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When I was asked to drive the 2015 Sante Fe XL I was a little confused. I was pretty sure I had driven the new Santa Fe XL when it was released as a 2013 model, a little check back on my entries on and sure enough there it is the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe XL

Typically I do not get vehicles mid-cycle, more typically press vehicles are sent when they are significantly new or redesigned in some way. Then I was told for 2015 the Santa Fe XL has a new feature, Hyundai’s Hands-Free Smart Liftgate with auto open. Hyundai advertises this as better than the competitions’ balancing act of kicking under the bumper (cough Ford cough). With this system you simply stand behind the vehicle and the hatch will open automatically after three seconds.

So that said, I guess I’m done right? Oh if it was only that simple — nah the XL has a lot of merit. Heck it’s pretty much the same size as the Acura MDX I drove last week and my Limited tester is also almost as loaded as well but close to $20,000 cheaper. Is the luxury brand name worth the price tag? Is the Hyundai worth its price tag?

Oh and apparently my tester is Green — looks grey to me, but Hunter Green it is!

Pricing: 2015 Hyundai Santa Fe XL Limited
Base Price: $43,299
Options: None
Freight: $1,695
A/C Tax: $100
Price as Tested: $45,094

Chevrolet Traverse
Dodge Durango
Ford Explorer
GMC Acadia
Honda Pilot
Kia Sorento
Mazda CX-9
Nissan Pathfinder
Toyota Highlander

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First, let’s cover the automatic opening tailgate. You do not have to unlock the doors first and it opens rather quickly too as you approach the vehicle. Hands full? No problem, walk to to the rear of the vehicle, and as you approach the hazard lights will flash and a beep will sound. After this repeats three times, the hazards will double flash, you’ll get a double beep, and the hatch opens quickly.

I see no downside to this. Sure you have to wait three seconds but that is not very long at all — if you made it across the parking lot with your arms full, that three seconds will go by quickly and there is no need to reach in your pocket or perform a balancing act — it works great.

Since I’m driving the XL I must talk about the third row of seating it provides. My tester is actually only a six-seater, captain’s chairs in the second row, which makes getting in and out a little easier perhaps and also provides some room between the seats for the third-row passengers’ feet. The third row is odd, the seats are really thin in order to save space, but they also sit very low, so you feel like you are sitting on the floor, and leg room is basically non-existent, but for kids in a pinch I suppose it works.

The second-row seats are comfortable because they are captain’s chairs, and the backs of the front seats are also scooped out in order to provide more legroom for that second row. Of course the best seats in the house are up front in the driver’s seat — entry and exit made easier by the seat automatically sliding back when you shut off the vehicle and back into position when you start it.

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Poked around the interior again today while stuck in traffic. I noticed that the dash has this rubbery soft textured feeling, which feels upscale. I tried using the navigation system, or should I say yell and scream at it? It only took three tries but it did recognize what I was trying to say, not perfect but better than some systems, heck the Volkswagen Golf system didn’t work period.

During my longer than expected drive today a few things stood out to me about the Santa Fe XL. First is how quiet it is, for $20,000 less than the MDX I drove last night it certainly doesn’t seem any louder. In fact the ride isn’t any worse either — is the Hyundai that much of a bargain?

The most notable during my drive was how the transmission and engine work in combination. The 3.3-litre V6 offers a good amount of power, it is rated at 290-horsepower and 252-lb/ft of torque and it certainly can make the Santa Fe move. The six speed transmission is smooth and quick but the programming is obviously set for fuel economy. The result is you tend to feel like you have to push that throttle pedal down further than you would expect to extract the performance because it quickly upshifts to save fuel.

Because of this driving on the highway in a headwind is pretty annoying. The vehicle keeps slowing down without constantly thinking about how much throttle you are inputting and it really feels like the pedal is pushing back at you — thankfully it does have cruise control if traffic is light enough to use it.

It was also obvious that the steering is super light at slower speeds, but it doesn’t seem as blatantly obvious at speed. In a hurry I found myself relying on the blind spot warning detection instead of shoulder checking as that didn’t seem to net much in terms of visibility, but the large mirrors, positioned properly work well in traffic.

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Vehicles like this Santa Fe XL make you think about how the luxury brands will need to evolve to truly differentiate themselves from mainstream brands. The Santa Fe is pretty well loaded up the same as the MDX I had last week, it is missing a few items but nothing that would make or break a deal I suspect. And it does this at a cost of nearly $20,000 less.

Fuel Economy
Exterior Styling

The engine and transmission work just as well, in fact the Santa Fe returned slightly better fuel economy for me than the MDX at 9.6L/100 km, but the Santa Fe consumes regular fuel not premium so there is more of a cost savings.

Out on the highway the Santa Fe seems just as quiet. It is just as capable as well with a 5,000 lb tow rating and it is just as comfortable, if not more so, with a softer-riding suspension than the MDX.

What the Santa Fe is missing over the MDX is the prestige nameplate and whatever that comes with or means to you personally.

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