Why do I love this SUV?

The other automakers better watch out for Hyundai


The 2017 models are beginning to trickle out, and based on my first experiences – both Hyundais – 2017 looks as though it is shaping up to be a very good year indeed. In fact, if I were one of the other car makers – Toyota, BMW, Ford, you name it – I would worry greatly that anyone in the market for a new SUV ever does a test drive in the 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe.

In fact, if I were one of the other car makers, I would go get a 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe, show it to my designers and engineers, and tell them that we pretty much have to build something quite like this for 2018 or cede the SUV space. To say I was impressed with my test drive is an understatement and, unfortunately for some of those other car makers, it has come amid test drives in a few of the direct competitors – both less expensive and more expensive – and this Santa Fe has altered my expectations. It has, quite simply, raised the bar.

The 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe has the best combination of all the things I like: performance, luxury, styling, space, all wheel drive, and, above all, value. Oh yes, there are other vehicles like this out there this nice, but they cost a lot more (e.g.: Lexus RX). The ones in the same price range fall short (Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander), and the ones that are less expensive (Mitsubishi Outlander, Mazda CX-5) clearly show why they are less expensive.

My good fortune this time around was that I got to drive the 2017 Santa Fe while on my annual vacation in Michigan, picking it up at the Detroit airport and taking it north to the wonderful lakeside/bayside village of Petoskey. While “Up North,” as Mitten denizens say, I drove it all over, to Alpena on Lake Huron, to St. Ignace over the great Mackinac Bridge to the Mackinac Island Ferry (no cars on the island), and to several of the hidden-gem golf courses scattered around in the Michigan woods.

With seating for six (in my test-drive configuration; you can get it in 7-passenger seating), this versatile vehicle met every challenge we threw at it and did so with great comfort. It handled a ton of luggage, a slew of passengers, some very interesting country roads, and all the while we enjoyed a beautiful sound system with satellite radio, and a view of the hard-wood canopy so prevalent in Michigan through the Santa Fe’s huge panoramic sunroof.

Oh, the sunroof: when you first open it the cover slides back nearly to the end of the vehicle, all glass, and then the portion over the front seats opens up to air (and sun), still allowing for the panoramic view all the way back to the third-row seating. My passengers particularly liked it for a view of the bridge towers and suspension cables. Awesome.

It all starts right off the bat. The 2017 Santa Fe is a handsome vehicle; no new styling ground here – many SUVs look very similar – but there is nothing odd about it like there is on others. It’s good looking. Then you get in. The vehicle feels quite substantial – nice, heavy doors, luxurious and supple leather, subtle but impressive wood grain, and a great look and feel throughout the interior.

We folded down the third-row seats and 60 percent of the second row and easily loaded two golf bags in large travel cases along with three suitcases and three carry-on backpacks. Plenty of room. And the remaining 40% of the second row was more than ample room, elbow room and leg room, for the rear seat passenger. Also, loading up was easy with the power rear lift-gate, easily accessible from the key fob.  

Next up was syncing up the Bluetooth phone connection, which took less than a minute. We quickly made calls to our vacation buddies (and made many in-car calls during the trip) and we were all impressed with the ease of operation and the sound quality and the voice pickup, even from the rear seat.

Then, of course, I started driving. What I noticed first as I made my way out of the parking center and onto the airport roads leading to the highway was how quiet the Santa Fe is, and this persisted throughout the trip. The excellent sound system – which we used for AM, FM and satellite radio, as well as playing our smartphone music play lists and podcasts – surrounds you with sound and there is very little road noise to get in the way.

As you drive – I’ll get to performance in a second – you begin to notice the little things. The smart cruise control is excellent, automatically holding safe distances, slowing and getting up to speed as appropriate; very nice. The blind spot monitoring and lane departure alerts, both of which work quite well without annoying loud alerts seen in other vehicles.

 There is also emergency automatic braking which fortunately I didn’t have to experience. Then, at night, the fun kicks in. First is the Dynamic Bending Lights (high-intensity lights), which follow the curves in the road – so wonderful. And the automatic high beams which switch on an off to accommodate oncoming traffic while somehow not being bothered by other lights along to road – it worked so well all my passengers commented on the system.

Ah, but the best part is the driving. This vehicle features a 3.3-liter V6 engine, putting out 290 horsepower, and the power never blinks. It feels like more horsepower than advertised, as this vehicle will handle highways and hills with power to spare. Coupled with a 6-speed automatic transmission that is very smooth and never was herky-jerky when down- or up-shifting, the vehicle just flat-out performs. And the handling is superb – I kid you not, this Santa Fe SUV corners like a race car, with very little lean and a road-gripping feel all the while.

All this with all-wheel-drive too. I hit about every condition imaginable except snow and ice – dirt roads, back roads, rain-slicked roads – and I never felt out of control. I guess it helped that it has about the best brakes I have ever experienced and, of course, advanced stability control and traction control. The AWD is automatic for conditions, and there is an AWD lock mode for off-road conditions.  

If you want – I didn’t do this for a shorter test drive – Hyundai features a BlueLink app that you download into your smartphone or smart watch from Google Play that allows you to – remotely – start the car, cool it down or heat it up, flash the lights or horn in a parking lot to find the car, locate your car with Google Maps (if its stolen or your kid is driving it), call roadside assistance, and also monitor kid drivers with a geo-fence (alerts when the vehicle leaves predetermined areas), curfews and speed alerts.

You can even get directions, say, at a meeting, and send the info to the car from the app so you’re ready to go when the driving commences. There’s also monthly maintenance alerts on the app, as well as alerts for tire pressure and oil levels, and you can use the app to make a dealer appointment if necessary.

Oh, and I haven’t mentioned the four cameras – one mounted in the front, the ubiquitous rear-view camera, and a camera mounted on each of the exterior side mirrors for a 360-degree view; so handy. Plus, using the four cameras the car generates a birds-eye view from above that displays on the dash screen that gives you a full idea of obstructions all around. Pretty cool.

Most of this equipment comes standard in the Limited edition of the Santa Fe, which carries a base price of $34,950 (the base model SE starts at $31,800; same engine). This Ultimate trim carries a base price of $39,400 in two-wheel-drive, so on my test-drive model with AWD the base price is $41,150. They added in the Ultimate Tech package – the smart cruise control, the emergency braking, lane departure, electronic parking brake, high-intensity discharge headlamps, Dynamic Bending lights, and high beam assist for $2,100; worth it at twice the price. Another $150 for carpeted floor mats, and $895 in destination charges, and the bottom line is $44,295. Of course, included is the Hyundai 10-year/100,000 miles powertrain warranty.

If I had to guess, I would have said a vehicle this nice, this powerful, this well-equipped would be more than $50,000 easy. For $44,000, the 217 Santa Fe Limited Ultimate AWD is a steal. Indeed, I thought about stealing it.

The rest of autodom better look out for Hyundai.  


Categories: Industry Trends, Transportation