Test drive: 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe SUV bores no more

By Tim Stevens

The world has been decrying the generally dull state of the SUV market for years now, and the manufacturers are listening. Though you’ll still find plenty of amorphous crossovers on dealer lots, more brands are giving designers more power to cut some character into their bigger rigs.

The Santa Fe is the latest. The broader Hyundai Motor Group portfolio is already the most distinctive on the road today, featuring far more oddball styling cues per capita than any other brand. Still, the outgoing Santa Fe is an outlier. Though you wouldn’t call it boring, it is somewhat anonymous, a label you cannot apply to the new Santa Fe.

Newly styled, at least. This is it, the 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe, carrying over essentially the same drivetrain and other internals as before but now bundled up in an exterior that’s as delightfully chunky as it is oddly proportioned.ย 

2024 Hyundai Santa Fe’s new design

As happens to us all as we age, the new Santa Fe is bigger than last year’s model. At 190.2 inches long and 67.7 inches tall (70.7 if you opt for the semi-rugged XRT trim), it’s about two inches longer and about a half-inch taller than before. Hyundai hasn’t quoted a weight, but a few pounds seem likely.ย 

Those dimensions provide for a new, boxy shape that carries some strong inspiration from rugged off-roaders of yore. That said, the Santa Fe is its own thing, characterized as much by its sharp, clean details as it is by its odd, awkward ones. I’d include the crosshatch running lights up front and the pronounced box fenders in the former category. On the awkward side, the generous overhangs are a clear sign that this thing was not designed for off-road performance.ย 

Indeed, from a mechanical standpoint, little has changed from the outgoing, road-focused model. Though the Santa Fe will offer four engine options abroad, including a diesel and a plug-in hybrid, in the U.S., we’ll only get two. First is Hyundai’s turbocharged 2.5-liter four, this year making 277 hp and 311 lb-ft of torque.

The second is a little 1.6-liter, turbocharged hybrid with 232 hp and 271 lb-ft, a nice upgrade over the current hybrid’s 178 hp and 195 lb-ft. Hyundai hasn’t provided efficiency figures yet, but the outgoing hybrid does between 32 and 34 mpg combined, depending on trim, up to ten more than the 2.5-liter. Don’t be surprised if those figures drop a point or two thanks to the additional girth and reduced aerodynamic finesse here, but otherwise, that should give a good approximation of what to expect.ย 

That dimensional swell means more storage. Things are tight behind the new way-back seats, but they drop into the floor quickly, opening up 40.5 cubic feet of storage space, up 4.1 over the outgoing Santa Fe. Switches on the side of the cargo compartment make folding the second row easy, too, which should nearly double that figure, though Hyundai doesn’t quote exact figures.ย 

With everything upright, the Santa Fe seats six. That’s two folks tucked in the way back, two in the middle row, and two more up front. I was surprised to find that I, at six feet tall, fit quite comfortably in the third row. Getting in and out was awkward, but that was primarily thanks to a floor mat that kept trying to come with me as I made my exit.

2024 Hyundai Santa Fe

2024 Hyundai Santa Fe

2024 Hyundai Santa Fe

The second-row seats, though, are far more comfortable. They offer power adjustments and all sorts of room in every dimension. Dual USB-C ports are there for powering whatever devices you’ve passed along, while another powers the way back, plus a three-prong outlet for laptops or the like. But, beyond the panoramic sunroof above, there’s little in the way of entertainment offerings.

There’s a second, separate sunroof up over the front seats, offering all the headroom and legroom you could ever want. It’s up here that you can appreciate the restyled interior, which is a significant upgrade over the outgoing Santa Fe. You’ll find myriad storage cubbies, including a pair of glove boxes and a generous compartment beneath the center console that’s perfect for purses. Material quality is hit or miss, with plenty of cheap plastics within easy reach. But most of what you’ll look and feel on a daily basis has a reasonably good tactility to it.

The new car features the same dual-screen layout found in many more recent Hyundais, like the Ioniq 5 hatchback and Ioniq 6 sedan. The rightmost 12.3-inch display handles infotainment duties, including wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, plus Hyundai’s quick and intuitive software across its entire product line these days.

The second 12.3-inch display behind the steering wheel is the gauge cluster, which is configurable with displays highlighting navigation, media playback, and trip information. If that’s not enough, there’s a HUD beaming back at you through the windscreen, too.ย 

2024 Hyundai Santa Fe

2024 Hyundai Santa Fe

2024 Hyundai Santa Fe

2024 Hyundai Santa Fe

2024 Hyundai Santa Fe performanceย 

Given the wholesale carryover of the powertrain and much of what it bolts to, it should be no surprise that the new Santa Fe drives an awful lot like the old one. That is to say, comfortable and competent. All that extra ruggedness on the outside hasn’t impacted the Santa Fe’s generally calm demeanor. It has a bit of pep in sport mode with the larger, 2.5-liter engine, but it’s never aggressive.

Nor is it much of an off-road monster. You won’t find a transfer case here. There are no locking differentials to toggle nor evocatively named off-road modes to flip through. And that’s fine. All-wheel-drive is standard, and that’ll provide more than enough grip for the sorts of situations that Santa Fe owners will likely find themselves in.

Given my choice of powertrains, I’d likely opt for the Santa Fe Hybrid. It was certainly slower, especially when accelerating at highway speed, but a little more frugality is always nice, and the smaller, 18-inch wheels also meant an even smoother ride. However, if you’re more into style than ride quality, you can spec up to 21-inch wheels on your Santa Fe.

The angularity of the new Santa Fe won’t be for everyone, and while I admit I don’t love the look it from every angle, I do appreciate its rugged appeal. Well, rugged visual appeal, at least.ย 

In the 2024 Santa Fe, buyers will find the same comfortable and practical performance as they ever have, now with a bit more room and a lot more personality.

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