Scott Sturgis’ Driver’s Seat: Sante Fe a contender, but Highlander on top

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Three rows and the truth: 2014 Toyota Highlander vs. 2014 Nissan Rogue vs. 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe

This week: 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe FWD Limited.

Price: An all-wheel-drive Limited model starts at $35,550. A front-wheel-drive version starts at $33,800. (I didn't get the usual sticker with this model.)

Conventional wisdom: likes the “classy interior design; strong V6 engine; lots of standard features for the money; easy-to-use electronic interface; lengthy warranty” but not the “uncomfortable ride quality when loaded; less cargo capacity than some competitors.”

Marketer’s pitch: “Voted best of the bunch [by]. Perfect for your bunch.”

Reality: Nice crossover with plenty of space for hauling people, but a bit of a compromise for hauling stuff if all three rows are used.

Newish look: The 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe is the first of three crossovers compared that carries over from the previous model year. It looks a lot like a giant Sportage, which is not a bad look to have. It’s the cousin of the Kia Sorento. It also comes as Santa Fe Sport, a five-seater.

Up to speed: Acceleration is good. The 3.3-liter V6 produces 290 horsepower, the most of the bunch. Buyers can also have a choice of a 2.4-liter four or 2.0-liter turbo. The six-speed shiftable automatic shifts well, but it’s nothing to write home about either.

On the road: The handling in the Santa Fe is fine, but nothing great. It goes where you point it and handles much better than many other large crossovers.

Play some tunes: The CD player cuts off the beginning of most songs, whether you skip around from song to song or play the CD through. I think I’ve contacted Hyundai and Kia more than a few times on this, and mentioned it in a few columns — to no avail — so I’m not sure you’ll be able to get your dealer to repair this or not. (I guess it’s just time to load my smartphone with songs.) The base stereo in the Sturgis family Kia Soul doesn’t do this; it seems to be limited to upgraded systems.

Keeping cool: The heater controls are pretty easy. Separate buttons raise and lower temperature, and one big dial controls the fan.

Passenger comfort: The Sturgis Kids kept remarking on how comfortable the seats were, which is especially noteworthy because the vehicle had just 1,000 miles on it. Leather seats sometimes take awhile to soften up in new vehicles.

The interior was definitely nicely done. The Santa Fe looked like a much more expensive unit than it was as well.

Entry/​exit: Getting in and out was easy, definitely less embarrassing than the Rogue and a little more so than the Highlander. The bucket seats in the middle row make it even easier to get in and out but sacrifice one of the seating positions, so you only get six instead of seven.

Friends and stuff: Rear seat room is tight, about on par with the Highlander, as is storage space behind the seat. A decent-sized center console offers a great place for storing CDs and whatnot.

Passing zone: Visibility can be tricky and made lane changes a dicey proposition. The big pillar and the little window interfere dramatically.

Night shift: Interior lighting and exterior lighting are very good. The interior lights did not interfere with the view of the road.

Fuel economy: I observed 23 mpg in a wintry mix of suburban and highway driving. A little low for a front-wheel-drive unit, but I might expect a tick or two higher in some better weather.

Where it’s built: Montgomery, Ala.

How it’s built: Consumer Reports puts its predicted reliability at average.

In the end: If you need a vehicle for eight people, the Highlander is the lone choice. The Santa Fe definitely does almost everything quite well. The Rogue delivers impressive fuel economy but sacrifices space.

If I had my choice, I think I’d take the Highlander, for the quality history and the most versatility, the better operating stereo and lack of blind spots. And its price is not that much of a premium over the Santa Fe. But they’re all pretty nice vehicles.


Scott Sturgis, a freelance auto writer, can be reached at

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