Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe XL Limited AWD

AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car

As luck would have it, the newly refreshed 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe XL was not available for our recent mega seven-seat CUV comparison test. Had this Hyundai been able to mix it up with the others, it’s fair to assume the pecking order might have been rearranged a bit. 

It reads word-for-word from the Korean automaker’s playbook – keep improving and slap 'em silly with value.

Ah, but it’s only speculation at this point. Suffice to say, the 2017 Santa Fe XL Limited AWD tested here stands on its own as fine driving, well-appointed and functional hauler. And with an MSRP of $44,799 it reads word-for-word from the Korean automaker’s playbook – keep improving and slap ‘em silly with value. That would have placed it as the second cheapest vehicle in the comparison, just above the fabric-seated Honda Pilot.

So what is a Santa Fe XL? Introduced as a 2014 model, it’s a Santa Fe Sport with a wheelbase stretch of 100 mm, a vestigial two-seat third row and a 290 hp 252 lb-ft direct-injection 3.3L Lambda II V6 in the front. Power gets to all four wheels through Hyundai’s smooth in-house six-speed automatic transmission.

The mid-cycle visuals include a new Tuscon-esque face with standard LED daytime running lights, a refreshed backend with new taillights and exhaust tips, and updated wheel designs. Inside there is a fresh centre stack (base models get a five-inch colour touchscreen, upgradable to eight-inch) and all 2017 XLs have new Drive Mode Select which adjusts steering, throttle and transmission response for Sport, Eco, or Normal settings. At the top of the line-up, a new Ultimate ($48,099) includes a long list of convenience and safety equipment, including Multi-View Camera System, Adaptive Cruise Control with stop-and-go capability, Lane Departure Warning, Autonomous Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, HID headlights with Adaptive Cornering System, and an electronic parking brake.

While this Limited doesn’t get all that hi-tech kit, it is still generously appointed with leather, heated rear seats, heated and ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, panoramic sunroof, blind spot warning, 19-inch alloys, eight-inch touchscreen with nav and Android Auto, 12-speaker Infinity audio, second-row captain’s chairs, proximity key with push-button start and HID headlamps.

What about the other Santa Fe? 2016 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T Test Drive

This tester’s black cabin is a sombre coal-bin, and the front seats are a bit flat and unyielding – certainly not uncomfortable but nothing like the Honda Pilot’s lovely chairs. On the plus side, the “Supervision” gauge cluster with 4.2-inch TFT display is the model of clarity. And praise be, Hyundai appears to have a grasp on human-friendly ergonomics, what with our tactile senses, opposing thumbs and all. That is to say, drivers and passengers are presented with a lovely array of well-marked hard buttons and rotary controllers for the HVAC and audio. (Are you listening Honda???) 

Not to say we’re missing the expected tablet-like features. The eight-inch screen is clear, colourful and has swipe and pinch capabilities. Android auto is included and the voice recognition responds quickly to basic commands, such as “FM 99.1”. Pretty obvious, you say? I tried that in a $125,000 Range Rover recently and it confused the hell out of the polite British lady in the dash. I will go on the record right now and apologize for my uncouth colonial outburst.

But I digress. The second row captain’s chairs (a three-seat 40/20/40 bench is also available – lob $400 off the bottom line) will not illicit any complaints, as they slide and recline, and there are sunshades in the side windows.

The third row seat? Passable for occasional use and best suited for kids. Legroom is decent but the seat cushions are thin, low, and access is difficult as the second row seats don’t slide forward very much. The Honda Pilot, Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota Highlander and Kia Sorento are better in this regard.

Tug a couple of straps and the two third-row seats flip forward to open up a capacious cargo area. The second row does the same, creating a nearly flat 2,265L load space – about on par with the Nissan Pathfinder and Ford Explorer, but less than Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander. All Santa Fe XLs come with a flush-mounted tow hitch and are rated to haul 2,268 kg (5,000 lb).

Looking at my observations from the XL’s California media launch in 2013, I noted the Limited’s ride on its 19-inch wheels was clumpy, and the electric steering (then with three modes – comfort, normal, sport) served up three versions of a weirdly disconnected experience. Yes, we did harp on the Koreans for their not particularly well-sorted suspension tuning and sketchy first couple of kicks at the electric-steering can.

Seems Hyundai has been listening to these whining pencil pushers, and has been quietly ferreting away. The steering is much improved - nicely linear now with no on-centre numbness (similar case with the new Elantra compact sedan). The XL’s suspension seems better too – the ride is smooth and quiet, although the trade-off is not particularly athletic body control. I’ll take it. If you’re looking for outright handling prowess in a sevent-seat CUV your priorities are sadly askew.

The AWD system in the Santa Fe XL uses a wet-clutch transfer cases developed with Canadian auto parts giant Magna Powertrain. This new-gen transfer case with multi-plate wet clutch is controlled by an electro-hydraulic actuation system that gets its orders from a very smart control unit. Acceleration forces, steering angle, and yaw rate among other things are continually processed with the aim of anticipating and reacting to road conditions. Under normal conditions, the XL operates as a front driver. The system also incorporates Active Cornering Control, wherein braking force is applied to the inside rear wheel when accelerating through a turn.

As a day-to-day conveyance, the Hyundai Santa Fe XL shines. The drivetrain is strong and smooth, it’s quiet, comfortable and ergonomically sound. Okay, the Infinity audio could be better and the cabin is looking a little dated, but overall, the interior experience is fine, enhanced by good build quality and clear, colourful displays. Throw the Hyundai value factor into the mix and you have a very strong player.

5 years/100,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 5 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 5 years/unlimited distance roadside assistance

Chevrolet Traverse
Dodge Journey/Durango
Ford Explorer/Flex
GMC Acadia
Honda Pilot
Kia Sorento
Mazda CX-9
Nissan Pathfinder
Toyota Highlander

Model Tested 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe XL Limited AWD 6-passenger
Base Price $44,799
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1695
Price as Tested $46,594
Optional Equipment