Sometimes a car is a complete surprise to me. Until I got the 2010 Hyundai Santa Fe to review, I’d never been in a Hyundai before. Sure, I’d seen them on the road and thought the new ones looked pretty cool, but that’s all I had going into this. After test-driving the Santa Fe for a week, I was pretty surprised by what Hyundai can pull off for less than $30K. The Santa Fe is a comfortable, practical crossover that offers enough tech options to rival the big automakers.
Driving the Santa Fe is plenty of fun, especially for the price. My test car, a GLS with front-wheel drive, came with a plucky four-cylinder engine and available six-speed automatic transmission that handled everything without complaint, even the brutal hills around my home. Turns were smooth and stable. I honestly couldn’t find anything to complain about with this crossover. The ride is definitely truckish, with more bounce and body roll than a sedan, but it’s not obnoxious and doesn’t feel top-heavy.
When it came down to it, the price was the most impressive thing about the Santa Fe. This vehicle starts at $21,695 and tops out just over $30,000. My test model was an affordable $23,915. When you put its price next to its competition, the Santa Fe is pretty amazing, especially when you consider all of its cool features such as Bluetooth connectivity and under-floor storage in the cargo area.
The Santa Fe isn’t the boldest or sleekest vehicle on the market, but it sits comfortably at the intersection of sporty and cute. In a lot of ways, the Santa Fe seems to take design cues from its competitors and meld them into its own look. It has touches of a Nissan Murano as well as Toyota styling cues, and from the side, it reminds me of a Volkswagen Touareg. It’s almost like the Santa Fe is trying so hard to be inoffensive and fit in with the cool kids that it never quite forms its own identity.
The Santa Fe is almost perfectly balanced between boxy and round. I honestly don’t know how they did it, but I have to admit the result is nice. Subtle sculpting along the hood and fenders create some edges without making it look too angular.
The best thing about crossovers is they offer all of the practical space of an SUV without the big climb to get into it, and the Santa Fe is no exception. For me, getting in and out was a straight shot ‘ I didn’t have to climb up into it. My kids had no difficulties with the door handles or the slight step up into the Santa Fe. The doors opened wide enough to allow me to help them out in the backseat when I had to, but not so wide that my boys were constantly slamming the doors into the cars next to us. (They tend to overdo things.)
Even opening the liftgate was no problem; however, the liftgate’s handle is oddly placed off to the right of the license plate, as if the cargo door swings to the side rather than opening upward. The liftgate opened high enough for me to walk under it without fear of knocking my head, but not so high that I had to stretch to close it again.
The 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine did a nice job around town and managed to keep the mpgs under control. The Santa Fe gets an EPA-estimated 20/28 mpg city/highway and uses regular gas. I, of course, never hit those fuel-economy numbers, living on the side of a mountain, but compared to other vehicles I’ve driven, it’s still pretty competitive.
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Great
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Good Times
The Santa Fe’s interior offers more options and technology than I’d expect of a car at this price point. There was even a bit of faux wood trim to class up the joint! The sport-cloth seats were comfortable and easy to clean. I handled a minor spill with napkins and a baby wipe. Wipeable cloth? Winner!
The driver’s seat adjusted manually in six directions, and I had no problem finding my perfect driving position. The controls are laid out with large, easy-to-decipher buttons and knobs, and I never once had to go looking for the owner’s manual to figure something out such as how to change the radio station or pair my cell phone with the Bluetooth system. I love that.
I also loved all the storage options in the Santa Fe. Everywhere I looked there was another bin, cubby or hidden compartment to stash my stuff in and make me look organized. In the front row, there are two cupholders near the gearshift, bottleholders in the doors, a bin in front of the shifter for cell phones and MP3 players, and a dual-level bin in the center console. There are two cupholders in the fold-down armrest in the backseat. There’s plenty of storage in the backseat, thanks to door bins, seatback pockets and a sneaky bin in the back of the center console, near the floor. I kept emergency snacks in there and was a hero because of it. Even the generous cargo area has under-floor storage for anything you don’t want rolling around or in plain sight.
There’s plenty of room for five in the 2010 Santa Fe, but the third-row seating for seven is no longer an option. I don’t need a third row, and rarely use it when I have one, but if you have a larger family or a big carpool, the Santa Fe isn’t going to be much help.
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Galore
The Santa Fe received the top score of Good in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s front, side and rear crash tests. In past years, this would make the Santa Fe a Top Safety Pick, but a new roof-strength test was added to the criteria for the 2010 model year. The Santa Fe hasn’t undergone the new crash test yet.
Buckling up is easy for almost everyone in the Santa Fe. The seat belts are height adjustable in the front row, but not in the back. The backseat’s fixed belts are set a bit high. They fit my 9-year-old just fine, but my 7-year-old had to ride in his booster seat because the fit wasn’t good without it (he wasn’t happy about this). The good news was that the booster sat flat and the seat belt buckle on his side was firm and easy to use. However, the backseat seat belt buckle on the passenger side was floppy and harder for kids to use. I have no idea why Hyundai has two different seat belt buckle in the backseat.
At least the Latch anchors are clearly visible and easy to reach. There’s enough room in the backseat for a rear-facing infant-safety seat or convertible car seat to fit easily. The rear seatbacks recline, which makes it easy to install a forward-facing convertible seat or booster seat.
The Santa Fe has standard four-wheel-disc antilock brakes, stability control, traction control and six airbags, including side-impact airbags for the front row and side curtains for both rows. All-wheel drive is optional.
Get more safety information about the 2010 Santa Fe here.