2014 Hyundai Santa Fe XL Limited seating & cargo area. Click image to enlarge
Comfort and Practicality
And now we get to the category that really separates these two cars. Comfort and practicality.
The Santa Fe XL starts off strong with more comfortable, enveloping seats and a second row that reclines further. There is also more legroom in both rows and the Hyundai’s 4,148 L of interior volume trumps the 3,973 L available in the Highlander – but that’s where the Santa Fe’s advantages end.
Toyota has put an enormous amount of effort into making this Highlander extremely livable, with particular attention to minor details that could be the difference between a customer who likes their new car, and one who loves it. Cabin storage in the Highlander is second to none, with a deep, long centre bin with rolling lids that allow it to be used as an armrest, even when open. It’s big enough for a women’s large tote bag or a laptop bag. I even stuffed my backpack into it. The cupholders are large but adjustable, so they can hold a small coffee cup, or two bottles of (closed and sealed!) wine. The Santa Fe’s are not as accommodating. But the piece de resistance in the Toyota is the utility tray.
2014 Toyota Highlander Limited cupholders, utility tray, centre console. Click image to enlarge
Tucked under the dash, the utility tray has a plug with a raised bar that is perfectly placed to hold a smart phone in place. In addition, the plug covers a cable channel so you can connect your device to the USB or Auxiliary port and then store it safely – no more cables flying about everywhere. It has a lip so you can safely place your glasses case, wallet and any extra bits and bobs. Truly, it is the cleverest cabin storage device we’ve encountered.
The flat seats in the second and third row give up comfort to the Hyundai, but make installing child seats a breeze, and there is even a pop-up cupholder/tray that sits between the second row captain’s chairs. Both those chairs have adjustable armrests where the armrests in the Santa Fe XL are either down or up.
2014 Toyota Highlander Limited cargo area, 2014 Toyota Highlander Limited seating & cargo area. Click image to enlarge
Access to the third row is dead even, but the third row itself contains just two seats in the Hyundai – there are three in the Toyota giving it a total passenger count of seven to the XL’s six. The rear seat is a 60/40 split-fold in the Toyota and a 50-50 in the Santa Fe. Pegging back some ground, the Hyundai second row folds flatter, making it more convenient for carrying long fragile items. A Billy bookcase from Ikea for example, would flex and bend more in the Highlander. The extra height and width of the Highlander gives it a tiny edge in interior cargo volume with a total maximum of 2,339 L to the 2,265 of the Santa Fe.
2014 Toyota Highlander Limited. Click image to enlarge
Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinnner
This battle really was incredibly close. We adored the saddle leather and styling of the Santa Fe XL, and Senior Editor Jonathan Yarkony preferred its handling and more buttoned-down ride. I also liked the Hyundai’s household power supply in the cargo area and well-fitted interior fixtures.
But like I said in the beginning, it takes the smallest differences to separate cars these days, and Toyota has applied their attention to detail with devastating effect in the Highlander.
With little between them in terms of power delivery, driving experience and value, it was the nitty gritty practical touches where Toyota stood tall.
For being an example of user-focused automotive design that is properly well executed – we’re awarding this victory to the 2014 Toyota Highlander.
Pricing: 2014 2014 Santa Fe XL Limited
Base Price (base trim): $31,099
Base Price (tested trim): $43,499
A/C Tax: $100
Freight and PDI: $1,795
Price as Tested: $45,394
Pricing: 2014 Toyota Highlander Limited
Base Price (base trim): $31,680
Base Price (tested trim): $45,100
A/C Tax: $100
Freight and PDI: $1,690
Price as Tested: $46,890