Why a 2017 Santa Fe or Santa Fe Sport might be a better buy than a 2018

Updated December 6th, 2017

2018 Hyundai Santa Fe

2018 Hyundai Santa Fe

2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Buying Advice

This is the best crossover for you if you’re a bargain hunter who prefers a bird in the hand over two in the bush. A new value package option and some pleasing price news help close out the 2013-2018 generation of Hyundai’s midsize SUV. An all-new replacement is coming for model-year 2019. That means the ’18 Santa Fe is a known quantity, made more attractive by Hyundai’s decision to reduce prices for some of the most popular models.

This crossover leads a bit of a double life. As the Santa Fe Sport, it’s a five-seater that competes with the likes of the compact-class Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, and Toyota RAV4. As the just-plain Santa Fe, it’s a larger crossover that seats up to seven and competes with midsizers such as the Honda Pilot, Ford Explorer, and Toyota Highlander.

Should you buy a 2018 model or wait for the ‘19?

Buy the 2018 Santa Fe Sport if it scratches your itch for a five-seater available with more power than the typical compact crossover. Consider the just-plain Santa Fe if you’re after an affordable family crossover with a reasonably roomy third-row seat and good cargo space. But both still look contemporary, thanks to a model-year 2017 facelift. And Hyundai and its dealers should be floating some great late-2018-model-year deals to clear inventories for the all-new 2019s.

The less-expensive Santa Fe Sport far outsells the Santa Fe and for 2018, returns with a 2.4-liter engine in Base trim and with the new Value Package. A more powerful 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder motives the Santa Fe Sport 2.0T models, which reprise base and Ultimate grades for 2018. The 2018 Santa Fe lineup returns base SE, better-equipped Limited, and fancier SE Ultimate and Limited Ultimate models. All use a 3.3-liter V-6.

Wait for the 2019 Santa Fe if you want fully redesigned editions of both crossovers. Expect the 2019 Santa Fe Sport to continue with a four-cylinder-only engine lineup and to again bridge the compact- and midsize-crossover classes.

The redesigned 2019 Santa Fe reportedly will retain a V-6 and like the Sport, get an eight-speed automatic transmission in place of the current six-speed auto. It’ll also be larger than today’s Santa Fe, capable of seat three adult passengers in both its second and third rows. That would boost capacity to eight, helping it compete with the eight-seat Pilot and Highlander. It’s also possible Hyundai will simplify matters and give the larger model a completely new name, leaving the Santa Fe moniker to the five-seater.


Styling: No appearance changes, in this swan-song year, but introduction of the Santa Fe Sport Value Package makes some upscale styling touches available at a lower price point. For $1,900 over the base-level Sport, the package adds the heated power mirrors (with integrated turn signals), LED daytime running lights, fog lamps, and roof side rails that had been part of the 2017 model’s $3,550 Premium Equipment and $1,550 Popular Equipment packages. It also includes several previously optional convenience features (see below).

Otherwise, the ’18s carry over their subtle but effective model-year 2017 refresh. It updated their nose with a brushed-finish grille, new headlamps, and newly available LED daytime running lights and fog lamps. The tails got a reshaped fascia, revised lights, and new dual exhaust outlets. Strengthening the family resemblance with other Hyundais — the compact Tucson crossover in particular — both versions of the Santa Fe also gained silver-accented rocker panels and new-look alloy wheels.

Both lengths again share an attractive cabin design and a well-laid-out instrument panel. The ’17 refresh brought a revised dashboard center-control stack with a 7- or 8-inch touchscreen display (depending on the model) as an alternative to the standard five-inch screen. A power-adjustable passenger seat became newly optional, matte-finished woodgrain trim newly available.

The Sport seats four adults in comfort, but three in back is a squeeze. The ‘18 Santa Fe SE and SE Ultimate models have a three-passenger second-row bench. The Limited and Limited Ultimate substitute a pair of buckets, reducing their capacity to six. They share a two-place third-row bench that best suits teenage-and-younger physiques. For 2018, leather-upholstered versions of both Santa Fe versions gain wood-finished plastic cabin trim.

Speaking of leather, it’s more widely available here than on most any other crossover in Santa Fe’s competitive sets. On Sport models, leather upholstery is included on 2.4s with the Premium Equipment Package and is standard on the 2.0Ts. On the Santa Fe, it’s included in the SE Premium Package and standard on all other models.

Cargo volume is competitive with similarly sized rivals. With 35.4 cubic feet behind the rear seat and 71.5 with the rear seat folded, the Sport is akin to a compact-class crossover. With 13.5 cubic feet behind the third row, 40.9 aft of the second row, and 80 total, the Santa Fe has the capacity of the average three-row midsize crossover.

Cargo-bay access with your hands full is made easier with Hyundai’s innovative power Hands-Free Smart Liftgate with Auto Open. The system is optional on the 2.4 model and standard on all other Santa Fes. With the keyfob in purse or pocket, the owner can stand near the rear bumper for a few seconds and the liftgate will power open. That’s more convenient than most other hand-free liftgate systems, which require you to wave a foot beneath the rear bumper and hope you trigger the automatic-open sensor on the first few tries.

Mechanical: Nothing new until the model-year 2019 redesign. The ’18s carry over changes that came on line with the 2017 refresh. The Santa Fe Sport models lost some power, but all versions of this crossover added driver-selected performance modes. Revisions to the four-cylinder engines in the Sport models improved fuel economy and driveability.

Base and Value versions of the Sport continue with 185 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque, down from 2016’s 190 horsepower and 181 pound-feet. The turbocharged Sport 2.0T models have 240 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, a drop from 2016’s 265 and 269, respectively. A lowering of the engine speeds needed for peak output offset the power decreases. Throttle response from slow and moderate speeds improved, and there was little noticeable loss in acceleration. The 2.4 again delivers adequate if uninspired performance, while turbo 2.0 feels quite lively.

The three-row 2018 Santa Fe returns with a V-6 of 290 horsepower and 252 pound-feet of torque. It delivers smooth, prompt acceleration, feeling drowsy only when burdened with a full load of passengers and cargo.

All engines continue with a six-speed automatic as their sole transmission. Hyundai’s Drive Mode Select system gives the driver a console button to adjust powertrain and steering calibrations among Sport, Eco (economy), and Normal modes. Eco dictates mushier throttle response, but mode differences are otherwise minimal; even in Sport, the steering suffers a synthetic feel.

All 2018 Santa Fe and Sport models are available with an all-wheel-drive system that delivers power to the front wheels in normal driving and automatically shuffles it rearward when sensors detect front-tire slip. This can happen in snow, but also during rapid acceleration off the line. The system includes Active Cornering Control, which helps cornering performance by sending additional engine power to the outside rear wheel and braking the inside rear wheel in a turn.

That is of some benefit to handling, but none of these Hyundai crossovers counts road manners among their selling points. The best of the bunch are the Sport 2.0T models. Suspension differences are minor, but the turbo models upgrade tire size from the 2.4-liter Sport’s 17-inchers to 18s on the base 2.0T and 19s on the 2.0T Ultimate. That translates to extra degrees of bite as you begin to change direction and additional grip in turns. Although they tend to require too much steering correction, the larger, heavier Santa Fes are good highway cruisers but feel ponderous in aggressive cornering. SE and Limited models come with 18-inch tires; 19s are optional on the Limited and standard on the two Ultimate trims.

Features: The main change comes with arrival of the Sport Value package. In addition to the items noted above, it includes as standard with features that previously cost more when ordered as options. Among these are remote keyless entry with pushbutton ignition, dual-zone automatic climate control, a power driver’s seat, heated front seats, satellite radio, and the 7-inch dashboard screen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support.

The Value package also includes the automaker’s Blue Link infotainment interface. Now standard on all Santa Fe iterations except the Base 2.4, Blue Link is upgraded for 2018 with three years of the Connected Care, Remote, and Guidance packages at no extra cost. These packages include such services as automatic collision notification and SOS emergency assistance, plus remote start and lock/unlock, stolen-vehicle recovery, geo-fencing and other capabilities that can be controlled via Amazon Alexa or smartphone/smartwatch apps.

MyLink’s support of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay allows you to follow your map app on the dashboard screen – where there’s a cell signal. If you want unfettered GPS guidance, you’ll require the imbedded navigation system. It uses the 8-inch screen and is available on the Base Sport model as part of the $3,250 Tech Package (which requires the $2,900 Premium Package and the $1,900 Value Package). Navigation is standard on the Sport 2.0T Ultimate and on the Santa Fe SE Ultimate and Limited Ultimate. Navigation is unavailable on the base 2.0T and on the Santa Fe SE and Limited.

Key accident avoidance features are available for the Santa Fe Sport 2.0T Ultimate with the $1,600 Ultimate Tech Package and for the Santa Fe SE Ultimate and Limited Ultimate in a Tech Package priced around $2,200. These packages include autonomous emergency braking that can automatically bring the crossover to a stop if the driver fails to react quickly enough to avoid hitting another vehicle, obstruction, or even a pedestrian. This helps the Tech Package-equipped models earn coveted Top Safety Pick+ status from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The Tech packages also include steering-linked headlamps, automatic high-beam dimming, adaptive cruise control to maintain a set distance from traffic ahead, and a lane-departure system that warns of inadvertent drift but lacks autonomous steering correction. Blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection is standard on Sport 2.0T models and optional on the 2.4-liter versions in a mandatory combination of the $1,900 Value Package and $2,900 premium Equipment Package. In the Santa Fe line, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection is optional on the SE model and standard on the others.

Every 2018 Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport comes standard with a rearview camera. Again optional is a multi-camera setup that provides a top-down view of the vehicle and its surroundings.


Good news here, with Hyundai seeking to sustain interest for the final season of this Santa Fe design generation by reducing some base prices, in addition to putting together the Sport Value model. Indeed, vehicles from this South Korean automaker have a reputation for delivering lots of comfort and convenience features at very competitive pricing. Note that prices here include Hyundai’s $950 destination fee, and that prices for the three-row Santa Fe models had not been released in time for this review.

Base-price reductions for the Santa Fe Sport line range from $295 for the front-wheel-drive Sport 2.0T to $995 for the AWD 2.0T Ultimate. The 2018 Santa Fe Sport 2.4 model starts $25,900 with front-wheel drive and at $27,450 with AWD. Add $1,900 to for the Value Package.

Notable options in the Sport 2.4-liter line include the 2.4L Premium Equipment Package ($2,900). It requires the Value package and adds the aforementioned safety features, the hands-free liftgate and leather upholstery, plus a sliding second-row seat, automatic-dimming rearview mirror, and manual rear side-wind sunshades. In addition to imbedded navigation and the multi-view camera system, the 2.4L Tech Package ($3,250) brings a panoramic moonroof, driver and side-mirror memory, heated steering wheel and heated rear seats, and cooled front seats.

The 2018 Santa Fe Sport 2.0T model is priced at $32,300 with front-drive and at $33,850 with AWD, the Sport 2.0T Ultimate at $36,600 and $38,150, respectively. In addition to the award-meriting driver aids, the $1,600 2.0T Ultimate Tech Package includes steering-linked headlamps and automatic on-off highbeams.

In the 2018 Santa Fe line, expect the SE to be priced from about $32,000 with front-wheel drive and from around $33,850 with AWD. The ‘18 SE is essentially a seven-passenger version of the Santa Fe Sport with the 2.4L Popular Equipment Package, plus the V-6 and 18-inch alloy wheels. Its SE Premium Package (about $3,650) should again echo the 2.4L Premium Package but with addition of a power liftgate.

Estimated base price of the 2018 Santa Fe SE Ultimate is $39,995 with front-drive and $41,750 with AWD. Its standard features should again mirror the Sport 2.0T Ultimate’s, and it should again be available with the SE Ultimate Tech Package (about $2,100). That would add the safety items found in the 2.0T Ultimate Tech Package.

Fuel Economy

EPA ratings are unchanged, leaving each version of the 2018 Santa Fe about midpack in competitive sets of crossovers of similar size and power.

The 2.4-liter Sport models rate 21/27/24 mpg city/highway/combined with front-wheel drive and 20/26/22 with AWD. The Sport 2.0T rates 20/28/23 mpg with front drive and 19/26/22 with AWD. The slightly heavier, feature-laden 2.0T Ultimate versions remain at 20/27/23 mpg with front-drive and 19/24/21 with AWD.

Ratings for the Santa Fe SE and SE Ultimate are 18/25/21 mpg with front-drive and 18/24/20 mpg with AWD. The Limited and Limited Ultimate rate 17/23/20 and 17/22/29, respectively. All versions of this crossover are tuned for 87-octane gas.

Release Date

The Sport 2.4 and 2.0T models went on sale in June 2017 and the three-row Santa Fe line is set for a summer 2017 release. Note that the Santa Fe is built from the same basic design as the Sorento crossover, from Hyundai’s corporate partner, Kia. Sorento also comes with seating for five or seven passengers, but in just one body length that roughly splits the difference between the Santa Fe Sport and the just-plain Santa Fe.

The 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe is better than the ….

Kia Sorento, which feels too slow in four-cylinder guise and too cramped in seven-seat, V-6 form; Nissan Pathfinder, a seven-seater let down by its indecisive continuously variable transmission; and Nissan Murano, a five-seater that adds fashion-over-function styling to its CVT woes

The 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe is not as good as the…

Honda Pilot, which sets the class standard among three-row midsize crossovers for overall driveability; Ford Edge, a roomier five-seater with a more complete selection of engines, and the Mazda CX-9, a segment pacesetter for looks and handling, but best treated as a five-seater due to its cramped third row.

What’s Next?

As we outlined, the redesigned 2019 Santa Fe will reprise two- and three-row body sizes, retaining four-cylinder power for the former and a V-6 for the latter. Spy shots of prototypes reveal evolutionary styling for the most part, but suggest markedly different front ends. Expect daytime running lights separated from the headlamps and situated above them, plus new grilles that trade horizontal bars for a pattern of inserts in what Hyundai calls a “cascading” pattern. That style of grille debuted on the 2018 Hyundai Elantra GT compact car. Inside, expect a more contemporary cabin highlighted by a central dashboard infotainment screen mounted tablet-fashion rather than integrated with the instrument panel.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com 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 HowStuffWorks.com, 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]