New rover-like Hyundai Santa Fe escapes city life for open adventure
Hyundai Motor Group is clearly feeling the rugged off-roader trend. Not so long after the introduction of the boxed-out Kia EV9, Hyundai has dramatically reworked its Santa Fe midsize SUV into a more rugged, adventure-focused all-wheeler. The fifth-generation Santa Fe debuted on Thursday, showing hard, squared panels, a stretched wheelbase, a determined H-bar glare, bulging fenders, and a host of concept accessories that transform it into a full-blown adventure machine. Hyundai also promises a roomy "terrace-like living space" inspired by camping.
For reference, here's a look at the outgoing 2023 Santa Fe – very much a rounded, soft-edged crossover that will vanish quietly in a mall parking lot full of mom-mobiles. The all-new fifth-gen Santa Fe stands in stark contrast to that design, showing a stronger, bolder design than the larger Palisade. The first look we saw brought to mind Toyota's refocused Land Cruiser 250, while the photo at the top reminds us more of a Land Rover Defender decked out with full-length roof rack and accessory side pod.
That top photo is actually what Hyundai is calling the Santa Fe XRT Concept, and sadly it says there's no plans for mass production. The XRT is currently the most rugged, outdoorsy Santa Fe trim, and if we use the concept as even a loose guide, the gen-5 Santa Fe XRT trim should prove more rugged than ever.
Hyundai began the Santa Fe's dramatic redesign in an unlikely way, starting at the oft-overlooked rear-end rather than inside or up front. It widened out the tailgate area with the goal of making it more friendly to outdoor adventurer types, a strategy that results in a flat, roomy floor that feels inspired by a camper van, something Hyundai has some experience with outside North America.
The rest of the new Santa Fe's boxy form follows the rear-end's lead along a flat roofline angled ever-so-slightly downward, down the windshield and over a level hood supported by a vertical front end. On the sides, the powerful fender flares are joined by strong, straight belt and character lines. The 190.2-in (483-cm) SUV should be a welcome sight for anyone missing the upright strength of old-school midsize utility vehicles.
Along with a creating a tailgate area good for enjoying a morning cup within one's natural surrounds, Hyundai's lengthening and widening create what the company calls class-leading interior space. Both the second and third rows offer more legroom than the outgoing Santa Fe, and the reclining third row gains 2.7 inches (6.9 cm) of additional headroom courtesy of the higher, straight-shooting roof. The second row features optional power-reclining independent seats with armrests, and the front passenger seat gets extra cozy with an available leg rest.
"The all-new Santa Fe is an SUV that finds a perfect balance between city life and the great outdoors, handling everything from busy family itineraries to camping adventures," said SangYup Lee, Hyundai executive VP and global design center chief. "With its longer wheelbase, roomy interior and terrace-like tailgate space, the new Santa Fe leans into its SUV strengths to offer more versatility than ever before with a premium customer experience."
In North America (and South Korea), Hyundai will offer the Santa Fe with buyer's choice of 277-hp 2.5-liter turbo or 178-hp 1.6-liter hybrid powertrain. A plug-in hybrid will join the 1.6-liter hybrid as the European options. Driver-assistance tech will include forward collision avoidance, lane following assist, nav-based smart cruise control, driver attention monitoring, rear passenger reminder and more.
Sales of the all-new Santa Fe will start first in South Korea this month, expanding to North America and Europe in the first half of 2024.