Santa Fe XL Continues to Excel in Family Practicality

“Not too shabby,” remarked a fellow car nut and good friend as we gave the Santa Fe XL’s exterior a quick once-over before peering into its open back hatch.

Both rows of seating were folded flat – the 50/50 split bench in rear, and the two captain’s chairs in the middle – revealing a sizeable cargo hold. 2,265 litres to be exact.

“How much space in the third row?”

“Enough for you,” I joked, pointing out how my five-foot-nine frame towered over his by a full four inches.

For those unfamiliar with both flavours of Santa Fe, there’s the “original” five-passenger Sport, and the newer, six/seven-passenger XL that gains an extra 215 mm (8.5 inches) in length. That’s enough to carve out an extra 240 litres of cargo room and nearly half a cubic metre of interior volume.

The timing couldn’t have been better for testing Hyundai’s largest ride, as I had been tasked with clearing a small apartment. Having just returned from moving several loads of furniture and boxes, I was reminded how mid-size crossovers can be a blessing (or a curse) when there’s a friend or relative in need. But these vehicles are about more than schlepping cargo. Mine came outfitted in “Limited” finery, which includes leather seating (heated and cooled up front and heated in the second row), 12-speaker Infinity premium audio, eight-inch touchscreen with navigation, heated steering wheel, smart key with pushbutton start, dual-zone climate control, and seat memory for the driver with 12-way power adjust.

There’s still a lot more content at this trim level, but you needn’t spend $44,399 for the seven-passenger Limited (with split bench in the middle) or $44,799 for the six passenger with captain’s chairs to get a well-equipped ride.

For a tick over $32K, you can buy the base unit – the only FWD model in the lineup.

Standard content includes seven-passenger seating with reclining second row, eight-way driver’s seat with power lumbar support, manual climate control, five-inch touchscreen with rearview camera, six-speaker audio with Sirius XM, heated front seats, steering wheel controls for audio, cruise and Bluetooth.

And on the outside you get automatic headlights, rear spoiler, roof racks and 18-inch alloy wheels.

Hyundai Santa Fe 2017-rearUpdates for 2017 include exterior tweaks that take a keen eye to notice – save for the standard LED daytime running lights with vents to improve airflow.

There’s also a redesigned centre stack which, with its “wing” vents, looks remarkably like the old one. I like what Hyundai has done with some of its newer vehicles, which is to organize its instruments and controls into neat horizontal groupings.

Functions in the Santa Fe, however, are still easy to operate with well labelled buttons and knobs, or via the touchscreen display.

Also new for this year is the $48,099 Ultimate model that includes a full suite of driver aids: HID headlights with adaptive cornering, multi-view camera (includes an aerial view), lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability, and autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection.

The latter feature uses radar and a forward camera to sense how quickly you’re approaching the vehicle or pedestrian ahead. If it anticipates a crash, the system warns you both visibly and audibly. If you still don’t react, AEB will hit the brakes, and if I had my way, apply an electric shock.

Just saying…

Keep in mind it may not work on winding and hilly roads, in snowstorms or fog, and full braking only kicks in at speeds under 75 km/h when detecting vehicles, and under 65 clicks for pedestrians. Bottom line: pay attention to the road ahead and you probably won’t need it.

Safety aside, the Santa Fe is a comfortable – and quiet – place to be. Thanks to extensive use of ultra high-tensile steel and more structural adhesives, not to mention good fit and finish, there’s nary a rattle or squeak. Road noise and other intrusions are minimal.

It’s stable too, with the MacPherson strut front suspension and multi-link rear (both with stabilizer bars), limiting body roll in the corners. Most crossovers are getting better in terms of handling, although the laws of physics still prevent them from becoming truly “car-like.”

That aside, the XL is surprisingly nimble. Despite its generous proportions, this Santa Fe tips the scales at only 1,895 kg (1,826 for FWD), which is lighter than Pilot, Highlander and Explorer.

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And unlike the Santa Fe Sport, which dropped its six-cylinder option in favour of a 2.0-litre turbo, the XL gets a 3.3-litre GDI V6, mated to a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic with manual shift mode.

It delivers 290 hp and 252 lb/ft of torque and was tuned in Ann Arbor Michigan for “North American preferences.” I’m not sure what that means, but will note that acceleration is robust, with zero to 100 km/h taking around eight seconds. Towing capacity is 2,268 kg or 5,000 pounds.

All models (except base) come with on-demand AWD. This system powers the front wheels in normal driving, but routes power to the rear when more traction is needed. Active Cornering Control works alongside, slowing the inside rear wheel when turning, to reduce over or understeer in slippery conditions.

Fuel economy for Limited and Ultimate models is rated at 13.9/10.8/12.5 litres/100 km (city/hwy/comb). My own result was 13.2, which isn’t bad in the real world where you stomp on it once in a while. Had I kept it in Eco mode, results would have been thriftier by up to seven percent.

But with standard Drive Mode Select in Normal and Sport, I was rewarded with a quicker throttle, later gear changes and a little more steering effort.

Fun factor aside, buyers choose these vehicles more for practicality than performance. As you’d expect, there’s plenty of head and leg room up front, and in the middle row where you can really stretch out. Second-row passengers also enjoy the benefits of heated seating and side-window sunshades in all but base trim, not to mention seatbacks that recline.

Even third-row passengers are treated to a few amenities, like HVAC controls in most models, side windows and a massive panoramic sunroof that keeps you from feeling claustrophobic. I can’t say larger adults will be comfy for hours, but it will do in a pinch, and my 13-year-old son was quite happy here. Which was a win for his younger sister, now out of reach in the second row.

Sometimes buying the right vehicle is also about keeping the peace. 

SNAPSHOT: 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe XL

BODY STYLE: mid-size crossover

ENGINE: 3.3-litre V6 with gasoline direct injection (290 hp, 252 lb/ft)

TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic with Shiftronic manual mode

FUEL ECONOMY: as tested, Limited AWD model – 13.9/10.8/12.5 litres/100 km (city/hwy/comb)

CARGO: 382 litres (behind 3rd row), 1158 litres behind 2nd row), 2265 litres max

PRICING: Base FWD $32,199, Premium AWD $37,049, Luxury AWD (7-pass) $42,199, Luxury AWD (6-pass) $42,599, Limited AWD (7-pass) $44,399, Limited AWD (6-pass) $44,799, Ultimate AWD (6-pass) $48,099, Ultimate AWD (6-pass, saddle leather) $48,299