Two body styles, different aims, same SUV value

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What changes will make it different?

This crossover SUV entered its third generation as a 2013 model, so anyone looking for an all-new offering will have to wait beyond model-year ’16. The first two generations of this popular vehicle lasted five years each before being superseded, so the next completely new version will probably appear in model-year 2017 or ’18. The ’16 model could, however, see a mid-cycle refinement to keep buyers interested. That said, so much is right about the Santa Fe already that it’s difficult to imagine anything more than a few tweaks and upgrades to the front and rear and some remodeling of the interior.

Why should I wait for the 2016?

There aren’t a lot of good reasons, given that the model-year ’15 version is so solid and so stylish. If you’re going to ignore the model-year 2015 version to see what comes next, perhaps this isn’t the vehicle for you to begin with.

Should I buy a 2015 model instead?

With the Hyundai crossover being offered in five-seat Sport form as well as the longer-wheelbase three-row Santa Fe, there’s no good reason to look beyond this model year. Although a hybrid or diesel version isn’t currently available in the United States, those are niche markets anyway; the model-year ’15 engines are capable and efficient enough for the vast majority of buyers in this segment. If you like what you’ve seen with the third generation, take the plunge.

Will the styling be different?

Why mess with a good thing? The model-year 2015 version ranks so high in the looks department, the automaker isn’t likely to mess around with much. Look for subtle changes to the grille and the lights simply to distinguish one model year from another.

Any mechanical changes?

Other than the possibility of the diesel being made available to U.S. customers or the introduction of a hybrid option, the car is still so early in its current generation that major mechanical upgrades are unlikely. Most people agree that the engine options for the Santa Fe are more than adequate, with the four-cylinder turbo in the Sport model getting the most plaudits. The goal for any SUV is to drive and handle with the ease of a car, and the Santa Fe succeeds in this area. Having said that, there is always room for improvement, especially regarding the vehicle’s steering and the suspension.

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Will fuel economy improve?

Fuel economy isn’t exactly an Achilles heel, but it isn’t the strongest selling point either. The 3.3-liter V-6 in the three-row version delivers adequate figures of 18 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway in front-wheel drive form. In the all-wheel drive guise, the highway fuel economy only drops by a single mile per gallon, which is good. The V-6 in the Santa Fe is already one of the smallest and lightest in its class, but there could be some tuning done to improve gas mileage in model-year 2016.

Will it have new features?

If there’s one thing you know you’re going to get with any Hyundai model, it’s a generous amount of standard equipment. The Santa Fe is no exception. The model-year ’16 version might have additional advanced safety features to keep up with the competition. There’s no rear-seat entertainment option at the moment, which some view as an omission; that might be corrected for model-year 2016. However, the proliferation of tablet computers these days and in-car Wi-Fi hotspots means that fixed entertainment systems are somewhat redundant. Hyundai could therefore be seen as somewhat visionary in continuing to omit rear-entertainment screens from its list of available options.

How will 2016 prices be different?

After something of a boom in the United States over the past couple years, the market for new cars could be getting saturated. So don’t expect Hyundai to jack up its prices in model-year ’16.

When will it come out?

Probably by the end of calendar-year 2015. However, if there are significant changes to the car, it might not arrive in dealerships until early ’16.

Best competitors

Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Equinox, Kia Sorento, Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota Venza

What change would make it better?

Although the nameplate comes in two wheelbase lengths, the three-row version for model-year 2015 doesn’t offer as much improvement in interior space as its shorter Sport model. If the manufacturer could find some extra legroom for the third-row passengers, that would constitute a nice upgrade. A more fuel-efficient version of the Santa Fe would be another plus. A hybrid would be particular welcome.

Quick hit

The Santa Fe may not be the very best in its segment in every way, but it’s not far off. If you look back at the first generation’s styling, you can see just how far Hyundai has come in a relatively short time. Recent updates to the automaker’s brands have been pretty subtle lately, and that trend should continue here.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]