Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 11.27.46 AMWe’re currently a one-car family, so anytime CarseatBlog asks if I’d like to review a vehicle, my response is always an emphatic, “Well duh!” It’s nice having an extra car for a week, but it’s even nicer when I wind up really liking the car…although that also makes it hard to say good-bye when my time is up.

I recently had the pleasure of driving a 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe, and I have to say: I fell in love with it. And I really didn’t want to part with it, but I gave it back because I have a clean record and would like to keep it that way.  Hyundai confirms that there are no significant changes for the 2015 Santa Fe, other than some minor marketing changes to various options packages.

Now, I’ll admit that I might not be that hard to impress when it comes to cars. Like I said, we’re a one-car family, and the one car we have is pretty basic (a 2010 Honda Odyssey with no frills). I’m like a love-starved teenager who falls for any boy who gives her attention, only replace “love-starved teenager” with “harried mom,” replace “boy” with “car,” and replace “gives her attention” with “has a blind-spot detection system.” But it’s different with the Santa Fe. I really, really love it. We’re soul-mates, I swear.

Perhaps I’m being a bit hyperbolic, but there really is a lot to like.

The Santa Fe I drove was a six-passenger model with two seats each of three rows. There is also an available seven-passenger model with a bench seat instead of captain’s chairs in the second row. At first I thought I might have liked that more, but the six-passenger model turned out to be great for us. My oldest child could easily walk between the captain’s chairs to get to the third row, and he likes having his own space. You can also access the third row thusly:

The first thing I noticed about the Santa Fe was how sleek it looked on the outside. Like a lot of SUVs these days, it looks more aerodynamic than boxy. When the rep opened the door, I was a little startled to see a brown interior paired with the silver exterior. I actually thought it was an ugly combination, but I wasn’t about to complain.

When I got in to take it for a spin, I started it using the keyless ignition and it played me a little song. I’m sure after a while I’d stop noticing that (and it might even get annoying) but I got a kick out of it during my week with the Santa Fe. It made me kind of happy to have a musical greeting played. (It also plays a little good-bye tune when you turn it off.)

IMG_0128Pairing my phone via bluetooth took less than a minute, and then I was good to go. I couldn’t resist opening the panoramic sunroof. I’m not generally a sunroof kind of person, but opening that baby up made it feel almost like being in a convertible.

Maybe it’s because I drive a boring minivan, but the Santa Fe felt like a sporty, agile car in terms of drive and handling. It had good pep, lots of zip, and zoomed around turns effortlessly. There are actually three different drive modes you can choose from (Normal, Sport, and Comfort). Sport makes the steering a little stiffer, while Comfort requires the least effort. I didn’t notice much difference between Comfort and Normal, though Sport did take just a little more effort. After I played with all three modes, I left it in Normal. Given more time and more driving situations I might have played with those options more, but I’m not picky about such things.

The model I had came with a backup camera and parking sensors, which are hugely important to a person like me who isn’t very good at parking. It was especially handy when I drove it into Chicago and needed to parallel park.

The best feature, though, is the blind-spot detection system. At first I didn’t even realize it was equipped (I, uh, didn’t read the manual before I started driving), but on my way back from Chicago I noticed a little thingy lighting up in my sideview mirror. I realized it was an indicator letting me know as soon as a car on either side approached the back of the car, and it would stay lit until the other car had passed the front window. If I put on my turn signal (in the direction of the passing car) during that time, a beep will sound, letting me know it wasn’t yet safe to change lanes. Blind spots always make me nervous, so I absolutely adored that feature.  Also included with this feature are rear cross-traffic and lane departure alerts.  It is standard on Limited trim and a $3500 option in the Premium Package for GLS trim.IMG_0171

Other nice features on my model included heated front and second-row seats, heated mirror, navigation, dual climate-control zones, and a communication system that allows you to get directions, send text messages by voice, and request roadside assistance.

Although the Santa Fe didn’t provide as much storage space as my Odyssey does, it was sufficient for what I needed. I would have had a lot more room without the third row in use but even with it occupied, we were ok. It was a little tight, but I could fit my stroller (a Baby Jogger City Mini) and my daughter’s dance bag in behind the third row. With half of the third row folded down, I was able to transport a few extra car seats.

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The center console is spacious and well laid-out (unlike a certain minivan I might drive) and I loved that there was a space perfect for holding a cell phone right by the power outlet.

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Gas milage is 20 mpg (18 city, 24 highway) which is about what I’d expect from a midsize SUV. The 2014 Santa Fe still hasn’t been crash-tested by NHTSA, but IIHS gives it its best rating of “good” in four categories: front-moderate overlap, side, roof strength, and head restraints & seats. It has not yet been tested in the small-overlap category. The fully-loaded Limited model I drove has a sticker price of just over $41,000, but the base model starts just under $30,000.  You can get a 7-passenger 2WD GLS trim with all the safety goodies, leather seats, power liftgate, dual zone climate control with CleanAir Ionizer, side window sunshades and a few other Premium Package options for about $34,000 MSRP, or a street price of about $31K.

Here is Darren’s quick video review to give you an overview. Continue down below to read about how car seats install in the Santa Fe.

Car Seats

If you’re reading this blog, you probably want to know how the Santa Fe does with car seats. Turns out: Very well.

There are two sets of LATCH (lower anchors and a top tether) in the captain’s chairs, plus a third tether on the passenger side in the third row. (If you get the seven-passenger version, all three tethers are in the second row with none in the third.)

The belt stalks are short but flexible, meaning that most car seats will install easily without the buckle interfering with the belt path, while also allowing booster-riders to buckle easily.

The captain’s chairs’ tether anchors are located mid-way down the seats, which I prefer to the ones in our Odyssey, which are down at the very bottom of the seatback.

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The manual does have a warning about placing heavy objects in the seatback pockets or against the front seats, so bracing rear-facing car seats against the front vehicle seats is out.

The second-row headrests are removable, although they take a little effort. If you try lifting them straight up, you’ll find the headrests hitting the ceiling without giving you enough clearance to get them off. If you recline the seat a bit, though, you can slide them right out.

As in most vehicles with a third row, the Santa Fe’s third row is very short. Tall, older children or adults might find their knees in their faces. However, for harnessed kids or booster riders, it’s fine. Since the second row captain’s chairs adjust forward and backward, the third row can be quite roomy, and since there are only two seats back there, there’s a lot of width, too.

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During the week we had the vehicle, my kids rode in a few different seats, and I had no trouble installing any of them. My youngest rode in a rear-facing Graco Size4Me, while my oldest rode in the third row in a backless Diono Monterey or a backless Graco Turbobooster. My daughter rode in the second row in a Britax Frontier 85 SICT and a Recaro Performance Sport.

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I also installed a Graco Snugride, a Britax Advocate, and a KidsEmbrace Ninja Turtle seat. They all installed quickly and easily in any allowable configuration.

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The Santa Fe proved wonderful for a rear-facing tether spot. Effortless!

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The third-row headrests also played beautifully with the seats I tried back there. It looks like the Britax Frontier 90 and Recaro Performance Sport were made for that spot–no interference at all.

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The only issue I had was with the Cybex Q-Fix booster in the second row. The Q-Fix is very clear about needing complete contact between the back of the booster and the vehicle’s seatback. Because of the contoured design of the captain’s chair that causes it to puff out at the sides, the booster couldn’t sit flush against the seat. This is an issue with the Q-Fix in many contoured vehicle seats, though, so I can’t fault the Santa Fe for this one.

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A few other notes of interest: Along with the manual came some neat supplemental material. One was a card reminding people to properly restrain children.

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There was also a really neat booklet demonstrating how airbags work. It was very cool! These are excerpts from the parts about children and airbags, but they had pages for adults, too, showing different kinds of airbags.

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Top Likes:

  • Carseat-friendly all around in 6-passenger trim (Limited)
  • 7-passenger version available (GLS) with 40/20/40 2nd row bench
  • Good value for its class
  • Standard backup camera
  • Smooth drive and handling
  • Standard BlueLink includes crash notification and hands-free bluetooth
  • Blind Spot, Lane Departure and Cross Traffic Warning available on base trim
  • Above average Fuel Economy (18city/24hwy/20 mpg overall with AWD)

Top Dislikes:

  • No NHTSA Crash Test Results, incomplete IIHS results
  • Only 2 LATCH positions + 1 extra top tether in 7-passenger trim
  • Frontal Crash Warning/Auto-brake not available
  • Third row access and comfort limited mostly to kids

Conclusion

My whole family loved the Santa Fe, and the only thing I could find to complain about was the brown interior paired with the silver exterior. It’s great for car seats, looks luxurious, and handles beautifully. If we find ourselves in the market for an SUV anytime soon, the Santa Fe will be at the top of our list.

Hyundai provided the Santa Fe for our review, but CarseatBlog did not receive any other compensation, and all opinions are my own.