As luck would have it, the newly refreshed 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe XL was not available for our recent mega seven-seat CUV comparison test. Had this Hyundai been able to mix it up with the others, it’s fair to assume the pecking order might have been rearranged a bit.

Ah, but it’s only speculation at this point. Suffice to say, the 2017 Santa Fe XL Limited AWD tested here stands on its own as fine driving, well-appointed and functional hauler. And with an MSRP of $44,799 it reads word-for-word from the Korean automaker’s playbook – keep improving and slap ‘em silly with value. That would have placed it as the second cheapest vehicle in the comparison, just above the fabric-seated Honda Pilot.

So what is a Santa Fe XL? Introduced as a 2014 model, it’s a Santa Fe Sport with a wheelbase stretch of 100 mm, a vestigial two-seat third row and a 290 hp 252 lb-ft direct-injection 3.3L Lambda II V6 in the front. Power gets to all four wheels through Hyundai’s smooth in-house six-speed automatic transmission.

The mid-cycle visuals include a new Tuscon-esque face with standard LED daytime running lights, a refreshed backend with new taillights and exhaust tips, and updated wheel designs. Inside there is a fresh centre stack (base models get a five-inch colour touchscreen, upgradable to eight-inch) and all 2017 XLs have new Drive Mode Select which adjusts steering, throttle and transmission response for Sport, Eco, or Normal settings. At the top of the line-up, a new Ultimate ($48,099) includes a long list of convenience and safety equipment, including Multi-View Camera System, Adaptive Cruise Control with stop-and-go capability, Lane Departure Warning, Autonomous Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, HID headlights with Adaptive Cornering System, and an electronic parking brake.

While this Limited doesn’t get all that hi-tech kit, it is still generously appointed with leather, heated rear seats, heated and ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, panoramic sunroof, blind spot warning, 19-inch alloys, eight-inch touchscreen with nav and Android Auto, 12-speaker Infinity audio, second-row captain’s chairs, proximity key with push-button start and HID headlamps.

Head to head: 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe XL Limited vs 2014 Toyota Highlander Limited

This tester’s black cabin is a sombre coal-bin, and the front seats are a bit flat and unyielding – certainly not uncomfortable but nothing like the Honda Pilot’s lovely chairs. On the plus side, the “Supervision” gauge cluster with 4.2-inch TFT display is the model of clarity. And praise be, Hyundai appears to have a grasp on human-friendly ergonomics, what with our tactile senses, opposing thumbs and all. That is to say, drivers and passengers are presented with a lovely array of well-marked hard buttons and rotary controllers for the HVAC and audio. (Are you listening Honda???).

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