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Hyundai Santa Fe (2012-2017) review

The Hyundai Santa Fe’s a comfortable family SUV that’s easy to drive,reasonably practical and available with seven seats, but it’s more expensive than some alternatives

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This score is awarded by our team of
expert reviewers
With nearly 60 years of experience between them, carwow’s expert reviewers thoroughly test every car on sale on carwow, and so are perfectly placed to present you the facts and help you make that exciting decision
after extensive testing of the car

What's good

  • Easy to drive
  • Lots of standard equipment
  • Comfortable on bumpy roads

What's not so good

  • Only one engine available
  • Some cheap materials inside
  • Pricier than many alternatives

Hyundai Santa Fe (2012-2017): what would you like to read next?

Is the Hyundai Santa Fe (2012-2017) a good car?

The Hyundai Santa Fe is a high-riding family SUV with a big boot and the option of five or seven seats. It’s well worth a look if you’re after a comfortable large SUV that’s easy to drive.

It’s a bit older than most alternative SUVs, and it doesn’t look quite as sharp as the Skoda Kodiaq or come with a flashy cabin like the Peugeot 5008, but inside everything’s easy to use and feels pretty solid. You get a touchscreen infotainment system as standard with satellite navigation, but neither feature feels quite as modern as the systems in most alternatives.

There are only two trim levels to choose from but both come with electrically adjustable seats and part-leather trim as standard. The high seating position means it’s dead easy to see out of and there’s ample headroom in the front and back for tall adults to get comfy. You can pay extra for an extra pair of seats in the boot to turn the Santa Fe into seven-seater, but they’re only really comfy for kids.

Flip these rearmost seats down and the Santa Fe’s 585-litre boot is even more practical than the 565-litre Nissan X-Trail’s – and the Hyundai’s cabin is dotted with even more storage spaces than the Nissan too.

That said, if it’s outright carrying capacity you’re after then the Skoda Kodiaq with its simply enormous boot will be a better bet. For anything other than moving house, however, the Hyundai will do just fine.

You don’t get a choice of engine in the Santa Fe – they all come with a punchy 2.2-litre diesel which is reasonably quiet unless you accelerate hard, and fairly economical. It’s worth paying for the optional automatic gearbox – it changes gears smoothly and takes some of the stress out of driving. You do get four-wheel-drive as standard, but it’s only really useful for a bit of extra grip in winter – it won’t get you as far off road as a Land Rover Discovery Sport will.

The Santa Fe’s quite pricy, but you do get loads of equipment as standard. It’s just a shame it doesn’t feel as modern inside as most newer SUVs

Mat Watson
Mat Watson
carwow expert

Stick to the roads and you’ll appreciate just how comfortable the Santa Fe is over bumps. It’s no limousine, but it’s better than plenty of other high-riding SUVs. You won’t hear too much wind and tyre noise at motorway speeds and all seven-seat models come with rear air suspension to help soften the blow of monster potholes.

So it’s a bit disappointing that the Santa Fe doesn’t come with any modern crash-avoidance systems like you get in a Skoda Kodiaq, but it’s still a reasonably safe family SUV. It earned a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating back in 2012, although the tests have got far stricter since then.

But if you can live with that compromise, the Hyundai Santa Fe makes an excellent choice for a practical, family SUV that’s comfortable and easy to drive.

You can read more in-depth info on the Hyundai Santa Fe in the interior, practicality, driving and specifications sections of our review over the following pages. Or, to see what kind of offers are available on the Hyundai Santa Fe, click through to our deals page.

How practical is it?

The Hyundai Santa Fe has decent room inside for five people, as well as an easy-to-load boot, but if you go for the seven-seat version, bear in mind that the rearmost seats are really only suitable for kids

The amount of cabin stowage in the Santa Fe is something else. The bin under the front armrest looks bigger than some cars' boots

Mat Watson
Mat Watson
carwow expert
Boot (seats up)
516 - 585 litres
Boot (seats down)
1,615 - 1,680 litres

There’s plenty of head and leg room in the Santa Fe’s front seats so you’ll have no trouble getting comfortable – even if you’re very tall. Its large doors and extra height compared to a normal car make it dead easy to climb in and the front seats even come with electrically adjustable lumbar support to help reduce back ache on long drives. A similar feature will set you back an extra £1,000 on the Kodiaq.

The back seats are fairly roomy, too. There’s more than enough space for two adults to sit comfortably on long journeys and plenty of headroom for your six-foot-tall friends. The rear seats recline to help make long journeys in the back as relaxing as possible and you can even slide them backwards slightly for extra knee room.

There isn’t quite as much shoulder room in the back as you get in a Nissan X-Trail so things can get quite cosy if you need to carry three adults side-by-side. Thankfully, there’s plenty of space for your central passenger’s feet and the middle seat’s fairly wide and soft.

You can upgrade the Santa Fe with a third row of seats just like an X-Trail or Skoda Kodiaq. They’ll set you back £1,200 but they’re ideal for carrying kids or more petite adults for short journeys. Headroom is a little tight and the Santa Fe’s small rear windows can make it feel a little dingy, however, and climbing in past the middle row of seats isn’t very easy

The Santa Fe’s large back doors and raised roofline make it fairly easy to fit a child seat to the middle row of seats. Locating the Isofix anchor points takes longer than in a Kodiaq because there aren’t any clearly marked slots or clips but there’s plenty of room to lean in and strap in a child once you’ve got the seat base fitted securely.

The Hyundai’s front door bins are easily big enough for a 1.5-litre bottle each and they’re shaped to hold it nice and snugly on the move. The glovebox is reasonably roomy and there are a few handy trays dotted around to stop your phone sliding about. There’s one just in front of the central armrest and another under the dashboard in front of the gear lever.

The storage bin under the folding front armrest is absolutely vast – don’t drop loose change in there expecting to find it quickly later – and the cupholders in the centre console are easily big enough to hold a gargantuan service station coffee.

There aren’t quite as many clever cubby holes in the back but the rear doors get a large storage bin each and there are two handy seatback pockets for keeping slim items stowed safely out of the way. The folding rear armrest comes with a set of pop-out cupholders as standard, too.

The Santa Fe’s 585-litre boot is bigger than you get in a 565-litre X-Trail but lags some way behind the cavernous 720-litre Skoda Kodiaq. It’s still easily big enough to hold a baby buggy and some bulky soft bags or enough suitcases for a family weekend away.

There’s no annoying boot lip to lift heavy or bulky items over and five-door models come with some handy underfloor storage that’s perfect for tucking valuables safely out of sight. Pick a seven-seat version and boot space drops to 516 litres with the rearmost seats folded away, and you lose out on the underfloor storage.

The Santa Fe’s boot does have a few tether points to help tie down small items of luggage but there aren’t any shopping hooks and no 12V socket. You won’t find a set of levers to fold the seats down like in a Kodiaq either, so you’ll have to lean in and press buttons beside the headrests before pushing the seats down yourself.

The middle row folds in a three-way (40:20:40) split regardless of whether you get a five or seven-seat Santa Fe. This layout means you can carry up to three passengers and some very long luggage at once.

Need to carry even more? Fold all but the front seats down and the boot grows to 1,680 litres – easily big enough to carry a bike with its wheels attached. The boot floor’s almost completely flat too (there’s only a slight step behind the middle seats) which makes loading boxes up behind the front seats relatively stress-free.

So the Santa Fe’s pretty commodious, but if you regularly use your SUV for big jobs such as heading to the dump or house moves you’ll be better off with a Nissan X-Trail or Skoda Kodiaq. They can carry up to 1,996 and 2,065 litres respectively.

What's it like to drive?

The Hyundai’s more comfortable than most seven-seat SUVs and it’s a breeze to drive but you can’t get it with a petrol engine or any particularly advanced safety tech

There’s very little choice when it comes to picking your Santa Fe – there’s only one engine and all cars get four-wheel drive. It’s a good – if slightly dull – combination

Mat Watson
Mat Watson
carwow expert

All Hyundai Santa Fes come with a 2.2-litre diesel engine and four-wheel drive.

This 200hp diesel engine is easily powerful enough to push the Santa Fe along at motorway speeds and helps it tackle steep hills with seven people on board without breaking a sweat. It’ll accelerate from 0-62mph around half a second faster than the fastest X-Trail (in nine seconds flat) but it does start to grumble quite loudly if you accelerate hard on a motorway slip road.

It’s reasonably quiet around town and on the motorway though, and Hyundai claims it’ll return 46.3mpg. In real-world conditions, however, you can expect it to manage around 35mpg.

Pick the optional automatic gearbox instead of a manual if you want to give your left leg a rest on long journeys or in heavy stop-start traffic. It changes gear relatively smoothly but it’ll take a 4mpg-sized bite out of the Santa Fe’s fuel economy and costs an extra £2,500.

The Hyundai’s raised seating position gives you an excellent view out over the road ahead. The side windows are nice and large and the pillars between the doors and the windscreen are quite thin so they don’t create any awkward blindspots at junctions.

Unfortunately, the windows behind the back doors are quite small and the rear windscreen doesn’t give you a particularly good view out either. Thankfully, all Santa Fe models come with rear parking sensors and a reversing camera as standard while high-spec Premium SE cars get a self-parking system that’ll steer you into parallel and bay spaces automatically.

The Santa Fe drives smoothly and does a good job of softening large bumps and potholes. This is partly down to the rear air suspension you get as standard on seven-seat versions. It’s similar to the system you’d find on a Mercedes E-Class Estate and separates your backside from the road with a cushion of pressurised air – it also keeps the car level when it’s carrying heavy loads.

At motorway speeds, the Hyundai’s even more comfortable and it’s pretty quiet, besides some wind whistling around the wing mirrors and a touch of tyre noise. It’s even more relaxing to travel in on long journeys than the Land Rover Discovery Sport.

On twisty country roads the Santa Fe’s soft suspension means it leans more noticeably than the Nissan X-Trail and its very light steering can feel vague and unresponsive. Don’t let this put you off because the Santa Fe’s tremendously easy to drive – especially if you pick one with an automatic gearbox. It changes gears quickly and smoothly and works in tandem with the standard-fit cruise control system to take the stress out of long journeys.

Euro NCAP awarded the Santa Fe a five-star safety rating back in 2012. The tests have been made much stricter since then however, so cars such as the Skoda Kodiaq (that scored five stars in 2017) will provide more protection in a crash.

For a little extra peace of mind, range-topping Premium SE cars come with lane-departure warning, and Rear Cross Traffic Alert that’ll warn you if there’s a car approaching before you pull out of a parking space. You can even get automatic emergency braking that’ll stop the car itself if it senses an obstacle ahead as part of the optional £1,500 Convenience Pack or in top-spec Endurance Edition models.

What's it like inside?

The Santa Fe’s cabin comes with some nice materials and a decent selection of standard equipment but there’s no facility to mirror your smartphone

Next Read full interior review
Buy a new or used Hyundai Santa Fe (2012-2017) at a price you’ll love
We take the hassle and haggle out of car buying by finding you great deals from local and national dealers
RRP £26,715 - £40,790
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  • Compare offers and buy with confidence