Arguably, one of the more thankless design jobs today is to come up with still another midsize crossover utility vehicle. That’s because the fundamental configuration of the vehicle comes with so many constraints, both physical (i.e., it has to have a roofline such that allows at least two rows of easy ingress and egress; it has to have a hatch that is cargo-accommodating; it has to has a sufficiently high H-point because at the end of the day, this is really why someone is buying a CUV: to be sitting higher than people in sedans) and conceptual (it has to be a vehicle that seems refined yet rugged, the proverbial cake and its consumption).
Hyundai has become known for stretching when it comes to the design of its vehicles, its sedans large and small, in particular.
So one might be not out of line in thinking that when it comes to it midsize CUV, the Santa Fe, it would have gone if not above and beyond the competitive set when it comes to styling, certainly beyond.
And while the Santa Fe does have appealing body lines and a splash of panache, it is not nearly as distinctively different as the other vehicles in the showroom, which, I think, just goes to show you that those constraints really are constraining.
But where the Santa Fe really comes into its own is in the execution of the interior. There it seems as though every shape and form, every knob and button, every seam and surface was considered. Thoughtfully considered. It is as though the designers said to themselves things like, “If I am going to create a center console, shouldn’t it be harmonious with other elements on the inside of the vehicle? Shouldn’t it look like it organically belongs there, just isn’t something that appears to have been placed there?”
This is not just the now-somewhat-tired idea of “People spend a lot of their time in the interior of cars; therefore we need to provide jewelry-type touches and French seams.” And so these things are dutifully loaded into the cabin. Boxes checked.
It is not that there is anything wrong with that, but it’s not distinctive, not different, not the sort of thing that someone is going to be long pleased with.
Look at this armrest and map pocket/cupholder:
Look at how the center stack has symmetry yet there is also the broad gesture sweeping over the top of the IP in front of the passenger space:
Look at how this interface is both functional and sculptural:
Design details like these are where the Santa Fe sparkles.
Yes, it has the specs, which you’ll find below. Yes, it has class-appropriate metrics. Yes, it is clean and stylish.
All of which check the boxes.
But the inside, the touches, the thoughts, the tiny things: These are what makes the Santa Fe outside the norm while having the characteristics that also allow its consideration to be one that isn’t unthinkable.
Engine: 2.0 liter DOHC, Turbo GDI I4
Horsepower: 264 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 269 lb-ft @ 1,750 to 3,000 rpm
Materials: Aluminum block and head
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 106.3 in.
Length: 184.6 in.
Width: 66.1 in.
Curb weight: 5,181 lb.
Passenger volume: 108 cu. ft.
Cargo volume (behind 2nd row): 35.4 cu. ft.
EPA: 19/24/21 city/highway/combined mpg