NAIAS 2014: Hyundai Sante Fe SUV Seats Seven in Style

santafe

The 2014 Santa Fe Seven Passenger SUV blends aggressive styling with creature comforts.

An all-new Hyundai Santa Fe originally debuted at the 2012 New York Auto Show – a nice looking, promising midsize SUV that made news for some bold restyling choices.

It emerged as a success for the Hyundai line, so the automaker has left the life largely intact. Two years after its redesign, the Santa Fe remains one of the best looking (and most affordable) seven passenger SUVs on the market. That’s the same vehicle that's sitting on the floor at NAIAS 2014.

In 2014, Santa Fe remains split into two sub-models — the Santa Fe (this seven passenger SUV version) and the Santa Fe Sport (a compact performance SUV). I settled into the seven passenger version for this road test.

The Santa Fe is on the road competing with the like of the Mazda CX-9, Dodge Durango, Nissan Pathfinder and Ford Explorer. Split into GLS and Limited trim levels, the 2014 Santa Fe includes Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, Hyundai's Blue Link telematics system, a six-speaker audio system with CD player, satellite radio, HD radio, Sirius/XM, USB/iPod integration and a 4.3-inch touchscreen display.

Santa Fe shoppers are also looking at a power drivers seat, heated front seats, a 40/20/40-split sliding, reclining second-row seat, split-folding third-row seat, a rearview camera, 18-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, windshield wiper deicers, cruise control, a trip computer, air-conditioning and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.

All of those bangs and whistles can push other makes of SUVs well north of $40,000. So, it’s to Hyundai’s credit that this big people carrier sells maxed out around $36,000.

The 3.3 liter, 290 horsepower engine was more than able to keep the Santa Fe moving during out road test with ample power. And, while I was unable to squeeze an advertised MPG of 25 out of the SUV, 20 was very doable.

In an effort to bring a defter touch to such diverse driving conditions, the Santa Fe comes with Hyundai’s adjustable steering. The driver can choose from Sport, Normal and Comfort modes to tighten up or loosen the response of the wheel in different conditions. After playing with all of the above settings, it’s clear there are subtle differences in each choice, but the handling in a midsize SUV is rarely tactile enough to make such differences essential.

If there was a potential weakness for the Santa Fe, the SUV doesn’t seem geared up for mild off-road use. While large enough to muscle past a Jeep on the street, that’s exactly where this Hyundai belongs — on the street. All of its technology and styling belongs on pavement.

For just $36,000 or so topped out, any buyer would be hard pressed to find a better equipped SUV anywhere. Hyundai is leaving this model more or less alone because they’re still onto a good thing.