Great feature content for the money, loads of power on models with the higher-output engines, a slick and responsive AWD system.
For years, the Hyundai Santa Fe has experienced sales success and owner loyalty that are tough to beat. Popular with value-minded shoppers, Hyundai’s elemental crossover delivered in-demand features and technologies, often at a better price point than the competition. Add in a selection of modern powertrains and a highly effective, Canadian-designed all-wheel drive (AWD) system, and it makes for an appealing proposition.
Available in standard-wheelbase Santa Fe Sport and extended-length Santa Fe XL variants, this model range offered up plenty of selection, as well as feature content like a panoramic sunroof, heated steering wheel, rear-parking assist system, and an 8-inch navigation and multimedia display. A keyless engine-start system and heated rear seats are also available.
Safety equipment offerings are top-notch, and a driver-selectable steering mode (DSSM) system effectively allows drivers to choose the steering feel they prefer, on the fly. Weight-conscious construction helped turn in improved handling and fuel efficiency, and a driver-selectable Active Eco mode helped further trim away at fuel use. Look for a flexible and accommodating cabin with up to three rows of seating.
Bluetooth was standard on virtually all models, as was full multimedia connectivity.
Note that, as Hyundai backs the Santa Fe range with a 100,000 kilometre warranty, and 5 years of unlimited-mileage roadside assistance, finding a used model with remaining warranty and coverage should be relatively easy – depending on your budget.
For this generation, Santa Fe Sport’s powertrain lineup included a 2.4L, 190 horsepower four-cylinder engine, or a 2.0L turbo four-cylinder engine with 264 hp. The larger, longer-wheelbase Santa Fe XL came with a 3.3L, 290 hp V6.
Note that while many used models will pack all-wheel drive, it wasn’t standard – so if you’re set on an AWD Santa Fe, be sure to confirm that the unit you’re considering has it.
What Owners Like
Owner-stated plusses include great feature content for the money, loads of power on models with the higher-output engines, a slick and responsive AWD system with a traction-enhancing Lock mode, and good overall ride quality, comfort, and flexibility. The panoramic sunroof is a feature content favourite amongst many owners.
What Owners Dislike
Some owners wish for a more comfortable ride, particularly on sportier models with larger wheels. As the Santa Fe ages, some interior trim and design elements may appear dated, and some owners have expressed disappointment with the headlight performance on some models.
The Test Drive
Start by determining your budget against the trim grade, engine, driveline, and body style you require, which can help determine what model year you’ll be shopping for. Remember that Hyundai’s 5-year, 100,000 kilometre warranty may provide plenty of remaining coverage, depending on the year and mileage your budget allows for. Note that on models with remaining warranty, the (new) owner should ensure they keep all service records, should a future warranty claim be in order.
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Check the condition of consumable parts, including tires and brakes. Assume that these both need attention and replacement, until you confirm otherwise, either on your own, or with the help of a professional mechanical inspection by au automotive technician. With this completed, check the mileage of the unit you’re considering against its service schedule, located in the back of the owner’s manual, and call any overdue maintenance into pricing negotiations.
As the Santa Fe and Santa Fe XL run an all direct-injected engine lineup that can be prone to valve-gunk buildup (more so if maintenance intervals are prolonged), shoppers are strongly advised to seek out a unit that has had its oil changed at or before specified intervals, that’s been treated to regular intake system cleaning services (about once a year) to keep valve gunk deposits at bay, and to ensure that the spark-plugs are well within their service life. Buying a used Santa Fe from this generation that’s missed any of its maintenance requirements is not advised.
Finally, during ownership, plan and budget to stay on top of maintenance, changing all fluids and consumable powertrain parts not a moment later than specified by the owner’s manual.
If service records are unclear, replacing the transmission fluid, differential fluid, and engine coolant, as well as engine oil, is a great idea for some cheap insurance and peace of mind.
Finally, note that running Top Tier fuel (certified to contain a high level of detergents and no metallic additives; not necessarily high-octane fuel), at all times, can help fend off the buildup of harmful valve deposits. Confirm the seller filled up regularly with Top Tier gasoline, and plan to do the same.
Note that many vehicle owners across many brands often question the need and frequency of maintenance and inspections, and often skip them. This can cause durability and longevity issues, and even void the vehicle’s warranty. Be sure to buy a used model that you can prove has no maintenance work outstanding, from a seller who didn’t consider maintenance to be an optional dealer money-grab.
Work with your local dealer to confirm that all software updates and recalls are up to date, as these updates and repairs can help prevent niggling headaches, fix latent safety issues, and more. In some cases, software updates can even help prevent dead batteries, wonky stereo head-units, hard transmission shifting, and more.
On the latter note, if the transmission in the Santa Fe you’re considering occasionally shifts hard enough that you hear or feel a “bang” through the vehicle’s floor, take it to the dealer – whether you note the problem during your test drive, or during ownership.
The issue, if detected, typically stems from a bad transmission temperature sensor, which is relatively easy to replace, and covered by warranty in the vast majority of cases. Here’s some more reading. Some owners have reported that this issue causes the transmission to shift so hard, it knocks their cell phone out of its dash-mounted holder. This problem is fairly sporadic and difficult to replicate, but if it does happen, you will notice it.
Keep an eye out for warning messages relating to the Santa Fe’s high-end safety features, if equipped. If you notice any, perhaps relating to the blind-spot detection (BSD) system, like “BSD Cancelled”, the best course of action is to visit a dealer for a scan and repair, or reprogramming of the system. Here’s some more reading. Do not attempt to fix electronic issues like these by disconnecting and resetting the battery.
Here’s a discussion about a relatively unlikely but notable problem with blown fuses, which may cause issues with certain vehicle systems, like the door locks in this case. If any features aren’t working as intended, start by checking the fuse that controls it. In this case, a blown fuse caused frustrating problems with the vehicle’s power locks. Other owners have reported blown fuses that take out the heated seat provisions, too. For maximum peace of mind, be sure to run all electronic features and functions, including the navigation, stereo, climate control, cruise control, and motorized seats, through their paces, both before and after your test drive.
Finally, here’s a discussion where many owners report few if any problems with their Santa Fes, though some are reported sporadically. Based on this discussion, shoppers are also advised to check for signs of rear tire wear and alignment problems, to confirm proper functionality of the back-up camera several times over the course of their test drive, to test the washer fluid squirt nozzles, and to confirm proper functionality of the rear-seat climate control system.
The Santa Fe looks to be a relatively solid buy as a used crossover, provided that all maintenance, software updates, and recall work are up to date. Many of the more commonly reported issues should be easy to detect on a test drive, and the more serious issue of hard shifting from the transmission seems rare, and is easily fixed. Shop patiently for a used unit with plenty of remaining warranty, for maximum peace of mind.
Crash Test Ratings
IIHS: Top Safety Pick (2014, Santa Fe Sport and XL)
NHTSA: 5/5 Stars (2014, Santa Fe Sport)