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2016 Hyundai Sante Fe Limited Ultimate Review: Korea's Biggest SUV Rivals American Counterparts

Hyundai has been best known in the United States for their, affordable and efficient cars, but with the 2016 Sante Fe Limited Ultimate AWD – the Korean automaker has a roomy SUV which can rival the top American counterparts.
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When Hyundai got their foothold here in the US market, they did so with their small and mid-sized cars like the Elantra and the Sonata, but with the always-growing popularity of roomier sport utility vehicles, the management team knew that they couldn’t rely on small cars forever. With the 2016 Sante Fe Limited Ultimate AWD, Hyundai has a big SUV which offers many of the key features of the American SUVs of a similar size and it does so at a lower price point than the competition – making this a great option for someone shopping on a budget for a roomy SUV will all of the modern niceties.

2016 Sante Fe Limited Ultimate Pricing
The 2016 Hyundai Sante Fe Limited with all-wheel drive has a base price of $36,250 while the Ultimate package adds $4,650 and destination fees add $895 for a price-as-tested of $41,795. That price includes everything included in this review, no strings attached, and it should be noted that the 2017 model year Sante Fe Limited got a new front end and new taillights. With these 2017 model year changes, the 2016 Sante Fe is in short supply, but those dealerships still holding onto a 2016 model will be more likely to deal on the price.

In other words, the 2016 Hyundai Sante Fe Limited Ultimate with AWD is a great deal with a price under $42,000, but right now, there is a good chance that some careful shopping will get you an even lower price.

The Exterior
The Limited Ultimate package for the 2016 Hyundai Sante Fe is the top of the line option, and that is evident around the outside of the vehicle thanks to lots of chrome trim, 19 inch wheels and high tech lights all around.

Up front, the Sante Fe Limited Ultimate has a big chrome grille with the familiar shape found on most of the modern Hyundai models and there is lots of chrome in both the headlight and fog light bezels. Those chrome headlight bezels are lined with LED accents which wrap around the HID projection bulbs, and as headlights go – the Sante Fe offers one of the most modern looking designs in the segment (as is the case with many of the Hyundai vehicles which offer this luxury technology at a low price point).

16 sante fe side

Along the sides, the Sante Fe in this premium form wears 19 inch painted wheels with a machined face, chrome door handles and a chrome trim piece which runs around the entire outer perimeter of the dark-tinted side windows, while the black pillars work with the shape of the glass to give the Sante Fe a very sport look from the side.

Finally, the back end of the Hyundai Sante Fe Limited Ultimate has a little more chrome running between the bright LED taillights and around the integrated dual exhaust outlets, while a low profile roof spoiler and the contrasting center rear fascia adds a sporty touch to the roomy SUV.

Like many of the modern Hyundai vehicles, the 2016 Sante Fe has a sporty shape and when you introduced the Limited Ultimate package, the added chrome makes for a very upscale look – without killing the sporty aesthetic of the Sante Fe lineup. It has the chrome and the high tech lights that you would expect from a premium package, but this exterior upfitting doesn’t push the price through the roof.

The Interior
While the exterior of the 2016 Hyundai Sante Fe Limited Ultimate combines luxury with a sporty feel, the interior is all about luxury appointments. This includes heated and cooled front seats with power adjustment and driver’s seat memory and heated 2nd row seats – with soft, light colored leather throughout the cabin against the dark carpeting and trim providing a very high end look. The dash board looks very modern and very high end, with the contrasting light-and-dark layout accented with high gloss wood trim around the angular HVAC vents and the premium infotainment system. Finally, the huge panoramic glass roof punctuates the luxury look, giving passengers in all three rows a clear look at the sky.

16 sante fe roof

In terms of interior technology, the 2016 Hyundai Sante Fe Limited Ultimate wont blow you away with unique features, but it also doesn’t leave you wanting for any common items. The driver and front passenger have easy access to the 8 inch touchscreen, which controls every aspect of the vehicle – from the HVAC system to the sound system to the navigation program to the hands-free phone system. The Sante Fe offers Bluetooth connectivity and once you have paired your smartphone to the system, you can make and receive calls via the button on the steering wheel or stream your favorite music. Joining the hands-free Bluetooth button on the steering wheel are other buttons for the sound system, the cruise control system and the driver information display in the gauge cluster, but there is also a full spread of traditional buttons and knobs on the center stack in addition to the functionality of the touchscreen.

In short, you can use the touchscreen to adjust all sorts of parameters in the 2016 Sante Fe Limited Ultimate, but if you don’t like the touchscreen interface, you also have buttons and knobs for all of the key functions. Best of all, the HVAC system has easy access buttons and a large knob to make quick adjustments of the heat or air condition without fussing with the touchscreen.

16 sante fe dash

Some other modern interior features that you really can’t see in the Sante Fe Limited include the proximity entry key system with push button start and a hands-free power rear lift gate – all of which have become must-have items in the luxury world, but Hyundai includes them in their sub-$40k (before the Ultimate package is added) SUV.

Gadgets aside, the 2016 Hyundai Sante Fe Limited Ultimate offers a ton of passenger space for six adults. The Sante Fe with the 2nd row bench seat will seat an extra person, but the available 2nd row bucket seats from my test vehicle offer far more comfort for rear rides. This bucket seat setup also offers easier, quicker access to the 3rd row of seats, especially when you are loading in a bunch of little kids who can just climb between the occupied middle seats rather than making someone get out to flip the seat forward.

16 sante fe fr seats

Whether you are seated in the front or 2nd row, there is plenty of seating space in every dimension, so the Sante Fe will comfortably seat four adults (including the driver) for a long ride. The 3rd row of seats will accommodate two shorter adults, but with the way that the floor comes up to the rear-most seats – taller adults will have their knees in their chest for the ride. However, there is plenty of room for kids to enjoy the 3rd row, even on a long drive.

16 sante fe cargo

Finally, the Sante Fe Limited offers a ton of cargo space in the large rear area, but if you fold down the 3rd row seats, you can fit as much cargo as you can stuff into much larger vehicles and with the 2nd row folded down – you can haul sheets of plywood or similar large, flatter items.

The Drive
The 2016 Hyundai Sante Fe Limited is powered by a 3.3L V6 which delivers 290 horsepower and 252lb-ft of torque to all four wheels via a 6-speed automatic transmission and an advanced all-wheel drive system. The 3.L V6 doesn’t shock the world with its power levels, but whether you are hurrying away from a stop light or climbing to speed to merge into fast-moving traffic, the Sante Fe’s standard engine provides plenty of power for every driving situation. I imagine that most Sante Fe owners will rarely push this SUV to its limits, but for those with a heavy right foot – the Sante Fe has no problems cruising well above the posted speed limit. It isn’t what I would call a fast SUV, but I never felt that it was starved for power in any of the available driving situations.

In terms of fuel economy, the Sante Fe isn’t a class leader, but it does well for an SUV of this size. The EPA expects 17mpg around town, 22mpg on the highway and 19mpg combined, and in my week of driving the Limited Ultimate AWD model, I found those numbers to be very accurate. I averaged slightly over 20mpg, but that was with a mix with heavy highway driving and when cruising on the highway, I found the 22mpg expectation to be a little on the low end. With careful driving, you can most certainly exceed the EPA numbers, but even without any special driving styles, Sante Fe owners should be able to comfortably hit the expected fuel economy numbers.

16 sante fe fr

As you might expect, the Hyundai Sante Fe Limited Ultimate AWD offers a nice, smooth ride around town and on the highway, with very little noise making it into the plush cabin. While a larger SUV like the Sante Fe puts comfort and ride quality ahead of handling, this Hyundai SUV makes for a nice drive on twisty roads at normal speeds, with less body roll and more confident cornering than some other vehicles in this class.

Like other Hyundai vehicles, the Sante Fe has a steering mode button which lets you pick between Comfort, Sport and Normal modes. These modes don’t impact the actual steering abilities, but they do alter the steering feel. If you, like me, prefer a more connected feel, you will want to pick Sport mode, which has more feedback and less power assist. The Comfort mode is the opposite, with less feedback and more power assist and the Normal mode is a nice average of the two. I prefer Sport mode, as I like the feel of the Sante Fe when more steering input is required on my end, but I can see how someone who likes a little more ease-of-use with their vehicle to prefer Comfort mode.

The Hyundai Sante Fe handles and rides nicely on paved roads, but my area of Michigan is riddled with unpaved roads which the local government calls “natural beauty roads”. Area residents with low-riding cars or luxury vehicles often avoid these roads, as they are often sloppy mud with deep ruts and gigantic pot holes. These roads can force some SUV drivers to proceed at a crawl, so they serve as an excellent proving grounds for a vehicle like the Sante Fe.

16 sante fe rear

With the all-wheel drive system, my Hyundai test vehicle had no issues making its way along the muddy roads and the suspension did a nice job of cushioning the blow of the deep ruts and grooves. The Sante Fe didn’t perform as well as some trucks and heavier duty SUVs, with some of the more extreme bumps forcing my to slow down in order to maintain control, but for a vehicle that is not designed to deal with a road like this – it did a nice job of handling the harshness of the natural beauty roads.

In some cases, I will take a test vehicle down one of these area roads and quickly decide that I won’t be heading back there, but the Hyundai Sante Fe Limited handled the rough roads well enough that I wouldn’t think twice about taking these routes if I owned one of these big, Korean SUVs.

The Final Word
The large sport utility vehicle segment is one of the most popular segments, with pretty much every automaker offering a big family hauler, but few of them offer as much content for as little money as the 2016 Hyundai Sante Fe Limited Ultimate. This big SUV offers comfortable seating for 6 adults for a typical commute or a family of six for a long trip to grandma’s house, with plush leather seats and a great infotainment system which will guide you to your goal and pump out the tunes in the process. This isn’t a vehicle that people are going to take to the race track, but the 290 horsepower engine packs plenty of power to keep up with traffic while also offering solid fuel economy for roomy, four wheel drive SUV.

Now, lots of automakers offer an SUV of this size with similar interior features, similar interior space and similar power, but few can offer this at a price point below $42,000, so if you want all of these goodies in a roomy SUV, the Hyundai Sante Fe Limited Ultimate might be your best choice.

Also, as mentioned above, if you love all of the interior and drivetrain features of the 2016 Sante Fe, but you would like a more modern look, the 2017 Sante Fe has a restyled exterior with an even more modern look – although that model will cost you more than the 2016 model both before and after applicable discounts.

The Sante Fe Limited Ultimate is proof that as the American buyer leans towards a larger SUV, Hyundai will be able to offer a vehicle to answer the needs to most buyers at a discount – just like they have been doing for years in the small and mid-sized sedan segment.


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