Jun 10, 2024 - Business

What we're driving: The 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe

Image of a brass-colored 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe SUV parked on a dusty road in Death Valley National Park

Our 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe test car, in Death Valley National Park. Photo: Joann Muller

I recently visited seven U.S. national parks, and came to appreciate their incredible diversity — no two are the same, so it's impossible to rank them against one another.

  • That couldn't be said for the cars in their visitor parking lots, which were packed with rows of lookalike SUVs.

Why it matters: Sport-utility vehicles (and softer-riding "crossover utilities," or CUVs) have surpassed sedans as America's most dominant car species.

  • Yet it's becoming harder to tell them apart. There are various reasons for this (most of them regulatory), but the upshot is that most SUVs are indistinguishable.

Amid this sea of sameness, at least the 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe I was test-driving stood out.

  • Its bold, boxy contours, distinctive front end and gorgeous "Earthy Brass Matte" paint job turned heads everywhere we went.

The big picture: That's on point for Hyundai, which (along with its sister brands, Kia and Genesis) has been quietly taking over America's driveways with fresh designs, clever tech and affordable prices.

  • The Santa Fe used to be a nondescript blob too — but the fifth-generation version is about as stunning an overhaul as any I've seen.
  • Besides the squared-off exterior, the new Santa Fe is longer, with a spacious, upscale cabin, user-friendly technology and three rows of seating for up to seven passengers.
  • And its huge tailgate opening — nearly six inches wider than its predecessor — means you can fit more gear, or even a couple sleeping bags with the second- and third-row seats folded flat.

The top-end Calligraphy model I drove isn't designed to go barreling across sand dunes or crawling up rock formations.

  • But it had just the right blend of comfort and adventure for our trip, whether we were exploring gravel roads in Utah or chauffeuring six adults to dinner in — appropriately enough — Santa Fe.

By the numbers: The Santa Fe's 2.5-liter turbocharged engine is rated at up to 24 miles per gallon overall, but we saw a solid 27 mpg on the highway.

  • A future hybrid version promises up to 36 mpg.

Zoom in: I liked that I didn't need a step ladder to get into the Santa Fe. In fact, it feels more like a modern station wagon than a high-riding SUV.

  • And the striking interior on higher-end versions includes a curved panoramic dashboard display that's both beautiful and easy to operate.
  • I appreciated the colorful head-up display on the windshield and the multitude of driver-assist technologies.

Yes, but: The driver-monitoring system was a nuisance.

  • I kept accidentally blocking the infrared camera on the steering column with my arm, triggering frequent warnings to pay attention.

Other thoughtful features include a multi-function console bin that's bi-directional — rear passengers have their own drawer and can access the bin via a reverse-hinged lid.

  • We also appreciated the dual wireless charging pads on the center console, and were intrigued by a second glove box that turned out to be a UV sterilization tray for phones, wallets and other germ-y items.

Caveat: The Santa Fe comes in 11 colors, including two with a matte paint finish.

  • Cars with matte paint look cool, providing a flat, somewhat menacing look versus most cars' typical sheen.
  • But I brushed up against a shrub in a crowded scenic pull-off, which left small scratches that were only visible in certain light, but couldn't be rubbed out.
  • I'd avoid the matte finish and stick with the traditional shiny paint.

The bottom line: Priced from $33,950 to $48,800, the new Hyundai Santa Fe is a distinctive choice that's versatile, thoughtful and affordable.

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