2024 Hyundai Santa Fe First Drive: The Best Things Come in Large, Classically Shaped Boxes

At first, the new design of the 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe was a bit of a shock: That sleek 5-seater is now a 3-row SUV, cleverly outfitted with storage, flexibility and off road chops.

The Exterior Hand Hold Allows Easier Access To The Santa Fe'S Roof Racks
The exterior hand hold allows easier access to the Santa Fe's roof racks. Photo: Scotty Reiss

More Space, Function, Convenience and Capability in this Completely Re-tooled SUV

When it was time to redesign the Hyundai Santa Fe, the company first did some deep listening: What did customers really want? What features do they use the most? How do they live in their SUVs? And I have this to say:  Thank you for asking—seriously.

So many SUVs are designed based on research—focusing on features that customers want and need, but it’s actually less common for automakers to study how we use those features.

After conducting extensive customer research and asking a lot of questions, Hyundai even built scale models of the Santa Fe in various lifestyle modes—school runs, tailgate picnics, shopping, the places we go. Then, they considered all the stuff we put in our cars, how SUVs are used and even what trash accumulates in them to find better ways to keep our cars clean.

But the biggest thing that Hyundai’s designers considered is what we want in an SUV: something large, roomy and classically designed. An SUV that looks like an SUV rather than a beefed-up hatchback (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

Taking a cue from some popular boxy SUVs, including recent designs of the Land Rover Defender and the Kia Telluride, the 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe, priced from $34K to about $47K, delivers interior function, a reasonably sized and comfortable 3rd row. Then, it offers off-road capability and two engine options so you can pick your power and efficiency, in a larger, roomier, more classic-looking SUV that is a huge departure—and to many a surprise—from the prior model year. There is almost no resemblance.

Related: How Does the 2023 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid Compare?

Rear Tail Lights Are Set Low To Maximize Interior Space In The 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe

Rear tail lights are set low to maximize interior space in the 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Hard to Believe, It’s Only Slightly Larger

This one stunned me. I was sure the 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe was gobs bigger in length and height. But, nope. The 2024 Santa Fe is only about 2” longer than the prior design, about 2.5” taller, and has an 4 additional cubic feet.

What is different is how the interior space is configured, with flexible seating and lots of storage spaces, a cleverly versatile center console, a wider and taller rear cargo area and the fact that the 3rd row is roomy and now, standard.

Related: Which Family SUVs Go Off-Road with Rugged Double Duty and Durability? 

Legroom In The Center Row Is Ample, And Seats Move Forward Or Back

Legroom in the center row is ample, and seats move forward or back. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Organization Fans, Rejoice

One of the biggest frustrations we have with our cars is keeping everything organized. Said by a mom who never, ever had a handbag that didn’t have at least a few muddy footprints on it after it fell on the floor and *other people* thought it was fine to step all over it.

All I needed was a good handbag hook and I’d be set. Well, the Hyundai Santa Fe has a good handbag hook. 4, in fact. On the backs of the front seats; they are brilliant for hanging grocery bags, trash bags, backpacks or even a jacket or two.

Then, it has a cleverly inventive center console designed to store all sorts of stuff, even trash. The arm rest console opens both to the front and back, so anyone in either seat can reach what’s inside. Under the console there’s a drawer that pulls out for rear seat passengers to stow things. You could easily stow a garbage bag here for passengers to use.

For front seat passengers, the center console has two cup holders and a dual phone pad with a wireless phone charger; the top of the line Calligraphy edition has two phone chargers.

And underneath the center console? MORE storage. Enough for a small handbag, a tablet or other items.

9 Of The Best In-Car Organizers

The Center Console Has Dual Wireless Charge Pads, Charge Ports And Cupholders

The center console has dual wireless charge pads, charge ports and cupholders. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Great Tech, and Finally, Wireless Apple CarPlay

Hyundai fans know this: The company is very tech-forward, often the first to offer new technology and things like digital phone-as-key, Bluelink connected car services and a solid suite of driver assist features.

The 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe takes that whole idea further. Hyundai has finally made Apple CarPlay and Android Auto wireless and it’s standard in all models. There are some nice phone cubbies in the front center console and in some trims those are either one or both of those is a wireless phone charger.

Then, in the top trims customers can opt in for Hyundai Pay, which allows you to create an account and seamlessly pay for parking and gas, and soon, other things too.

And, Santa Fe buyers will get bio metric start and drive — once you’ve set up your system you can tap the biometric button and it’ll recognize your fingerprint so you can start the car and drive it; just lock and unlock with your phone and you never need your key. How great is that???

Rear Passenger Amenities Include Air Vents, Fan Speed Control, Two Usb-C Ports And Household Outlet

Rear passenger amenities include air vents, fan speed control, two USB-C ports and household outlet. Photo: Scotty Reiss

2nd and 3rd Rows Are Equipped With All the Comforts

Center row passengers have a lot of places to put things: the pull out drawer, the bag hooks, dual cup holders (square ones that will also hold a phone!) and a bottle pocket in the door panels, and map pockets and USB ports on the backs of the front seats.

Center seat passengers also have air vents on the pillars between the front and rear doors (but not control over fan speed or temperature), which is a nice detail. And, in the Calligraphy edition, the center row captains chairs are heated and there are window shades for the rear door windows. These are great for dogs; raise the shade and lower the window for lots of air on the face without risking a head sticking out the window.

Third row passengers have dual cupholders, USB ports and air vents (in all but the base model) and fan speed control in the two top models.

Cargo Space Behind The 3Rd Row In The 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe

Cargo space behind the 3rd row in the 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Cargo Options Are Impressive for a Mid-Size SUV

The cargo area is nice and wide. Hyundai designed the rear tail lights to span the lower bumper so they could expand the width of the cargo area. There result of this change, plus the taller height and added length is about 4 more cubic feet of space.

The space behind the third row is shallow but wide; enough for a foldable stroller or an array of backpacks but not a lot. To fit significant luggage you’ll need to put down one or both 3rd row seats, or add a roof rack. This is a mid-size SUV after all.

The Driver'S Seat In The 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe

The driver’s seat in the 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Passenger Space is the Priority In this SUV

What the Santa Fe doesn’t offer in cargo space it makes up for in passenger space. There is plenty.

The second row has a bench seat — the top of the line Calligraphy is the only one with captains chairs — that moves forward for more legroom in the 3rd row or back for more center legroom. The seats also recline, slide and tilt for 3rd row access and fold flat for additional cargo space.

The 3rd row has plenty of leg room — good behind the center seat when pushed fully back and great when it’s positioned at the middle of its range — but the seat sits pretty close to the floor so I found my knees were elevated. Because of this the seat is probably better for shorter passengers who will be able to stretch out a bit more.

I sat in the 3rd row and found that when I pulled the center seat back into place and let it settle in the middle position, so not fully pushed back, I had plenty of legroom and I’m 5’8”. I also had plenty of head room and loved all the features — air vents, USB ports, the large square rear windows and cupholders that I could put my phone in.

One caveat about the center row captains chairs: they have a power fold function (though the slide function is a mechanical release). I found that when I pushed the power button on the seat shoulder, the seat powered forward with a good amount of force but it did stop when I pushed back against the seat back. In most cars this feature is disabled when there is weight in the seat, such as a passenger or a kids car seat. That is not the case in the Hyundai Santa Fe, at least at this writing.

Access To The 3Rd Row Is Pretty Good

Access to the 3rd row is pretty good. Photo: Scotty Reiss

How Do Kids Car Seats Fit in the 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe?

This is pretty good news: Lots of legroom and four full LATCH sets means lots of ways to configure car seats.

Rear facing car seats should be able to fit comfortably in the center row, even though this is a mid-size SUV (Hyundai actually calls it ‘compact’), behind the driver or the passenger without compromising front seat occupants. Hyundai says the center row has 42” of legroom, and that’s more than enough for rear facing car seats (in most cases).

And while you might be able to fit three across if your car seats are are on the slender side, the middle bench seat is very slim and seat belts may be hard to reach for that occupant. I didn’t test drive a model with a center row bench seat, but The Car Mom did and you can see how she installed her seats here.

To access the 3rd row, seats slide and tilt; in our Calligraphy edition test model, these have a mechanical slide and power tilt; the bench models have a tab on the seat shoulder to slide and tilt the seats.

It may be difficult to access the 3rd row with a car seat installed; even with the seats fully pushed forward, the access space is not huge. However, if the outboard seat is empty or you can move a car seat (or booster), accessing the 3rd row is pretty easy. I found it easy enough to climb into the 3rd row and it’ll be even easier for someone who is, uh, not old enough to vote.

Related: Best Travel Car Seats, From All-in-Ones to Booster Seats for Big Kids

The Center Arm Rest Opens To The Rear Seat So Passengers Can Access It, Too

The center arm rest opens to the rear seat so passengers can access it, too. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Power, Engine Options and Key Details

The 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe has two engine options: the standard 4-cylinder turbo and a hybrid.

The turbo generates 277 HP, which in my opinion, is about the minimum you’ll want and need if you have people in all 3 seats. If you have a light load and do a lot of around-town driving, the hybrid, which generates 231 HP could be a worthwhile upgrade; it’s only a $500 more than the standard engine. The hybrid is only available on the SEL, Limited and Calligraphy models. The base model and the XRT off road model only have the gas turbo engine option.

Head Up Display

Head up display. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Driving the Hyundai Santa Fe — We Even Went Off Road!

Tooling around the backroads of Tennessee was fun and comfortable. We had easy conversation between the front and rear seats and despite the hills and curves, everyone felt comfortable and no one got car sick. The ride height of about 7” and all the windows have a lot to do with that, as does the comfortable suspension.

The Santa Fe offers several drive modes; mostly we drove in comfort, the best setting for our drive. But later I shifted into sport mode and can’t say it was dramatically different, though I didn’t have enough time with it to really say.

What I can say is that it was surprisingly comfortable and confident on the off-road course. We took the XRT out on a trail and kept speeds of about 25 MPH before putting hitting the challenges of hills and turns. In downhill descent mode, the Santa Fe regulated its speed comfortably. The car’s all wheel drive was capable even on the steep, gravelly hills, and with the addition of 4 wheel lock, the most challenging trails we drove were not an issue; it ambled right over them.

The XRT comes standard with AWD which is an option on all the other trims for an additional $1,800.

There'S A Drawer Under The Center Console For Rear Passenger Storage

There’s a drawer under the center console for rear passenger storage. Photo: Scotty Reiss

What You Get For the Money

Yes, the 2024 Santa Fe is a big departure in style and features, and it got a bit of a price hike, too: The Calligraphy edition is $3,900 more and the entry level SE is $5,200 more. Though there are more features and premium details at every level. Here’s how each of the 5 trim levels break down:

  • The entry level SE edition includes a 2.5L 4 cylinder turbo engine that generates 277 HP and gets 24 MPG. Standard features include the wide curved glass touchscreen with a  4.2” driver display, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, leather wrapped steering wheel, handsfree lift gate, cloth seats, second row bench seat with power fold, standard 3rd row (total seating for 7) 4 USB ports, Sirius XM, 3,500 lbs. tow capacity, 18” wheels, Bluelink connected car service and driver assist and safety features including forward collision avoidance, rear cross traffic assist, blind spot monitor, rear occupant alert, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, lane keep assist, safe exit assist, lane follow assist; pricing starts at $33,950
  • SEL edition adds puddle lamps, roof rails, 3rd row air vents, digital key, heated power front seats, leatherette seating, wireless phone charge pad, advanced rear occupant alert and starts at $36,450
  • The XRT edition adds Hyundai Pay, a conventional sun roof, an assist handle on the exterior pillar, navigation, adaptive cruise control with navigation-based guidance and curve control, a household outlet, additional 1” ground clearance and 4,500 lbs. of tow capacity; pricing starts at $40,600
  • The Limited edition includes 20” wheels, leather seating, power lumbar support, heated and vented front seats, front seat memory function, heated rear seats, Bose premium sound, two 3rd row USB ports, surround view monitor and blind spot monitor, heated steering wheel, 12” driver display, rear sunshades, dual pane sunroof, UV sanitizer box, surround view monitor, and remote park assist; pricing starts at $43,350
  • The Calligraphy edition includes 21” wheels, assist handle on the exterior pillar, center row captains chairs, Nappa leather seating, microsuede ceiling headliner, head up display, dual wireless charge pad and digital rear view mirror; pricing starts at $46,500

The price of our test model with AWD, white pearl paint ($470) floor mats ($210) and destination fee ($1,395): $50,375.

In all, the 2024 Hyundai is both a huge surprise, and then, not a surprise at all. Hyundai did everything they should have with the framework of the Santa Fe, creating an SUV with classic proportions and design that will serve it, and its owners, well.

Santa Fe Usage Models

Santa Fe Usage models. Photo: Hyundai

Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss