Expert Reviews

2024 Hyundai Santa Fe First Drive Review

Bigger and bolder just about sums up the 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe, which has been redesigned to appeal to more adventurous families.

More than those looking to explore the great outdoors, anyone looking for a spacious, smooth, and distinct midsize SUV will find it here.

Adventurous Styling

Without the Santa Fe badging across the back, it would be hard to know this is the fifth generation of Hyundai’s venerable sport utility; but then every one of its predecessors has been a stylistic reinvention of the last, with little to nothing shared between them beyond the Hyundai badges. Being larger, and bearing more than a passing resemblance to Land Rover’s gnarly Defender, the new Sante Fe could just as well be the box the previous generation came in.

Hyundai Motor Group’s Chief Creative Officer, Luc Donckerwolke, sees no value in creating a "family look" between models, nor apparently even maintaining design themes over generations, insisting that shoppers buy what appeals to their specific tastes and needs at the time regardless of any familial resemblance. While the people behind premium European brands like Mercedes-Benz may disagree, there’s no question the new Santa Fe is a stylistic winner, with bold proportions and shapes reminiscent of traditional truck-based SUVs along with plenty of contemporary flare. Keen-eyed observers will notice a bunch of H-shaped details throughout, including in the head- and tail lights, plus the body-coloured bar across the lower fascia.

Primed for Approachable Adventures

It might look like it’s ready climb a mountain, but the Santa Fe is still a soft-roader at heart. Hyundai has joined its rivals in offering tough-looking SUVs, but like the Ford Explorer Timberline, Kia Telluride X-Pro, or Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek, the Santa Fe XRT offers very little as far as actual off-road equipment. It has a slight boost in ride height, 18-inch wheels wrapped in all-terrain tires, and a myriad of minor subtle badges, but little else to make it a serious off-road machine.

A brief drive along one of the many fire access roads in British Columbia was no challenge for the XRT, but the stiffness of its suspension meant the many big potholes along the way were felt throughout the cabin more than they would be in a more serious off-road machine. The Santa Fe’s suspension doesn’t offer much articulation, and both the approach and departure angles aren’t enough to hurdle any rock climbs or logs. Apparently the Subaru Outback is a machine squarely in Hyundai’s sights with the new-look Santa Fe, but when trail conditions diminish, that rugged wagon will be scrambling over terrain the Hyundai simply can't.

Still, Hyundai has given the new Santa Fe generous interior dimensions for both passengers and cargo, plus robust roof rails to which any manner of accessories can be affixed, from ski- or bike racks to a rooftop tent. Plus, the handy grab handle hidden in the C-pillar makes accessing whatever's up there easier, too. Hyundai also promises a bunch of accessories for the new Santa Fe aimed at the adventurous crowd.

Road Trip Rock Star

While the rigid suspension tune may belie the XRT trim’s rugged looks, it contributes to the Santa Fe’s excellent on-road manners. Traversing the type of roads that would be perfect for a sport sedan or roadster, the Santa Fe made for an agreeable partner when asked to hustle around corners. It’s certainly no track-ready machine, but body roll and nose dive are well managed.

The steering doesn’t offer tons of road feel, but it’s also not over-boosted, again adding to a feeling of confidence while piloting this Hyundai. The brake pedal provides good, firm feel and decent stopping power, but when towing a twin jet ski trailer, stopping distances extended significantly more than expected from the relatively light load. The Santa Fe is rated to tow as much as 2,041kg (4,500 lb) with the XRT package.

A happy byproduct of these rugged-ish SUVs is improved ride quality thanks to their smaller wheels and tires with thicker sidewalls. And while the Santa Fe XRT rides well on the road, it was the swanky Ultimate Calligraphy trim and its 21-inch wheels wrapped in low-profile tires that was the biggest surprise. Balancing its roadholding with the ability to absorb bumps with ease, it did better than its big wheels would suggest.

Beyond the refined ride, the new Santa Fe is very quiet, with wind and road noise incredibly well-suppressed. Engine noise from the turbocharged 2.5L four-cylinder is also quelled – at least until the driver puts a heavy boot into the throttle for passing. Being so smooth, quiet, and comfortable, the Santa Fe tends to disappear around you, making it easy to relax, bask in the scenery or conversation, and making it an ideal road trip chariot.

Comfy Cabin

The XRT is a mid-pack trim, and while it gives up a few features from the more expensive trims and makes do with faux leather upholstery, it’s still well equipped with its sunroof, heated seats, 12.3-inch touchscreen, and wireless smartphone connectivity, which worked flawlessly during this drive.

With its buttery-smooth Nappa leather, heated and cooled seats, dual wireless phone chargers, and second-row captain’s chairs, the Ultimate Calligraphy boasts a level of luxury that wouldn’t be out of place in a Genesis model. Add to that list a decent-sounding stereo, and the range-topping Santa Fe presents very well.

Although this new generation Santa Fe has grown marginally, it’s still smaller than the largest three-row SUVs in the segment. Hyundai’s own Palisade, for instance, dwarfs it in every dimension. And while the Santa Fe actually offers more third-row headroom than its larger sibling, it’s only because the seat is positioned very low, resulting in negligible under-thigh support. The second-row seat – a three-person bench in all but the top trim – provides plenty of space, but curiously, while the third row gets individual climate controls, the second row only gets a pair of vents, with fan speed and temperature controlled from up front.

Pair of Powertrains

Hyundai is offering the Santa Fe with two powertrains. The two most affordable trims will be powered by a 1.6L four-cylinder hybrid setup, with 231 hp and 271 lb-ft of torque. That version is expected to arrive at Canadian dealerships later this spring.

The XRT and Ultimate Calligraphy trims are powered by a turbocharged 2.5L engine that's paired with an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission compared to the hybrid's six-speed conventional gearbox. The 277 hp and 311 lb-ft of torque proved ample motivation to keep the Santa Fe cruising comfortably at highway speed, with sufficient passing power on tap, and enough to haul those Sea-Doos, too.

Final Thoughts

While its new macho styling may be polarizing to some, and its new off-road-oriented trim overreaches somewhat, there is no question the bigger and bolder 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe is appreciably better than the model it replaces. The Santa Fe continues to offer a lot of features and value for the dollar, as it has always done, but now it also delivers more space, technology, and style. For adventures that don’t stray too far from the beaten path, the new Hyundai Santa Fe is a fantastic choice.


2024 Hyundai Santa Fe Canadian Pricing
Trim Drivetrain MSRP
Preferred 1.6 HEV $40,999
Preferred with Trend Package 1.6 HEV $44,999
XRT 2.5T $46,999
Luxury 2.5T $49,999
Ultimate Calligraphy 2.5T $53,499