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

2018 Hyundai Santa Fe

2018 Hyundai Santa Fe

What changes will make the 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe different?

None likely, because this generation of Hyundai’s midsize crossover SUV is heading into its final season before a full model-year 2019 redesign. The ’18 version will cruise on updates that came on line for model-year ’17, including freshened styling, better fuel economy, and new safety systems. The all-new 2019 model will have more extensive changes. Last fully redesigned for model-year 2013, this crossover leads a sort of double life. As the Santa Fe Sport, it’s a five-seater that competes with the likes of the compact-class Chevrolet Equinox and Jeep Cherokee. Marketed 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.

Why should I wait for the 2018?

Little reason to. Neither the 2018 Santa Fe nor the Santa Fe Sport will look or act differently than their 2017 counterparts. They almost certainly will cost more, however. And given the approaching model-year ’19 redesign, their styling, engineering, and features will have a shorter shelf life. On the upside, Hyundai and its dealers should be floating some great late-model- year-’18 deals to clear inventories for the approaching all-new 2019s. Info on the next generation Santa Fe is sparse, but sales have been healthy under the two-vehicles/one-root- name strategy, so the automaker will probably keep it. Expect the Sport to continue with a four-cylinder- engine-only lineup and to again bridge the compact- and midsize-crossover classes. The redesigned Santa Fe reportedly will keep its 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, becoming sufficiently wide to 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.

Should I buy a 2017 model instead?

If either version strikes your fancy, might as well. The model-year 2017 freshening will see them through the end of this design generation, and buying a ’17 helps you avoid the inevitable model-year price escalation. The freshening gave both Santa Fe iterations cosmetic revisions to nose and tail and brought them abreast of the segment’s safety leaders by adding such features as autonomous emergency braking. Three of four Santa Fe buyers pick the Sport model. It’s less expensive than the seven-seater and while it’s marginally bigger than most compact-class crossovers, it’s smaller than any midsize crossover. The just-plain Santa Fe is longer than the Sport by 8.6 inches overall and by 3.9 inches in wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear axles). It’s dimensionally about midpack for a midsize crossover.

The 2017 lineup for both the Sport and Santa Fe should carry over to 2018. The Sport comes in base trim with a naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine and in Sport 2.0T and dressier Sport 2.0T Ultimate grades with a turbocharged four-cylinder. The Santa Fe lineup begins with the SE grade and ascends through SE Ultimate, Limited, and Limited Ultimate trims. All use a V-6 engine and, like every version of the Sport, come with a six-speed automatic transmission and a choice of front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (AWD).

Will the styling be different?

No, except for possible changes in exterior-color choices. The ’18s will carry over model-year 2017’s subtle but effective freshening. It updated the nose via a brushed-finished grille, new headlamps, and newly available LED daytime running lights and fog lamps. The tail got a reshaped fascia, revised lights, and a new dual-outlet exhaust. To bolster the brand-family resemblance with other Hyundais, particularly the compact Tuscon crossover, both Santa Fe models also gained silver-accented rocker panels and new-look 17-, 18-, and 19-inch alloy wheels.

Both Santa Fes will continue with pleasing cabins and well-laid- out instrument panels. The ’17 refresh brought a revised dashboard center-control stack. It’ll repeat 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 will again seat four adults in comfort and squeeze three across in back. The 2018 Santa Fe SE and SE Ultimate should continue with a three-passenger second-row bench while the Limited and Limited Ultimate substitute a pair of buckets, reducing their capacity to six. Santa Fe’s two-place third-row bench best suits teenage-and- younger physiques. For cargo volume, the Sport is proportionate to a compact-class crossover, while the Santa Fe is competitive with other three-row midsizers.

Any mechanical changes?

Not until the 2019-model redesign. The ’18s will carry over changes that were part of the 2017 refresh. It decreased power for the Santa Fe Sport and added driver-selected performance modes to all versions of this crossover. Revisions to the Sport engines improved fuel economy and driveability. For ’18, the base Sport model will continue with a 2.4-liter of 185 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque; that’s down from the 2016’s 190 horsepower and 181 pound-feet. The 2018 Sport 2.0T models will reprise a turbocharged 2.0-liter with 240 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, a drop from 2016’s 265 and 269, respectively. The power decrease was offset by lower-rpm peak outputs, which helped throttle response from low and moderate speeds with little noticeable loss in actual acceleration. The 2.4 will again deliver adequate if uninspired performance and the turbo 2.0 will again feel quite lively.

The three-row 2018 Santa Fe will return with an unchanged 3.3-liter V-6, again with 290 horsepower and 252 pound-feet of torque. It delivers smooth, prompt acceleration, feeling sleepy only when saddled with a full load of passengers and cargo. All models will continue with a six-speed automatic as their sole transmission. The ’17 refresh gave every version of both Santa Fes Hyundai’s Drive Mode Select system. It furnishes 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 feels very synthetic.

All 2018 Santa Fe and Sport models will again be available with an AWD system that furnishes power to the front wheels in normal driving and automatically shuffles it to the rears 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.

Will fuel economy improve?

With no mechanical changes, probably not. The Santa Fe Sport’s 2016 powertrain adjustments brought a modest but welcome 1-2 mpg gain, drawing its EPA ratings even with most five-seat midsize-class rivals. For 2018, expect the base version to again rate 21/27/24 mpg city/highway/combined with front-wheel drive and 20/26/22 with AWD. The Sport 2.0T should again rate 20/28/23 mpg with front drive and 19/26/22 with AWD. The slightly heavier, feature-laden Ultimate versions should remain at 20/27/23 mpg with front-drive and 19/24/21 with AWD.

Ratings for the Santa Fe SE and SE Ultimate should also be unchanged, at 18/25/21 mpg with front-drive and 18/24/20 mpg with AWD. Same for the Limited and Limited Ultimate, at 17/23/20 and 17/22/29, respectively. All versions of this crossover will again be tuned for 87-octane gas.

Will it have new features?

The South Korean automaker might shuffle availability among trim levels, but it isn’t likely to introduce new features after the 2017 freshening brought some important updates. Primary among them were significant safety items that’ll carry over for 2018, including a Tech Package that includes key accident avoidance features. It was newly available for Sport 2.0T models and the SE Ultimate and Limited versions of the larger Santa Fe. We’d encourage Hyundai to spread it to other model grades for 2018 because it includes autonomous emergency braking that can automatically bring the crossover to a stop if the driver fails to react quickly enough to avoid hitting another car, obstruction, or even a pedestrian. This helps merit Tech Package models the coveted Top Safety Pick+ award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The package also includes 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. Every 2018 Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport will again come standard with a rearview camera. Again optional will be a multi-camera setup that provides a top-down view of the vehicle and its surroundings.

How will 2018 prices be different?

Expect a nominal increase, with Hyundai compelling to stay competitive as Santa Fe sales plateaued during 2016 along with those of the midsize-crossover class as a whole. Estimated base listed here include Hyundai’s destination fee, which was $895 on the ’16 Santa Fes.

Expect the 2018 Santa Fe Sport to start around $26,650 with front-wheel drive and around $27,400 with AWD. Popular options should again include the 2.4L Popular Equipment Package (around $1,500). It would add the 7-inch display with Android Auto, Hyundai Blue Link hands-free connectivity, a power driver’s seat, dual automatic climate control, LED daytime running lights, and fog lamps. Order that and you should continue to be eligible for the 2.4L Premium Equipment Package (around $3,550). Among its additions would again be leather upholstery and heated front seats, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alerts, power front passenger seat, a sliding second-row seat, keyless entry with pushbutton ignition, and an electroluminescent gauge cluster. Expect the 2.4L Tech Package (figure $3,650) to again require the Premium package and include a panoramic moonroof, imbedded GPS navigation with an 8-inch display, multi-view rear backup camera and rear parking sensor, memory driver’s seat and mirrors, heated steering wheel, and heated and cooled front seats.

Estimated base price for the 2018 Santa Fe Sport 2.0T is $32,995 with front-drive and $34,650 with AWD. In addition to its turbocharged engine, it should again include everything in the 2.4L Sport Premium Equipment Package, plus 18-inch alloy wheels versus 17s. Look for the Sport 2.0T Ultimate to be priced from around $39,450 with front-drive and from $39,450 with AWD. It should basically add the content of the 2.4L Tech Package, plus such features as 19-inch alloys, xenon headlamps and LED taillights. The 2.0T Ultimate Tech Package (about $1,550) should again get you the safety features described above.

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 will again essentially be 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. Similarly, picture the 2018 Santa Fe Limited and Limited Ultimate as larger siblings of their Santa Fe Sport counterparts. Estimated base price for the 2018 Santa Fe Limited is $36,250 with front-drive and $37,995 with AWD. For the 2018 Santa Fe Limited Ultimate, figure starting prices of around $40,695 with front-drive and $42,450 with AWD.

When will it come out?

Expect a release date for the 2018 Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport in the first half of 2017.

Top competitors

For the five-passenger Santa Fe Sport: Ford Escape and Edge, Jeep Cherokee and Grand Cherokee, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5. For the seven-passenger Santa Fe: Ford Explorer, Dodge Durango, Honda Pilot, Kia Sorento, Mazda CX-9, Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota Highlander.

What change would make it better?

More accurate steering and sharper handling, and just maybe a new naming scheme. All that could come with the model-year 2019 redesign. These are two distinct crossovers, the Sport aimed at singles and young families, the Santa Fe at traditional midsize crossover broods. We wouldn’t be surprised if Hyundai retains Santa Fe Sport, or just Santa Fe, for the five passenger model, and comes up with a new name for the enlarged next-gen version of its three-row SUV.

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 chuck.giametta@carpreview.com