Test Drive: 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe XL

Hyundai doesn’t move a whole lot of Santa Fe XLs in Canada, relatively speaking, and I cannot for the life of me figure out why.

There’s a whole lot of value crammed into the package.

Maybe it’s because the shorter-wheelbase Santa Fe Sport is the country’s bestselling mid-size SUV at the moment, so that’s where Hyundai focuses their promotional efforts.

But as three-row family haulers go, the Santa Fe XL is one of the very best value-for-money options out there. The last one was well-liked, and the refreshed 2017 version with its design tweaks and improved list of safety features is even better.

That’s not to say there’s not room for improvement, but there’s a whole lot that the Santa Fe XL gets right.

The Upsides

In the Limited six-seat trim, as tested here at a price of $44,799 before taxes and discounts, there’s a whole lot of value crammed into the package.

For instance, it typically costs a lot more to get second-row captains’ chairs: the lowest trim level with them in a Toyota Highlander starts at $49,995, and in a Honda Pilot they’ll cost you at least $52,688. In a Santa Fe XL, the Luxury trim with six seats is priced at $42,599.

The Limited trim also includes a huge panoramic sunroof that fills the cabin with a gorgeous amount of light and yet doesn’t add any noise, making the Santa Fe XL’s interior a quiet and serene place that’s genuinely pleasant to spend time in.

The third row is spacious – even a gangly teenager would likely be comfortable – and the rear-zone climate controls are next to the outboard third-row seats, a well-considered move since that’s usually where they’re needed most. My backseat reviewer, my five-year-old daughter Madeline, took one look and declared, “It’s like a cottage back here!” She opted to forego the captain’s chairs – she’s still in a booster, so the fact that they’re heated doesn’t matter to her – and spent most of the week hanging out all the way in the back.

The power from the standard 3.3L V6 feels solid, the six-speed automatic transmission is well-behaved, and the car is overall very sturdy and comfortable to maneuver. The combination is refined and at the ready – in those key moments when you’re looking for grunt, you’ll find it. I also found the ride quality to be very smooth and the handling pleasant and easy-going despite its girth. Getting around in downtown traffic and parking lots results in zero stress.

And I typically find that there are ergonomic and usability issues with infotainment systems that are all-button layouts, but this one is thoughtfully arranged such that it works. The button stack is narrow, which makes even the far side of it easy to reach for short-armed drivers. The system and its 8-inch touchscreen are fast and responsive, and it also comes with available Android Auto (but not Apple CarPlay as of yet).

In fact, the layout of the entire centre stack is very appealing, as it has a small storage compartment at the bottom that puts a USB port, an auxiliary input and two 12V connectors within very easy reach.

The list of available safety features is stout. The Limited trim tested here comes with blind-spot detection, lane-change assist, and rear cross-traffic alert and parking sensors. But to get autonomous emergency braking, a multi-view camera, and lane-departure warning, you need to spring for the Ultimate trim ($48,099).

The Downsides

Along with that well-sized engine comes the Santa Fe XL’s biggest issue: boy howdy, is it ever thirsty. The Natural Resources Canada rating for the all-wheel drive models comes in at 13.9 L/100 km in city driving and 10.8 on the highway, and I found that my usage trended a little higher than the former during my week of living with it downtown.

There are two ways to look at this. If you put fuel efficiency as a high priority for moral reasons, you can immediately start considering other options. (The Nissan Pathfinder might serve you well if you fall into this category, but it doesn’t have available second-row captains’ chairs.)

On the other hand, if fuel efficiency is more of a wallet concern for you, then you can look at it as getting an enjoyable vehicle for a lower price and then putting more money into it at the pumps over the course of its life, which might put its real-life price closer to some competition depending on how carefully you drive it and how long you plan to keep it.

I also noticed a couple of annoyances that started to get to me over the course of a few days: the driver’s side seatbelt didn’t always wind tidily and would sometimes flop around, and the tire-changing tools included in under the cargo floor would make a loud clunking sound over bumps that sounded like I’d left a set of pots and pans rolling around loose in the back. You could probably solve this latter problem by adding some padding – but you shouldn’t have to, right?

Outside the aforementioned centre stack, there aren’t a whole lot of cabin storage spaces. The bin in the console is tiny relative to a number of competitors, and the map pocket on the front door is virtually non-existent. Cargo capacity is 2,265 litres with all rear seats folded, which is on the lower side for the segment.

The Verdict

Yes, it’s got its flaws – fuel economy being the biggie – but if I only had $45,000 to spend and was looking for a comfortable, enjoyable three-row SUV, the Hyundai Santa Fe XL would currently be at the top of my list.

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe XL Limited
Engine Displacement: 3.3L
Engine Cylinders: V6
Peak Horsepower: 290 hp
Peak Torque: 252 lb-ft
Fuel Economy: 13.9/10.8/12.5 (L/100 km, cty/hwy/cmb)
Cargo Space: 382/2,265 L (all rear seats folded)
2017 Hyundai Santa Fe XL Limited
Base Price $44,799
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,895
Price as Tested $46,794
Optional Equipment None
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.7
8 Styling
8 Powertrain
7 Quality
9 Comfort
8 Practicality
8 Drivability
7 Usability/Ergonomics
6 Fuel Economy
8 Features
8 Value