On a long trip with the family, space is key. It keeps the backseat whining down, and the happy vacation mood up.
We packed four people and eight pieces of luggage into the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe GLS 4WD for a road trip between Chicago and northern Michigan – about a 6-hour drive each way. And yet, we all felt as comfortable as if we were sitting in first-class airplane seats. No one felt cramped, even with all of our snacks, electronics and road toys around us.
The 7-seater Santa Fe had lots of bells and whistles—things like voice activated texting and individual seat warmers for the back seats. It’s loaded with tech features, most of which I don’t think I would use, but I liked having them. But ultimately, our favorite thing about this car was the space.
The glorious, leather upholstered, temperature-controlled space.
Life In an SUV: New To Me
It’s possible that my delight with the roominess was the result of never having owned an SUV. I run my suburban carpools and errands in a half-the-size Toyota Matrix. But I’ve ridden in plenty of SUVs and crossovers where I’ve felt crunched, or like I’m sitting in a van. And I don’t like those second rows with two little island seats, with lots of wasted space all around them. This car didn’t have those flaws.
The Santa Fe’s second row was a wide row of leather seats with a middle seat arm rest that pushed down, so my two kids had a place for their elbows or pillows. They even balanced a laptop on it when they watched a movie. You could seat adults back here as comfortably as you could kids (so you could offer to drive when you’re going out with friends, and not feel like you’re putting them in a kids’ seat).
The drink holders popped out of that arm rest — another nice feature, since, when seat-belted, it’s hard to reach down to a low center spot. Our Santa Fe’s backseat didn’t have video screens, but that didn’t bother me at all. My 8- and 10-year-olds were going to look at the screens in their hands anyway. Besides, once in a while, on a long road trip — and I’m about to show my mean parenting side here — I want them to just stare out the window and be bored.
On the chilly fall nights, the kids had fun turning off and on their individual backseat seat warmers. Despite their challenge to see if the other could “burn your butt!” the heaters stayed at appropriately warm levels. Much to the kids’ disappointment, no butt-burning occurred.
The Third Row & The Trunk
Access to the Santa Fe’s third row of seating involved a little climbing. We clunkily pushed down the second row, which left a small space to climb into the third row. It was easy for my 8- and 10-year-old kids to get back there, but not so easy for this 46-year-old. Once back there, the seating was fine. A little more bench-like than the first two rows, but there were air vents and power chargers, which would have made the ride back there more comfortable.
When the third row seats were in the upright position, the trunk was tiny–13.5 cubic feet. When down, our 8 pieces of luggage had space to spare. It was easy to push the third row down, and the seats split for that half-up, half-down thing.
View From The Driver’s Seat
Before getting behind the driver’s seat, my husband used the 6-direction seat adjusters to get his seat just right. He griped a little about the comfort of the headrest, but I think he was just being picky. Do you really lay your head all the way back in the headrest when you drive?
Sitting behind the wheel, he extended both his arms and easily accessed all of the controls. Everything was in reach. And the large screen on the GPS made it so that you didn’t have to lean to the middle and squint to see the map or tinker with the controls. All of the controls were all ergonomically laid out, with the steering wheel providing extra controls of the radio volume and bluetooth.
High Marks For Safety
Safety is a big deal in a family road trip car, and the Santa Fe felt super-safe.
For one thing, the car’s visibility was outstanding. SUVs and crossovers sometimes have big blind spots, but this car had huge, well-placed mirrors, plus a rear-view camera showing the area behind you as you backed up. Being in a mountain-y area while it rained, the Santa Fe’s 4-wheel-drive made us feel even safer. The safety features weren’t obvious, but were impressive—things like knee airbags, and a vehicle stability management system. All high-tech, and all good things.
One of the car’s many high-tech features was “Blue Link,” which offered a roadside assistance. Like OnStar, it connects you to live help you if anything is wrong with the car. This is a nice added insurance when you’re driving on country roads like we were, and know little about fixing cars, like we do.
Where’s The Gas Tank Latch?
During our first gas station stop, no one could find the gas tank latch. It was a comical scene. We had to get the owner’s manual out of the glove compartment to figure out that is was actually on the driver’s side door.
The Santa Fe’s mpg—18/20 city to 24/26 mpg highway—is not good compared to, say, a Toyota Camry Hybrid, but it’s competitive in the crossover world. One tank of gas lasted 400 miles, or as we measured it, about 6 hours of driving. That’s pretty good.
Given that this car is a great value, the mpg is easier to accept. The sticker price for this leather-seated, loaded-with-features Santa Fe GLS was $35,180. That’s around $10,000 less than comparable models, like the Toyota Highlander.
We liked the look of Hyundai Santa Fe, too. It didn’t look like a huge SUV. Rather, it looked like an oversized stylish wagon. And even though it’s fairly high off the ground, it wasn’t hard to get in the first two rows of seats. And I much preferred the handle-opening doors to the sliding ones you see on minivans. Who wants the big door sliding open to expose the messiest part of your car to everyone in the Target parking lot? Not me.
The Santa Fe Changed Our Thinking
We’re in the market for a new car, and it’s a hard decision. We now realize the benefits of things like the infotainment system back up camera and navigation packages, and how some things you don’t see can make you feel extra safe. We’re also re-thinking the benefits of a larger car—after all, our kids are not going to get smaller. And while we’d sworn off crossovers because of the low gas mileage, we liked this car so much, we’re re-thinking that decision, too.
What We Loved:
Great value for the money
Super comfortable ride, with a spacious interior
Top of the line safety features, like a rear view camera and stability control
40 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row
24/7 roadside assistance for 5 years (unlimited miles)
5 year/60,000 mile warranty (10 years/100,000 miles powertrain warranty)
What You Need to Know:
18MPG city/24MPG highway
Third row access requires a little climbing
13.5 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row
Base price: $28,000; price of the model we drove: $35,180
Disclosure: The Santa Fe was provided to us by Hyundai for this review; the opinions expressed are all our own.