Is there a downside to being a single-engine SUV in a turbo-dominated world?

– Montreal, Quebec

Big on the inside, modest on the outside is the sweet spot for a mid-size SUV like the 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe XL, a model that builds on the five-passenger Santa Fe Sport by offering an additional row of seating and copious amounts of cargo space. Savvy to the buying habits of growing families, Hyundai has done its homework in refreshing this largest member of its sport-utility line-up for 2017, ensuring that despite providing room for seven riders, the Santa Fe XL doesn't beef up to the point where it would be intimidating to either drive or park in an urban setting.

In fact, from behind the wheel you'd be hard-pressed to tag the Hyundai Santa Fe XL for the high capacity hauler that it truly is. The automaker's engineers have dialled out much of the SUV's bulk between the suspension and the front left seat, which means drivers don't have to deal with large car dynamics in quite the same way as they would with rivals like the Ford Explorer or Toyota Highlander. The Hyundai provides a competent and comfortable ride that’s more sedan-like than one would expect when first eyeing its ample sheet metal, but even from the outside the XL's relatively low ride height and reasonably-sized wheels provide small clues as to its on-road prowess.

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe XL
2017 Hyundai Santa Fe XL

That heft is, of course, still there.

That heft is, of course, still there whether you feel it or not, which is why the Santa Fe XL comes exclusively with a 3.3-litre V6 engine. Rated at 290 horsepower and 252 lb-ft of torque, and managed by a six-speed automatic transmission, the SUV's output is more than adequate whether the XL is riding empty or packed to the gills with people and gear. All-wheel drive is standard on all but the base model XL FWD model, and it of course includes Hyundai's 50/50 torque lock designed to help get the vehicle out of sticky (or snowy) situations.

Is there a downside to being a single-engine SUV in a turbo-dominated world? Yes and no. While rivals like the previously-mentioned Explorer and even in-house foil the Kia Sorento providing a choice of efficiency-oriented turbocharged drivetrain options (albeit with the caveat that three-row Sorentos also hew to the V6 obligation), the Honda Pilot and the Nissan Pathfinder, for example, require a six-cylinder under the hood as well. All-wheel drive editions like the one I drove for a week show 11.5 L/100 km in combined driving, with my city-heavy cycle showing considerably thirstier behaviour. A turbo four-cylinder might have alleviated some of that burden at the pump.

 

 

The 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe XL has undergone a few design changes in its first refresh since it went on sale four years ago.

Although easily recognizable alongside the previous year's model, the 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe XL has undergone a few design changes in its first refresh since it went on sale four years ago. Updates to the grille, headlights, fog light and running light placement, and rear bumper serve to distinguish the latest XL from the one that preceded it, and the overall effect is pleasing and in keeping with the look found on more recent Hyundai sedans and SUVs.

Inside the Santa Fe XL's cabin it's largely status quo, with the typical blend of Hyundai plastics (soft touch and otherwise) mixing with wood trim on the dash as well as chrome accents surrounding HVAC vents and the vehicle's infotainment system. The touchscreen unit - also updated for this year - is easy to use and pleasant to look at, but the general dashboard layout and interior panels found throughout the XL's passenger compartment are more practical than pretty. This isn't necessarily a negative - it's a logical layout, and even the leather seats in my Limited trim tester will clean up well after the kids have been inside - but it's not quite as haute couture as what can be found in other similarly-sized SUVs.

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe XL
2017 Hyundai Santa Fe XL
2017 Hyundai Santa Fe XL
2017 Hyundai Santa Fe XL

Most buyers will be more interested in how much room the Hyundai Santa Fe XL has to offer.

Of course most buyers will be more interested in how much room the Hyundai Santa Fe XL has to offer, rather than its qualifications as a fashion plate, and it’s here that the vehicle doesn't disappoint. With over 2,265 litres of cargo space available after both rear rows of seating have been folded forward (including a flat load floor behind the second row), the Hyundai is near the top of the list in terms of total storage capacity. Passenger room is good, too, with a child-friendly way-back accessible via the flip-and-slide second row captain's chairs (optional) or middle bench, depending on whether you want to transport six or seven riders.

As always, value remains a strong aspect of the Hyundai brand. The Santa Fe XL crams as many features inside its generous dimensions as any of the other major SUV players, and it does so at a price point that reflects its budget-friendly leanings. For those seeking a low-frills people mover, the base XL FWD checks in with a $32,00 price tag and manages to include an LCD touchscreen, rearview camera, heated seats, and Bluetooth connectivity (Hyundai has also added extra active safety to the options list for 2017, with automatic forward braking a highlight). The well-equipped Limited I drove starts at under $45,000, with even a full-load XL topping out at less than $50,000 - a number that looms large until you consider the existence of the Explorer Platinum at a further $10k premium. With such a wide stance that straddles both the top and the bottom of the market, and considering its compelling practicality and comfort, the Santa Fe XL is worthy of consideration for all but the most luxury-seeking family shopper.

Competitors:
Ford Explorer
Chevrolet Traverse
Nissan Pathfinder
Toyota Highlander
Honda Pilot

Photos: Benjamin Hunting

Hyundai Santa Fe XL

Engine 3.3-litre V6
Output 290 hp / 252 lb-ft
Transmission 6-speed automatic
0-100 KPH 7.0 seconds
Fuel Economy 13.0 City / 9.7 Highway / 11.5 Combined L/100 km
Weight 1,908 kilograms (4,198 lbs)
Seating Capacity 6
Cargo Volume 2,265 litres (80.0 cubic feet)
Base Price $32,199
As-Tested Price $44,799

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