2023 Hyundai Santa Fe Review

2023 Hyundai Santa Fe - Last generation before an extreme makeover.


The Santa Fe launched for the 2001 model year as a five-passenger SUV, and it is currently in its fourth generation that debuted for 2019 and received a facelift for 2021. Coming in 2024 is all-new, completely different Santa Fe.  Sales have remained strong with over 100,000 units sold annually for the last seven years in the US with consumer satisfaction and reliability both strong. 2023 models mostly carry-over with a few changes to feature packages.  The current Santa Fe lineup consists of five trims known as the SE, SEL, XRT, Limited, and Calligraphy.

The Santa Fe is offered in four powertrains. Standard on the SE, SEL, and XRT is a 2.5L 4-cylinder GDI-MPI engine that delivers 191 horsepower, 181 lb.-ft. of torque. Step up to the Limited and Calligraphy for a turbocharged version of the 2.5L 4-cylinder GDI-MPI that nets 277 horsepower and 311 lb.-ft. of torque. Front-wheel drive is standard on all of them, but all-wheel drive is available as a $1,700 premium. The Santa Fe hybrid features a turbocharged 1.6L 4-cylinder GDI paired with a 44kW motor to deliver 226 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque. Hybrid models are offered exclusively with AWD and come in three trim levels known as Blue, SEL Premium, and Limited. The plug-in hybrid pairs the same turbocharged 1.6L 4-cylinder GDI with a 67kW motor to net 261 horsepower, 258 lb.-ft. of torque. Plug-in models are available in SEL Convenience or Limited trim with an estimated 76 MPGe which includes 30 miles of all-electric range.

Standard Santa Fe prices start at $28,750 for a FWD SE and can climb as high as $44,300 for an AWD Calligraphy. Hybrid models range from $36,210 to $41,870 and plug-in hybrid models run from $42,410 to $47,670. Competitors in the mid-size, five-passenger segment include the Chevrolet Blazer, Ford Edge, Honda Passport, Mazda CX-5, Kia Sorento, Nissan Murano, Subaru Forester, and Toyota Venza / Highlander. Having spent a week in both a 2023 Santa Fe Calligraphy AWD here's what stands out...

Exterior Styling (+)
I like the styling of the Santa Fe with a wide, three-dimensional grille and T-shaped LED lighting signature for the daytime running lights. The profile features a longer hood and a more upright look. A prominent character line connects the top of the front lights to the rear taillights and defined creases outline the wheel arches. The lower portion of the Santa Fe will vary in color based on the trim level. Around back, a new rear red reflector connects the two taillights by stretching across the hatch just above the license plate. Overall, the Santa Fe has a sophisticated and friendly look. Looking ahead at 2024, the Santa Fe gets a complete overhaul that has an entirely new look.

2.5L Turbo Powertrain (+)
The turbocharged 2.5L provides good power to accelerate the vehicle. It quickly gets to where it needs to be and the Santa Fe navigates through traffic with ease, passing other cars. It's mated to an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic that generally shifts through the gears smoothly. Steering was responsive and body lean was minimal. Available drive modes allow the driver to recalibrate the Santa Fe to settings for Sport, Comfort, Smart, and Snow.  There's a notable difference when switching into the sport mode that makes for a more engaging drive. Fuel economy is rated at 21/28/24 MPG city/highway/combined with a full-tank range of around 400 miles. Overall, it suited the vehicle providing a comfortable, quiet ride.

Base 2.5L Powertrain (+/-)
I have also spent a good amount of time driving the Santa Fe XRT on the highway and overall was indifferent to the powertrain. It was noisier than the 2.5L turbo and felt like it was working pretty hard to keep up. Acceleration was much slower and required more effort. Steering was softer and it felt notably less agile. Road imperfections were more apparent, and the overall ride was rather lackluster. Fuel economy rated at 22/25/24 MPG city/highway/combined with a full-tank range of around 400 miles Stepping up to the 2.5L turbo is the best bet and worth the extra money.

Interior- Calligraphy (+)
Hyundai added the premium Calligraphy model to offer buyers a luxury level Santa Fe. I was very impressed with the Calligraphy package overall, but really think the interior is very well done. One of the first things you'll notice are the quilted premium Nappa leather seating surfaces and soft touch padding all around. The seats are very comfortable and wouldn't be out of place in a luxury brand. The seats are both heated and ventilated in the front while rear seat passengers also get heated seats standard. Up above is an eco-suede headliner that is calming to the touch.

Technology includes a high-resolution 10.25" wide touchscreen that integrates with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay (via a cord).  Your music will come through the 630-watt Harmon Kardon premium audio with 12-speakers and Quantum Logic surround sound. The system is easy to use, and I never had any issues with connections.  Behind the steering wheel is a 12.3" fully digital instrument cluster that changes appearance with the various drive modes. And as it gets darker outside, the simple, clean interior will be lit up with customizable ambient lighting. An available head-up display projects information onto the windshield including your speed and a very helpful flashing visual for when vehicles are coming up in various positions around your Santa Fe.

Center Console Layout (+/-)
While it maintains a minimalist dashboard, the center console is home to everything with a lot of buttons that remind me of mission control. There are 33 buttons, two toggle switches and three dials all in the same area. While conveniently reachable, it is among the busier layouts I've seen. Among the mix is Hyundai's electronic push-button gear selector which is adjacent to the dial for selecting drive modes.

Wireless Phone Charger (+)
Just below the array of buttons in the center console is perhaps the best integrations of a wireless phone charger.  The Santa Fe has a vertical slot to set your mobile device in with a slight angle for it to lean on. It is easily accessible, can still be plugged in to the USB, takes up minimal space and is functional. Kudos to Hyundai engineers for thinking outside the box from a traditional wireless device tray that's often out of reach and awkwardly placed.

Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (-)
Typically, the higher trim, more expensive models have the most up-to-date technology, but that is not the case in the Santa Fe. Standard on the low-grade SE and optional on SEL & XRT are wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Stepping up to the Limited or Calligraphy models will revert to a needed USB cord to activate these services. To add to the odd feature breakdown is that wireless device charging is NOT available on the SE (so you'll need a cord) and is only an option on the SEL and XRT.  Wireless charging is standard on the Limited and Calligraphy. It's almost as if someone mis-labeled the option sets when adding these features. So, if you want both wireless charging and wireless connectivity, you'll have to opt for the middle of the road SEL or XRT. For what it's worth, during my time in the XRT model, the wireless Apple CarPlay worked very well.

XRT Trim Level (+/-)
The XRT models debuted last year with unique styling accents that give off a more rugged vibe based on the SEL trim level. The Santa Fe XRT features a black lower fascia trim in front and back, dark silver skid plate, 18" dark-tone wheels, side steps, dark finish grille, roof cross rails, and body color door handles.

The XRT trim gets all of the aforementioned exterior design elements, but the off-road ruggedness stops there. The look kind of works on the Santa Fe, although I think it looks better with the luxury trimmings in the Calligraphy. There is no low-range, and it is not capable of serious off-roading.  Standard on the XRT is front-wheel drive, although AWD is an available option. Equipped with the base engine, it feels like a mediocre attempt to capitalize on the trend of rugged/off-road looking SUVs that just miss the mark on the Santa Fe.

Range of Models (+)
Santa Fe is one of those vehicles that appeals to a wide audience. There are four different powertrains across six different trim levels, available front or all-wheel drive, and a significant list of options to make it your own. Prices range from the very reasonable $28,750 up to $47,650+. With such a diverse range of configurations, you're bound to find one that meets your taste and budget.

Cargo (+)
Sticking to its five-passenger configuration means the Santa Fe's cargo space is not compromised by an unusable third row. There's 36.4 cu.ft. of space behind the rear seats and 72.1 cu.ft. with the seats folded down. A manual liftgate is standard, but a hands-free power liftgate is available on SEL+ models. Under floor storage space is well thought out and useful.

Remote Smart Parking Assist (+)
This is a fun, but also useful, feature to show off to friends. The remote smart park assist enables your Santa Fe to park itself without you being in the driver seat. At the touch of a button on the remote, you can back up or pull the vehicle forward into position. It's nice for tight spaces or if you just need to adjust its position in the driveway.

Safety Features (+)
One of the things that sets the Santa Fe apart is its commitment to standard safety features across the lineup. For 2023, features such as blind-spot collision avoidance, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance, and safe exit assist join other standard features that include rear occupant alert, forward-collision avoidance, lane keep assist, driver attention warning, and lane follow assist on all Santa Fe models.  Additional features such as surround view monitor, parking distance warning, ultrasonic rear occupant alert, and highway driving assist are also available on various trim levels.

Final Statement:
The Santa Fe is a sensible choice for a buyer looking for a reliable, but stylish crossover. The exterior styling is modest,  and the lighting signatures have a very neat illumination at night. The interior is comfortable even at base levels and there's plenty of room for five passengers and cargo. It works well as a true five-passenger and I'm glad Hyundai chose not to cram in a third row. Look for a completely different 2024 model available at dealers now.

First Impression Summary:

Test Vehicle: 2023 Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy AWD       
Exterior Color: Stormy Sea
Interior Color: Black Nappa Leather
Notable Options: None
MSRP as tested: $45,255 (with destination)

Jim OBrill

Jim is Director of Marketing for the Chicago Automobile Trade Association and Chicago Auto Show and a co-host of Drive Chicago Radio on WLS 890 AM Chicago. His passion for cars started young and he’s often referred to as the ‘car-guy’ among family and friends. As a former auto detailer, he has an eye for identifying solid used cars and tags along on many car buying adventures. Early in his career he worked at several car dealerships in various areas of the business. As a co-host on Drive Chicago and member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, Jim has had opportunities to attend track school and drive vehicles on multiple circuits such as Road America and Gingerman Raceway. With a background in photography, taking pictures of vehicles has always been a hobby.

Jim also enjoys the trails and taking trucks like his 4Runner off road. He has a special appreciation for older cars and can often be found spending free time at cruise nights or home washing one his four vehicles. Jim resides in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three kids. Follow Jim on Instagram at @jpcars22 for new vehicle content or @forgotten_survivors.312 for shots of older cars still on the streets of Chicagoland.