive. Our adult and kid testers got a kick out of night driving with the cover open and the night sky readily visible.


The hardware nerve center of our Santa Fe’s infotainment system was a big bright 8” touchscreen set into a center stack we appreciated for its design as much as for its functionality. The stack has a CD slot at the top with the touchscreen just below it. Analog controls for the infotainment/audio system are next with HVAC controls at the bottom. The stack forms a wedge that narrows to the width of the console and serves as the centerpiece for the dash design where so many others seem to be a set of buttons and knobs we-had-to-find-a-place-for.

The software is Hyundai’s Blue Link Telematics System which allows access to a suite of apps, remote access, diagnostics, stolen vehicle recovery, etc. Download the available app and Hyundai boasts access to geo-fencing, curfew, and speed alerts to keep an eye on younger drivers.

The 8” touchscreen is nicely sized, for ease of use and from a design viewpoint. The controls accessed via the screen are intuitive and easy to find on the go. The analog controls were not so great. The audio controls feature a large, centrally located volume knob with an inset power button; however, where other manufacturers balance the look and ease of use with an equally as prominent tuning knob, Hyundai uses a rocker switch set to the right (away from the driver) of the volume knob. The size of the switch and its location required eyes off the road time to be a tad longer than we thought it should be.

HVAC controls were easy to use with each front passenger having a rocker switch to easily set their half of the dual climate control. The steering wheel featured controls for audio and cruise control which were a balance of buttons and toggle switches. The two most commonly used controls in our experience are volume and acceleration/deceleration for the cruise control. These were both manipulated via toggle switches. We really liked these two controls being the switches as they offered a tactile difference between the other wheel-mounted controls and were easily within thumb reach. This all but eliminated having to take our eyes off the road.

12015-santa-fe-03The Drive

The standard 6-cylinder in the Santa Fe produces 290 horsepower which we found to be plenty of power as we negotiated the Blue Ridge Parkway and several other not as well maintained switchbacks and mountain roads. Even in rain and over some glorified wagon trails the Santa Fe never felt like it was lacking.

Acceleration was smooth with no perceptible torque steer. Get up and go was adequate with no real lag or issues even when starting on a severe uphill.

Braking, handling, and steering contributed to what was an overall smooth, unobjectionable ride. The theme of the Santa Fe appearing smaller than it is carried over into the drive with the Santa Fe never wallowing or having the floating feeling larger SUV’s can fall victim to over less than perfect surfaces.


The first and second row seating in the Santa Fe Limited were captain’s chairs we found to be plenty comfortable over a medium length road trip. The trip saw adults and a couple of tweens occupying the second row chairs at different times for varying lengths of time. No one complained of any comfort issues.

The third row was unfolded and occupied by the tween testers for a short trip to dinner. They accessed the row easily with second row seats folding easily out of the way. Both reported they were comfortable enough in the last row, but neither was crazy about the idea of being back there for much longer.

Cargo storage was in line with most of the Santa Fe’s competitors. It was severely limited with the third row up, and ample for a traveling family of four with the rearmost row stowed.

Important Numbers for Families

  • 13.5 – Though there is only 13.5″ of cargo room with the third row of seating erect, that’s plenty for most shopping trips.
  • 20 – We averaged between 19 and 21 mpg during our weeklong excursion in the Santa Fe. That’s right in line with EPA estimates.
  • 41.3 – Everyone from kids to adults will comfortably fit in the second row with the 41.3″ of legroom. We tested the second row with adults over 6-feet tall and they mentioned how impressed they were with the amount of space.

Family 5 Test

  1. Car Seats –  Car seats comfortably fit in the second and third row but, as with most vehicles with a third row option, it’s just easier to not put them in the third row. If you opt for the divided second row, there is a pass-through walking option to the third row that does not require kids to have to move the second row to get into the third row. Our junior testers were big fans of this option.
  2. Coffee Cups – Whether it was iced or hot beverages, the Santa Fe held our beverages securely though a fair amount of curvy mountain driving and firm during highway travel.
  3. Luggage –  Soft-sided bags easily fit int he rear cargo area with the third row erect. Our standard size luggage did not. To fit our full sized and carry-on suitcases into the cargo area we had to stow the third row down in order to close the trunk.
  4. Golf Clubs – If you’re okay stacking golf club bags on top of each other, you can probably fit five to six before taking up all the rearview window room. However, after just one bag be advised that the bags will probably attempt to topple out of the cargo area when you open the trunk after your ride.
  5. Groceries – You’re not going to fit your Costco run in rear cargo area unless you stow the third row. We were comfortable with the space for our weekly grocery shopping needs.

Bottom Line

The Hyundai Santa Fe is a bit of a contradiction. Its power and passenger/cargo room are big, sometimes feeling and acting bigger than its midsize classification. Its handling and drivability feel more compact crossover. It is a very satisfying drive overall easy to use.


To see more pictures and video from this vehicle test and future tests, follow Drive My Family on InstagramTwitterFacebook, and Vine (@DriveMyFamily).

all photos courtesy of Hyundai

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