Poor Santa Fe XL. Despite getting a new name for 2019, it's actually the old version of Hyundai's Santa Fe crossover. Its five-passenger counterpart got a complete redesign for this year, and the XL will soon be replaced by the brand-new 2020 Hyundai Palisade later this year.
But despite existing on borrowed time, and being long in the tooth, it has a silver lining to its story. For folks who need a well-rounded, three-row SUV, the Santa Fe XL is still remarkably compelling.
Touchy first impression
The Santa Fe XL is powered by a 3.3-liter V6 with 290 horsepower and 252 pound-feet of torque sent through a six-speed automatic transmission. My top-trim Limited Ultimate tester sends power to its front wheels, but all-wheel drive is available.
In fact, all-wheel drive is the setup I'd prefer. The V6 engine offers plenty of low-end torque which, combined with a sensitive throttle, means it's easy to chirp the tires pulling away from a stoplight. A better distribution of power might make for smoother off-the-line starts.
But with a careful right foot, the Santa Fe XL reveals itself to be a smooth operator. The big Santa Fe feels more like a plush luxury sedan than a tall crossover, thanks to its well-sorted suspension. The Hyundai's ride quality comes close to rivaling the Lexus ES 300h .
But smooth-riding as it is, the Santa Fe XL, feels out of sorts when I elevate the pace. Body roll is noticeable, a reminder of this thing's sheer size. The Honda Pilot is more composed when driven in a hurry but still offers a compliant ride.
Everything else about the Santa Fe XL's driving experience is just fine. The steering is nicely weighted, while reasonably direct and accurate in its response. The brake pedal is well-modulated, too. Highway passing power is respectable. The six-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly and feels eager to drop down on the freeway, but fades into the background when I'm just cruising along.
At 18 miles per gallon in the city and 23 mpg highway, the Santa Fe XL is one of the less-efficient three-row crossovers on the market, according to the EPA, but my mileage fared better than the government's estimates. After a tank of mostly highway miles, I saw 26.6 mpg.
Fresh outside, dated inside
Even though the Santa Fe XL is long in the tooth, I still find it rather attractive. Inside, it's a different story, though I can't say the cabin is poorly designed. The quality of materials is appropriate for a midsize SUV, and there's ample space in the first and second rows. That said, the third row is cramped, and the story only gets worse when you venture into the cargo hold to find just 13.5 cubic feet of space with all the seats raised.
So, yes, you can carry up to seven occupants in the Santa Fe XL, but good luck finding room for all their stuff. Competitors like the Chevy Traverse, Ford Explorer and Volkswagen Atlas offer more than 20 cubic feet behind their third rows, as well as more cargo room behind their first and second rows. At least the Santa Fe can tow up to 5,000 pounds, just like those other SUVs.
Getting the Hyundai's back seats folded is a breeze. The third row disappears in an instant after tugging at a couple of straps, and the middle row is just as easily leveled with the simple pull of a lever at the side of each captain's chair. Power-folding rear seats are nice, but nothing beats the simplicity -- and speed -- of conventional folding.
Baked-in modern tech
The base Santa Fe XL SE comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on a 7-inch touchscreen. HD and satellite radio also come standard with a six-speaker stereo. That's a lot more standard kit than many of the Santa Fe XL's competitors.
Conversely, Hyundai is rather stingy with the driver-assistance tech. If you want pedestrian-detecting collision-mitigation braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning and adaptive headlights with automatic high-beams, not only do you need to step up to the $39,550 Limited Ultimate trim, but then you have to elect for the $2,100 Tech Package.
How I'd spec it
The Santa Fe XL starts at $30,850, but even all decked out, the Santa Fe XL falls on the cheaper side of the three-row crossover segment. That in mind, I'd go all out, and start with the top Limited Ultimate trim, which comes with 19-inch wheels and keyless access. Inside, there's push-button start, a panoramic sunroof, heated steering wheel, leather upholstery, memory driver's seat, heated and ventilated front seats, heated second-row captain's chairs, an upgraded 8-inch touchscreen with embedded navigation, Infinityand a hands-free power liftgate out back.
The top trim also features standard blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, rear parking sensors and a 360-degree camera. Of course, I'd add the aforementioned Tech Package, and all-wheel drive for $1,750. With every box checked, we're looking at $44,445 out the door.
Not to be overlooked
The Hyundai Santa Fe XL is kind of a lame duck crossover at this point. Soon, we'll have the all-new Palisade to woo American three-row crossover consumers.
But despite this inherent obsolescence, the Santa Fe XL still holds up really well. It's nicely appointed and enjoyable to drive. And with a base price that undercuts many of its toughest competitors, it's still a perfectly good way to get three-row utility in 2019.