2024 Hyundai Santa Fe First Look: Working From Back to Front

Hyundai recently had us out to, er, Santa Fe, New Mexico, to get our first in-depth look at its all-new, big, brawny, and boxy 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe. No, we aren’t making that up. But beyond the blindingly obvious and all too irresistible location to launch its potentially game-changing new SUV, Santa Fe and its environs actually made a lot of sense as a backdrop.

The fifth-generation Hyundai Santa Fe is being pitched as a vehicle tailored to the glampy outdoor lifestyle. We were bombarded with all manner of images and video clips of it blazing down a two-track desert trail, dust billowing behind, much like you might see in, say, Santa Fe. Millennial families were depicted all cozied up in the new Santa Fe’s huge and completely redesigned rear cargo area with its new three-row arrangement, reading a book or stringing up lights by a campfire—idyllic scenes designed to elicit a spirit of adventure and oneness with nature that the people of Santa Fe have come to embody.

But beyond the glitzy marketing and “open for more” sloganeering, can the new 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe live up to the hype the company is creating around it?

Working With the Gray Space

One Hyundai employee at the 2024 Santa Fe launch whose Kool-Aid we were drinking by the quart was SangYup Lee. The personable head of Hyundai and Genesis design is a dyed-in-the wool car guy who not only is a student of automotive history, but also a passionate advocate for Hyundai’s consumers. It shows all over the new Santa Fe, starting at the rear of the vehicle. Hyundai made a big deal about designing the SUV from the inside out and back to front, and everything from the tailgate forward was developed to maximize space in an effort to create more utility.

According to Lee, the company looked to big data to examine future trends when it started developing the Santa Fe, which indicated the outdoor lifestyle was becoming more of a thing. It informed how Hyundai developed the vehicle. “The SUV’s tailgate and cargo space can easily be transformed into the lifestyle space, so we wanted to maximize tailgate space in order [for customers] to do a lot of different activities,” Lee said.

Indeed, beginning with a wheelbase that’s roughly 2 inches longer than before, Lee and his team completely rethought how to reconfigure the new Santa Fe’s rear packaging, in particular areas such as the metal “gray space,” located between the edge of the interior opening of the tailgate and the actual tailgate’s shutline. By narrowing that space, it allowed the design team to create a significantly wider overall opening. The team also repositioned and redesigned the tailgate’s hinges, lift cylinders, and rear lighting to further aid the spatial and usability causes.

Lee’s proud not only of the re-engineered rear opening and cargo space, but also the flatter load floor when the second and third rows are down. And from an exterior styling standpoint, he’s super jazzed about the Santa Fe’s new rear light banks located in the bumper area, a cue that’s reminiscent of several SUVs produced in the ’80s. Everything old is new again.

Box Is the Santa Fe’s Botox

You could say similar things about the 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe’s overall style, a look that harkens back to several squared-off SUVs of yore, with modern, updated touches. Call it a botoxed box. What jumps out at you from the first glance at its face are the H-pattern LED headlamps (the lights can do a choreographed dance as you approach, and they’re H-shaped at the rear, as well), and a lower trim piece that forms an elongated H. It’s not just a style thing, either, as there are several elements in the vehicle’s frontal area that aid with airflow.

Despite its blocky look, the Santa Fe’s 0.29 drag coefficient is hugely impressive, and engineers said aerodynamic lessons learned from its recent electric vehicles helped lower the number. At the sides, Lee emphasized the profile’s smooth approach with a lack of busy lines. One of the vehicle’s standout exterior features is an integrated exterior grab handle in the C-pillar space that aids with accessing the roof area. The Santa Fe models we saw were shod with 21-inch wheel and tire packages, though 18s and 20s will likely be available, too. Eleven available color schemes are highlighted by earthy tones, including two we saw: Terracotta Orange and Rockwood Green Pearl.

The new Santa Fe’s higher roofline allows for more headroom for the second row (captain’s chairs and a 60/40 bench are available) and passengers are also treated to more legroom than before. For a vehicle that’s marketed as a midsize SUV, we found the third row to be spacious enough to seat ample-sized adults in relative comfort. Hyundai told us the 2024 Santa Fe’s overall cargo space is class-leading and far bigger than the outgoing model’s 72 cubic feet, and we saw nothing to dispute that in our time with the vehicle.

Cockpit Filled With Firsts

Once you step inside and settle into the driver’s seat (a “relaxation” seat with a leg rest is available for the front seats), you’re borderline overwhelmed by how much has changed from the outgoing model. One of the bigger moves Hyundai engineers made was relocating the shift lever to the steering column, which further opened up the center console to not one, but two—count ’em, two!—wireless phone charging pads, backed up by a pair of copious cupholders.

Underneath all that is another large space designed to hold more of your stuff. There’s even a UV-C sanitizer tray in the upper passenger glove compartment to help sterilize gear like your phone, one of multiple passenger-oriented stowage spaces. Another super cool feature in the Santa Fe’s front row is the first-of-its-kind center storage cover that can open either from the front or the rear, making second-row access possible.

Replacing the outgoing Santa Fe’s instrument panel and infotainment screen is a digital widescreen arrangement with two 12.3 inch screens oriented squarely toward the driver—the kind of tech that’s becoming widely available in newer vehicles. But while the punchy graphics and touchscreens provide plenty of pop, according to Lee, the team made sure to keep key functions available via hard-push buttons. “The safety-related buttons are all hard case. It has to be because it has to be intuitive,” Lee said. “Eyes on the road, hands on the wheel.”

As for the interior’s general design aesthetic, the H-pattern theme carries through to the interior air vents and dashboard elements, creating an inside-out symmetry. Each row gets more than its share of vents and cupholders and charging ports that are competitive with the Santa Fe’s SUV competition. Materials and fit and finish in the vehicles we examined were luxury leaning in their overall appearance and execution.

Hyundai also offers a laundry list of standard and available safety, convenience, and advanced driver assistance technology for the new Santa Fe, including an advanced smartphone key feature, new driver-attention systems, all manner of lane keeping, blind-spot warning, and other safety nannies, and the latest iterations of its smart cruise control and driving assist.

Under the Hood Not Quite as Good

There’s so much going on inside and out with the 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe that it’s easy to lose sight of what powers and underpins it, and perhaps that’s by design. Company officials weren’t all that eager to showcase this side of the new SUV, and that’s because most of it isn’t new.

Although versions of all four of the existing Santa Fe’s powertrain options will be available worldwide, only two are confirmed for the U.S. model thus far. A massaged version of the automaker’s 2.5-liter turbo inline-four paired with an eight-speed twin-clutch automatic will be the volume-sales powertrain. The engineering team was duly proud it got the engine certified as super low emissions (SULEV 30) while keeping the power roughly the same as the existing version’s 277 horsepower and 311 lb-ft of torque, an achievement that took more than a fair amount of development work. The other is the base hybrid with its 1.6-liter turbo-four plus electric motor and six-speed automatic, which also looks to provide roughly the same output as the present Santa Fe at 178 hp and 195 lb-ft.

Both powertrains should be less potent than before due to the fact the new Santa Fe, at least from what has been reported so far, will be on the order of 600 pounds heavier than the present model, depending on trim. It’s a far bigger vehicle now, and by extension that makes it a lot heavier, despite significant weight-saving measures. But beyond that, Hyundai, like every other automaker on the planet, is rushing headlong toward the full electrification of its fleet. This is almost certainly the last time we’ll see a gas-powered engine in a Santa Fe, or even a base hybrid, for that matter. Hyundai’s no doubt hedging its bets that what the new Santa Fe offers as a whole will overshadow the powertrains. It’s a good bet.

Other than the power, Hyundai made some minor hardware changes, most notably updates to bushings and other areas to improve noise, vibration, and harshness. Overall vehicle stiffness is improved, as are steering components, and there’s a new variable-frequency damping system that helped engineers better tune the suspension for on- and light off-road duty. Although its major suspension components are largely carryover from the outgoing Santa Fe, the changes should make for a slightly better-handling SUV.

The takeaway: Don’t expect the base 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe to attack any hardcore trails. Yes, this is a vehicle designed with outdoor lifestyle types in mind, but for light off-roading at best. That said, at the event, Hyundai showed off a beast-mode XRT model that looked as though it could go Rubicon hunting tomorrow. Everyone was tight-lipped about it, but it certainly appears Hyundai is more than thinking about producing an XRT Santa Fe that may actually be capable of big-boy off-pavement action. We’ll see.

When Will the New 2024 Santa Fe Be Here and for How Much?

Hyundai is in the process of launching the 2024 Santa Fe in Korea right now, but it’ll take another six months or so before we see it on sale here, sometime early in 2024. Pricing and other final details will be revealed just prior to its official-ish U.S. launch in November, but expect it to start somewhere in the $45,000 range and move up from there.

The new Santa Fe is a huge swing from Hyundai. It’s an SUV that already has tongues wagging, and in a segment where standing out is more than half the battle, that’s huge. Add to that its myriad upgrades in areas customers typically care about the most, and it’s shaping up to be a vehicle you may eventually see running down a dusty trail in the wilds of Santa Fe, looking for adventure.

2024 Hyundai Santa Fe Specifications
BASE PRICE$45,000-$47,000 (est)
LAYOUTFront engine, FWD/AWD, 6-7-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINES2.5L/275-hp (est)/305-lb-ft (est) turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4; 1.6L direct-injected turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4, plus permanent-magnet electric motor, 178 hp plus 59 hp (elec); 226 hp (comb); 226 hp/195 lb-ft comb (est)
TRANSMISSIONS8-speed twin-clutch automatic; 6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT4,750-4,905 lb (mfr)
L x W x H190.2 x 74.8 x 67.7 in
0-60 MPH7.3-8.6 sec (mfr est)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON22-33/28-30/25-32 mpg (est)
EPA RANGE, COMB450-560 miles (est)
ON SALEWinter 2024

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