2024 Hyundai Santa Fe First Drive Review: A Big, Boxy Improvement

The new crossover SUV is familiar under the skin, but a fresh new look and a third row add even more utility.

Front three-quarter view of a white 2024 Hyundai Santa FeTim Stevens

QuickTakes:

The 2023 Hyundai Santa Fe is a nice driver and a practical, small family hauler, but it isn't exactly a head turner. The only place it stands out is in the portfolio of other Hyundai products, where its ambiguous curves make it an outlier amongst all the other edgier, sharper shapes penned by the South Korean manufacturer.

Rear three-quarter view of a white 2024 Hyundai Santa FeTim Stevens

Until now. Meet the 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe, using the same basic recipe as the old one but with significant tweaks. The 2024 Santa Fe's unmistakable design is far more rugged and distinctive than before, but that's not all. A new third row adds a lot of utility, and even if you're not hauling more people, you'll appreciate the added cargo space.

Still, the Santa Fe should fit nicely between Hyundai's smaller Tucson, which starts at around $27,000, and the bigger Palisade, which starts at just over $35,000. Hyundai has not announced the new Santa Fe pricing, but the outgoing model started just below $30,000.

Steering wheel and dashboard in a 2024 Hyundai Santa FeTim Stevens

New Looks, Same Engines in the New Santa Fe

Far and away, the styling is the most significant change to the new Santa Fe. Boxy to an extreme, edgy even in those crosshatch headlights, Hyundai's latest SUV will turn heads. It has a Land Rover vibe from some angles, giving it an air of ruggedness, an attitude it hasn't entirely earned.

That's because underneath, this is still a crossover SUV like the outgoing 2023 Santa Fe, only with a simplified selection of engines. There are just two this year, with the default being a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder offering 277 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque.

Front seats in a 2024 Hyundai Santa FeTim Stevens

The alternative is a conventional hybrid based on a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. Those hoping for a return of the plug-in hybrid model will be disappointed, but at least the Santa Fe Hybrid has more power than the outgoing one: 232 horsepower and 271 lb-ft, up from 178 horses and 195 lb-ft in the 2023 model.

Hyundai hasn't announced the full range of trims for the Santa Fe yet, but expect a similar selection from the base SE up to the top-tier Calligraphy. The more rugged XRT model will also return, getting a 1.5-inch suspension lift and all-terrain tires this year. That model likewise brings the same road-focused all-wheel-drive system, however, meaning this machine is better for commuting than rock crawling.

Hybrid engine in a 2024 Hyundai Santa FeTim Stevens

Hitting the Road in the 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe

I had a chance to sample both engine options on the new Santa Fe, and without a doubt, the 2.5-liter is the more powerful of the two. That engine, mated to an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, offers smoother, more robust power delivery throughout its rev range.

Despite that, the turbocharged hybrid with its six-speed automatic would still be my choice, and I expect it will also be more popular among buyers. The electric motor helps to make up for the lack of power from the small-displacement 1.6-liter engine, meaning throttle response and outright acceleration are better than you'd think. It's only at higher speeds, as on highway on-ramps, where it feels sluggish.

Second row of seats in a 2024 Hyundai Santa FeTim Stevens

It should prove more impressive at the pump, though. While Hyundai hasn't quoted fuel-efficiency figures for these powertrains as installed in the 2024 Santa Fe, the outgoing Santa Fe Hybrid offered an improvement of up to 10 mpg, depending on the trim level.

The 2024 Santa Fe Hybrid I drove was also on the smaller 18-inch wheels and tires, which gave it a slightly better ride quality. It's a smooth-driving SUV with competent, if relaxed, handling.

During windy, stormy weather in South Korea, the Santa Fe was a stalwart cocoon, the heated seats and steering wheel working effectively, and the technology keeping me safe and confident even in the worst Seoul traffic.

Infotainment screen in a 2024 Hyundai Santa FeTim Stevens

An All-New yet Familiar Interior in the 2024 Santa Fe

The 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe takes a page from many of Hyundai's latest machines for the dashboard design, which features 12.3-inch displays joined at the hip.

On the left, a digital gauge cluster sits behind the steering wheel. The display on the right forms the infotainment experience. Hyundai's latest software runs within, offering a clean, quick, and intuitive experience. Better still, it supports wireless connectivity for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

Dual wireless charging pads in a 2024 Hyundai Santa FeTim Stevens

Regarding driver-assistance tech, the new Santa Fe offers the expected safety features and Hyundai's latest Highway Driving Assist system, including advanced lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control. A new driver-monitoring system with an infrared camera that verifies driver alertness is also available. Sadly, it was not functional on the vehicles I tested.

Rear cargo area in a white 2024 Hyundai Santa FeTim Stevens

Thanks to the new Santa Fe's longer wheelbase, second-row legroom improves. However, you'll find the most significant interior change behind the second-row seat, where a new third row makes this crossover SUV suitable for up to seven people. While entry and exit were tricky, I was surprised to find myself reasonably comfortable in the third row.

That boxy rump has further benefits, including 40.5 cubic-feet of cargo space with the third-row seat folded. That's up by 4.1 cu-ft over the outgoing, two-row model.

Side view of a white 2024 Hyundai Santa FeTim Stevens

2024 Hyundai Santa Fe Should Fare Well Against the Competition

Despite the reinvented styling, extra seating, and expanded cargo space, the new Santa Fe drives like the old one. That's not a bad thing by any means. It's comfortable, competent, quiet, and smooth, making it an ideal platform for hauling all sorts of cargo.

That extra room and visual pizazz should give the Santa Fe a leg up on its familiar competitors such as the Toyota RAV4 or Honda CR-V, but the big question is price. As of publication, Hyundai hasn't provided pricing for the 2024 Santa Fe. The 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe hits dealerships in March 2024, while the Santa Fe Hybrid arrives sometime in the spring.

Hyundai provided the vehicle for this review and paid for airfare, lodging, meals, and experiences during the evaluation period.

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Tim Stevens
Tim Stevens is a veteran editor, analyst, and expert in the tech and automotive industries. He helmed a major website's automotive coverage for nine years and acted as its content chief. Prior to that, Tim served as the editorial lead at a tech-oriented site and even led a previous life as an enterprise software architect.