Customers can be excused if they're a mite confused by Hyundai's mid-size utility-vehicle lineup, for there are two different vehicles wearing the Santa Fe nameplate – the Santa Fe Sport and the Santa Fe XL.
To clear up that confusion, the Sport is a two-row, five-passenger CUV with a four-cylinder engine and the XL is a bigger, three-row, six or seven-passenger model with a six-cylinder engine.
Bigger and roomier
We tested the Santa Fe Sport previously, so this time we focused on the Santa Fe XL.
Visually the XL can be identified by a unique grille and wheels, dual chrome tail pipes, a flush-mounted trailer hitch and the shape of the side window. Both are built in a state-of-the-art Hyundai / Kia plant in Georgia.
The wheelbase of the Santa Fe XL is 100-mm longer and overall length is greater by 215-mm. Width and height remain essentially the same but the total interior volume of the XL is 12% greater.
Seven- passenger seating is standard on all XL models with a six-passenger setup available for an extra $200. Included in my test vehicle, it replaces the centre bench with a pair of captain’s chairs. In either case, the second row seats slide fore-aft and recline. The second row bench is split 40/20/40 and the third row bench 50/50.
Second row occupants benefit from an additional 50 mm of legroom compared to the Sport model and third row tenants get 800 mm of legroom – sparse but suitable for short people or distances. Headroom is generous in the first two rows – less so in the third.
The XL also offers a lot of cargo space for its size, with or without the third row seat in place. While longer than the Santa Fe Sport, it is shorter and less voluminous than some vehicles that could be considered competitors, such as the Chevy Traverse, Ford Edge and Mazda CX-9.
The interior is thoughtfully designed and high quality materials are in evidence throughout. It is ergonomically near perfect with well-placed controls that are easily deciphered and that operate with a level of smoothness and precision expected of a luxury manufacturer. The very latest in infotainment systems is standard at this trim level including a terrific Infinity audio system.
Hyundai has become synonymous with value and the 2015 Santa Fe continues that practice with an extensive list of standard equipment at all points of the price ladder. Every XL comes with power windows, locks and mirrors, air conditioning, heated seats, tilt & telescope steering wheel, six-speaker audio system, Bluetooth wireless connectivity and cruise control.
Top trim levels have some unique features, such as a new proximity keyless system that allows you to unlock and start the vehicle if you are within a few metres of it. Stand near the tailgate for more than three seconds with the key fob on your person and it will automatically open – a good idea if you want it open, a surprise and inconvenience if you just happen to be standing there with no intention or need to open the big hatch.
AWD has Canadian connection
Power comes from an all-aluminum V-6 engine displacing 3.3 litres. It has dual overhead camshafts, variable valve timing on both the intake and exhaust sides and direct injection. It produces 295 horsepower and 252 lb-ft of torque. Smooth and quiet, it offers better than competitive performance. It also allows the XL to tow up to 2,268 kg (5,000 lb) of adult toys and things.
In this trim level, that power is sent to all four wheels via an AWD system developed in conjunction with Canada’s Magna International. The sophisticated system operates in front-wheel-drive model the majority of the time, for maximum fuel efficiency and stability. Some power is diverted to the rear when a loss of front wheel grip is judged to be imminent, rather than waiting for it to actually occur.
The system also incorporates what Hyundai and Magna call “Active Cornering Control,” which works in concert with the standard stability management system to enhance cornering performance by applying slight brake pressure to the inside rear wheel when accelerating through a corner, effectively tugging the Santa Fe into the corner.
On the road
Whether in the city or on the open road, the XL is a very quiet vehicle with practically no road or wind noise finding its way into the well-insulated cabin.
The ride/handling balance has improved dramatically over previous Hyundai SUV levels.
There is a distinct lack of the lateral lurching that causes what we call head toss over abrupt surface changes and little lean unless the XL is pressed very hard in corners. This is a very capable long distance cruising machine.
Hyundai has made continual and significant upgrades to the Santa Fe and this latest version should be a source of pride for the company and a wise purchase choice for value-conscious consumers.
Model: 2015 Hyundai Santa Fe XL Limited AWD (6-passenger)
Price: Base $30,000 (XL FWD); as tested $43,299
Engine: 3.3-litre, DOHC V-6 with direct injection, 290 horsepower, 252 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Drivetrain: Proactive AWD
Fuel Consumption (city/highway): 13.0 / 9.7 L/100 km
Length: 4,905 mm
Width: 1,885 mm
Wheelbase: 2,800 mm
Mass: 1,840 kg
Competitors: Chevrolet Equinox, Dodge Journey, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Kia Sorento, Mazda CX-5, Toyota RAV4, Volkswagen Tiguan
Standard features (XL Limited AWD: Dual zone automatic climate control, downhill brake control, hill start assist, 19-in alloy wheels, heated power mirrors, windshield wiper deicers, power windows, locks, front seats and tailgate, proximity keyless entry, cruise control, wireless and iPod/USB connectivity, power lumbar support (driver’s seat) tilt & telescope steering wheel, heated front and rear seats, ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, rear park assist, “smart” tailgate, 115-volt power outlet, panoramic sunroof, leather seating surfaces, rear view camera, blind spot detection system, HID headlights, driver seat memory system, navigation system, 10-speaker, 550-watt Infinity audio system.