2017 Santa Fe

The rain was pounding and interminable along I-185 and failed to let up as the 2019 Santa Fe XL continued traversing southwest through west Georgia and into Alabama along U.S. Route 431. The torrential rain had already severely impacted my progress toward Florida. My wife, riding shotgun, patiently listened as I continued to bitch and moan about being forced to place my head about six microns from the windshield to help see beyond the oppressive downpour. I was also cursing the fact I was traveling 30 in a 75 MPH zone and seemingly everyone around me decided to put on their hazard lights.

But then it got bad. The already drenching rain became even more pervasive, and the wind, just below severe levels I later discovered, was blowing the already blinding rain straight into the Santa Fe’s windshield. The flashing lights of the car 60 or so feet ahead abruptly disappeared from my sight, along with road, the tree line, seemingly everything vanished except for a fear-induced pucker at the end of my gastrointestinal tract. That appeared quite quickly, indeed.

It was a true white-knuckle experience, and it was about the only exciting thing I can say about my week with the XL.

Now, that’s not to say the Hyundai was disappointing or short of the mark. In fact, there are few complaints to be said about the three-row, bigger brother of the Santa Fe, except that, well, there is next to nothing that evokes excitement, but such is the world of three-rows. However, when excitement is factored out, the XL delivers on comfort, tech and respectable driving characteristics.

The XL is the former long wheelbase, three-row Santa Fe, and the former Santa Fe Sport is now just the Santa Fe. In 2020, the Santa Fe XL will be replaced by the Palisade. Confused yet?

All XL’s are powered by a 3.3-liter V6 offering 290 horses which is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. While it may not thrill drivers, the XL’s powerplant provides a supremely smooth and quiet ride at any speed and is well-suited for the morning commute and hauling the brood to soccer practice. It also has enough torque to get the three-row off the line and up to highway speeds effectively. And when I was dealing with rains heavy enough to force Noah to expedite his construction timeline, I was thankful my tester came with the optional all-wheel drive.

Naps were easily accomplished by my wife on our road trip with the XL providing a quiet cabin and comfortable ride. It is mostly composed off the highway, with perceptible but not overwhelming body roll. Steering feel is a bit on the light side but not totally uncommunicative.

With all-wheel drive, the XL Limited Ultimate will get a combined 19 mpg, decent enough for a three-row, but not enough to keep me from having to refill the tank in no-name towns littered with billboards advertising “adult superstores” followed quickly by another sign reading “HELL IS HOT!” in 30-foot tall lettering. The base SE with front-wheel drive is the most efficient XL at a combined 21 mpg.

The XL is decently equipped in SE trim, but adding some optional packages would not be regrettable.   

The SE Premium package ($3,650) adds safety features including blind spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert, a hands-free liftgate, heated leather seats and steering wheel, a third-row USB port and other features. In the Limited Ultimate trim I tested, Hyundai adds second-row captain’s chairs, 19-inch alloy wheels, a panoramic sunroof, a bigger touchscreen, ventilated front seats, the Multi-View Camera System and more. Adding the Tech Package ($2,100) gets you smart cruise control with stop/start, emergency braking, lane departure warning, automatic high beams and HID headlights.

A front wheel drive SE starts at just under $31,000. At the top of the range, the Limited Ultimate trim with all-wheel drive goes for $41,300.

The captain’s chairs in the top trim make it easy for even portly adults — such as yours truly — to reach the third row, which is relatively accommodating if you don’t mind a good dose of cuddling with your fellow passenger. Room to stretch is of no concern for those in the front or second-row captain’s chairs where you can easily alleviate a road-trip induced dead leg.

The XL also has plenty of space for cargo, provided you don’t need the third row erected. The cargo area behind the third row gives just 13.5-cubic feet. However, that figure balloons to 41-cubic feet with the rear seats down (something that is easily accomplished).

Designers certainly have an uphill battle trying to make a three-row SUV attractive when the basic shape is akin a lumpy potato, but the XL has decent looks. However, the interior looks dated. There were no new changes for the XL in 2019, and with the Palisade around the corner, Hyundai may have just given the interior styling an old, “Ah, it’s fine.”

It’s not a thriller, but the XL is a practical three-row that doesn’t disappoint and is a great base for some upgrading, which the 2020 Palisade will likely bring.

Hyundai’s new three-row will come with more cargo and passenger room, a bevy of standard safety features, a bigger touchscreen, a digital instrument cluster, a head-up display and similar pricing to the XL in all but the Limited trim. The Palisade is also far more attractive.

When compared, the Palisade does appear to evoke excitement, and if you are looking to put a Hyundai three-row in the garage, your Palisade patience may be rewarded.  

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