As the bigger member of the Santa Fe range, the seven seat Hyundai Santa Fe XL was first introduced in 2013 as the replacement for the aging Veracruz. Unlike its smaller sibling who has been redesigned for the 2019 model, the XL soldiers on at least for another year in its current form. Given all the recent entries in the standard SUV rental space, does the Santa Fe XL still have what it takes to remain a viable option in the category? Join us this week as we take an in-depth look at the 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe XL Preferred.
Regardless of trim, all Santa Fe XLs come standard with a 3.3L V6 engine producing 290 horsepower and 252 lb-ft of torque. While other vehicles (including the regular Santa Fe) have gone to 8 or even 9-speed transmissions, the XL remains stuck with a 6-speed automatic. Don’t get us wrong, the transmission remains a smooth operator but we can’t help but think of the fuel economy boost an extra cog or two will bring. Speaking of fuel economy, we averaged 12.5L/100km over a week of mixed highway and city driving, which isn’t bad considering the vehicle’s size.
On the road, the 18-inch wheels and high profile tires provides decent isolation from most bumps on the road. Only once did we feel a jarring clunk in the suspension when we ran over a large crack on the road at a high speed (never a good idea). As expected, steering feel is really light in eco and normal driving modes, which makes maneuvering around city streets easier than its size will suggest. Switch into sport mode (surprised it even has one) and the steering weights up to provide greater stability on the highway.
Sitting in the driver’s seat, the high dashboard and dual cowl design does limit the visibility out the front. We find ourselves cranking the seat up higher than our usual position in order to get a view of the hood. Thankfully, the view from the sides are much better and further aided by the large side view mirrors and standard blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert on the Preferred trim. Reversing duties are assisted by the standard backup camera but parking sensors are only available on higher trims.
Comfort and Convenience
The 2019 Santa Fe XL is offered in 5 trims, Essential, Preferred, Luxury, and Ultimate. Most rentals are either Preferred or Luxury trims (see below for more details). Our rental is an all-wheel drive Preferred trim and comes standard with a 7-inch infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and only one USB port, dual-zone automatic climate control, proximity key with push-button start, cloth front heated seats, heated steering wheel, 12-way power driver seat, auto brake hold, sliding, reclining and heated second row seats, smart power tailgate and new for 2019, a suite of active safety features (adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane departure alert, etc.)
We like the adaptive cruise control’s ability to bring the vehicle to a complete stop and resume once traffic starts moving again. However, unlike the latest iteration of Hyundai’s SmartSense package, the lane departure alert does nothing to correct unintended lane drift. Other safety innovations such as the safe exit assist and lane centering assist are also unavailable.
The Santa Fe XL’s interior brings into mind Hyundai’s last generation of vehicles. While soft touch materials are used liberally across the dash and door panels, they are of a peculiar texture that doesn’t exactly scream quality. What does though is the consistency of the materials used. Even the rear door panels are made up of the same materials as that in the front, something that cannot be said for the redesigned Santa Fe. Despite being cloth, the front seats provide adequate amounts of support (unsurprisingly given that it is brand new vehicle). We are curious as to how the padding will hold up over time, so do check out the seats if you renting a higher mileage variant. The 4-way driver’s lumbar support is also much appreciated, allowing us to better fine-tune that perfect seating position on longer drives.
Ease of Use
For 2019, Preferred trims come standard with a 7-inch centre touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. As with other Hyundais equipped with similar systems, touch response is quick and the menus are easy to navigate. Unlike those systems however, the XL (at least in our trim) has only one USB port, yes, you read that right, one. Be prepared to ration your charges or bring one of the 12V adapters along for the trip. Rather than going on a button killing spree, the centre stack of the Santa Fe XL remains littered with clearly labelled buttons and knobs that control everything from the audio to climate. This is a vehicle that you should be able to get in and figure everything out right away, perfect for someone that is tech adverse (or don’t have a lot of tech).
While the centre stack is the poster child for easy-to-use infotainment systems, the instrument panel is the exact opposite. We appreciate the addition of a 4.2-inch colour display versus the monochromatic one in previous model years, but controlling the screen require deciphering the 3 cryptic buttons on the steering wheel. Over our time with the vehicle, we found ourselves constantly making the wrong selections (going back instead of selecting, resetting trips randomly etc.). Fortunately, the number of settings available in the screen is limited and you probably won’t need to change anything during your rental. Other buttons on the steering wheel control the infotainment, phone and cruise control. They work as advertised, providing quick access to commonly used functions without having to take your hands off the wheel.
Continuing the button heavy theme, there are two rows of switches on the left of the steering wheel controlling miscellaneous functions such as the heated steering wheel, blind spot monitoring and lane departure warning. Looking for the fuel door and power tailgate release? Those are located next to the driver’s door pocket and on the roof console between the map lights respectively.
Being the larger member of the Santa Fe family, the XL offers more passenger and cargo capacity than the regular version. With larger doors, first and second row passengers enjoy plenty of leg and head room. Moreover, the second row can be slid fore and aft as well as recline to provide more comfort. For those assigned to the third row, access can be a bit tricky. Only the second row on the passenger side can be tilted and slid forward to create a path to the last row. Once inside, passengers will find their knees up in the air as the seats are literally on the floor. That being said, there is just about enough legroom for someone 6 ft tall with the second row at its rearmost position. Slide the seat forward and there should be sufficient space for smaller adults or children to endure an hour or two. Providing more comfort for third row occupants are separate climate controls and vents on the each side.
With all seven seats in place, cargo space is a paltry 13.5 cubic feet and barely enough for a couple of suitcases. Fold the third row down (an easy one-step process) and the cargo volume expands to 40.9 cubic feet, which is more than enough for a family’s week worth of luggage. For renters looking to put their skis or other long items, the second row’s middle seat can also be folded independently to create a pass through.
As a model that is about to be replaced within the next year, the Santa Fe XL is undeniably dated both inside and out. There is nothing about it that stands out from the sea of other seven seat SUVs on the road. What’s more, renters will most likely spot another model given its popularity with rental agencies and families. In places where blending in with the locals is desired, the Santa Fe XL represents a solid choice. Otherwise, move along.
Avis/Budget: The Santa Fe XL is classified as a standard SUV. Unlike our rental however, all XLs in Avis/Budget’s fleet are of the Luxury trim, which adds goodies such as a large panoramic sunroof, parking sensors, leather and navigation (if the SD card is present). Both six and seven seat versions are available with six seat versions offering captains chairs in the second row. If you are a group of five, we recommend avoiding the six seat versions as that would mean sticking someone in the cramped last row.
Enterprise/National/Alamo: Similar to Avis/Budget, the Santa Fe XL is classified as a standard SUV. However, most, if not all of the models on rental lots will be the Preferred trim with seven seats equipped similarly as our rental.
Hertz/Dollar/Thrifty: Availability of the Santa Fe XL is much more limited. Categorized as a standard SUV, the few models on the lot that we have spotted are all of the Preferred trim with seven seats.
Avis/Budget: The standard SUV category is a small one and the only two other alternatives that we have seen are the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ford Edge, both which are similarly equipped as the Santa Fe XL. However, they only seat five, which make the Santa Fe XL the only choice if you are looking to transport a large group of people but do not want to step up to a full-size SUV.
Enterprise/National/Alamo: In addition to the aforementioned Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ford Edge, renters also have the choice of other vehicles including the GMC Acadia, Nissan Murano and Kia Sorento. These alternatives are offered in multiple trims, some of which are much better equipped than the XL. That being said, none of them offer seven seats with the exception of the GMC Acadia and Kia Sorento (a much smaller vehicle).
Hertz/Dollar/Thrifty: Other vehicles in the category include the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Nissan Murano. Interestingly, Hertz does not offer any Ford products, which is bummer given how much we like their range of SUVs.
As one of the few, if not only vehicle in its category that offers seven seats, the Santa Fe XL is in a class of its own for renters looking to transport more than five adults but do not want to splurge for the next category up. Whats more, we really appreciate the availability of standard active safety features and ease of use. If you are able to score one of the 2019 models and/or higher trims (i.e. luxury), the Santa Fe XL still remains a solid choice in its category. Nonetheless, we are excited to see what 2020 has in store for the Santa Fe family.