The Hyundai Santa Fe has been a popular mid-size SUV since first hitting the roads back in 2001. Now in its fourth generation, the Santa Fe continues to be a strong seller thanks to its affordability, feature content, powertrain options, and spacious interior.
But how do Santa Fe models over the years compare in terms of reliability, safety, fuel economy, and overall value?
When weighing the pros and cons, the 2013-2018 Santa Fe models emerge as having the best combination of quality, safety ratings, features, and value retention. The 2001-2006 and 2007-2009 model years were plagued most by issues.
Below we evaluate key stats, common problems, expert reviews, and owner experiences across all four Santa Fe generations to uncover the best and worst years wile providing key information shoppers need to know.
Table of Contents
Santa Fe Generations
There are four main generations of the Hyundai Santa Fe over its 20+ year lifespan thus far:
First Generation (2001–2006)
The first-generation Santa Fe was Hyundai’s first SUV offered in North America when it debuted in 2001 for the 2001 model year. This original Santa Fe was a bit underpowered but offered car-like handling and a comfortable ride. Issues with this first Santa Fe included below-average reliability with recurrent engine, fuel system, and transmission issues.
Second Generation (2007–2012)
Hyundai significantly enhanced the second-gen Santa Fe by moving it to its own platform, increasing interior space, and offering an optional third-row seat. These model years saw improved steering, handling, and a quieter cabin. However engine issues led to a class action lawsuit. Brake wear and electrical problems were also common owner grievances.
Third Generation (2013–2018)
The third generation brought improved quality, fuel economy, and features including options like blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and a hands-free smart liftgate. These were solid years for the Santa Fe.
Fourth Generation (2019–Present)
The current fourth-generation Santa Fe maintains the momentum of the previous generation with even more safety tech, infotainment updates, and efficient engine options including hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrains. It is more refined and sportier to drive but also pricier.
Key Hyundai Santa Fe Specs and Features Comparison
|Base, SE, Limited, SE Ultimate
|Sport, Limited, Sport 2.0T, Limited Ultimate
|SE, SEL, Limited, Hybrid/PHEV
|FWD or AWD
|FWD or AWD
|FWD or AWD
|FWD or AWD
|146.3 cu ft
|148.6 cu ft
|148.0 cu ft
|78.2 cu ft
|113.9 cu ft
|80.0 cu ft
|71.3 cu ft
|4 airbags, stability control
|6 airbags, ESC
|Blind spot monitor, cross traffic alert, lane change assist
|Forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist
|Touchscreen, Aux input
|Touchscreen, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
|Touchscreen, wireless charging
|21-33 mpg (hybrid)
Best Hyundai Santa Fe Years
The third generation Hyundai Santa Fe spans model years 2013-2018 which were the most solid in terms of predicted reliability, owner satisfaction, and safety scores. The Santa Fe saw significant improvements all around in its third iteration. Fuel economy, interior dimensions, ride quality, noise isolation, and overall fit and finish were all much improved compared to earlier Santa Fe models.
The current fourth generation 2019+ Santa Fe also deserves mention amongst the best years. It builds on the foundation of the previous generation while introducing updatedpowertrain options including fuel efficient turbocharged engines, a hybrid, and plug-in hybrid model. An eight-speed automatic transmission further refines the driving experience. The latest tech features also debut on 2019+ Santa Fes.
Worst Hyundai Santa Fe Years
On the flip side, the first generation Santa Fe spanning model years 2001-2006 proves to be the worst statistically due to below average reliability ratings, many recalls, and owner-reported issues ranging from oil leaks and electrical problems to failed air conditioner compressors and faulty brake components. Ultimately we’d recommend avoiding these earliest Santa Fe models if possible.
Surprisingly, the second generation 2007 to 2009 Santa Fe also receives poor marks due to a series of engine failures which led to Hyundai facing a class action lawsuit and issuing an expensive 15 year/150,000 mile warranty extension on engines for these vehicles. Owners report chronic stalling, high oil consumption, and catastrophic engine failure in some cases. Brake wear and various electrical woes also plague these model years more so than average.
Common Hyundai Santa Fe Problems
The Hyundai Santa Fe is not immune from experiencing its fair share of problems. Here are some of the most common issues across all model years based on expert assessments and owner-reported problems:
- Engine Failure – Catastrophic engine failure including stalling and seizing has happened most often in 2007-2009 models but also on some late model 2013+ Santa Fes as well. Many have required full engine replacements.
- Excessive Oil Consumption – Abnormally high oil consumption points to internal engine issues with piston rings, valves, and bearings wearing prematurely. It affects all generations.
- Brake Problems – Warped rotors, shuddering, squeaking, grinding noises and premature wear indicate issues with the braking components on many Santa Fes.
- Electrical Gremlins – Various electrical issues have cropped up over the years – non-working power windows, radio, heated seats, and warning lights mysteriously illuminating due to problems with switches and sensors.
- Fuel System Defects – Several fuel system defects have lead to gas tank delamination, fuel leaks, inaccurate fuel gauge readings, and gas cap issues.
While individual models vary, being aware of these problem areas can help identify warning signs during test drives and independent pre-purchase inspections.
Are Hyundai Santa Fes Reliable?
The Santa Fe earns an above-average reliability rating from Consumer Reports, ranking it 3rd out of 19 midsize SUVs. Predicted reliability scores have improved each generation:
- 1st gen: Below Average
- 2nd gen: Average
- 3rd gen: Above Average
- 4th gen: Above Average
So while certain model years and engine configurations are more problematic, Hyundai Santa Fes in total are fairly dependable vehicles for their class according to the latest data. The warranty coverage helps consumer peace of mind as well with 5 years/60,000 miles of bumper-to-bumper and 10 years/100,000 miles of powertrain coverage.
Hyundai Santa Fe Crash Test Results
Safety should be a top priority when vehicle shopping. Here are some key safety ratings for the Santa Fe over the years:
- First gen Santa Fes: Mostly 4 out 5 stars from the NHTSA. No IIHS testing. Some models had 6 airbags while stability control was optional.
- Second gen Santa Fes: Earn ”Good” scores in all IIHS impact crash tests by 2011. 5 star side crash rating but mix of 3-5 stars otherwise from NHTSA. Eight airbags by 2012.
- Third gen Santa Fes: Score “Good” across the board in IIHS tests including the challenging small overlap test by 2018. Mostly 5 star marks from the NHTSA though some 2010 models only rated 4 stars.
- Fourth gen Santa Fes: Not yet rated by the IIHS but expected to earn top “Good” marks and a Top Safety Pick based on past performance. Score 5 stars in all NHTSA tests thus far. 10 airbags now standard plus new driver assist tech.
As expected, safety scores improve each generation as technology and design evolve. All Santa Fes now include forward collision warning with pedestrian detection and lane keep assist standard. Higher trims add amenities like parking sensors, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alerts, surround view cameras, adaptive cruise control, lane centering assist, and a very robust suite of airbags throughout the cabin.
Those concerned with safety should prioritize 2018+ Hyundai Santa Fe models to get the latest protective driver assistance features.
Hyundai Santa Fe MPG
Fuel efficiency continues to improve with each subsequent Santa Fe generation. Here’s how they compare by EPA estimates based on front wheel drive models:
First Gen: 18-22 mpg combined
Second Gen: 19-23 mpg combined
Third Gen: 21-28 mpg combined
Fourth Gen: 21-33 mpg combined (top end hybrid model)
As you can see, fuel economy jumps noticeably from gen 2 to gen 3 thanks to powertrain enhancements like direct injection, turbocharging options, and 6+ speed transmissions instead of only 4 and 5 speeds prior. Then fourth generation Santa Fes now offer hybrid capability for even better efficiency – up to 33 combined mpg for the Santa Fe Hybrid and 30 combined mpg for the Santa Fe Plug-in Hybrid.
Consider also that newer Santa Fes run on regular gas instead of more expensive premium fuel required on some earlier performance-oriented variants. The latest engines and transmissions extract more power using less fuel than ever before.
2023 Hyundai Santa Fe Pricing
Current 2023 Santa Fe pricing breaks down as follows across the lineup spanning from an affordable $28K SE base model to the $43K range-topping Calligraphy trim:
Note that 2023 pricing reflects a slight $100 increase over 2022 models. As context, when the fourth generation Santa Fe first launched for 2019, pricing started around $26K and topped out around $39K.
Comparing new versus used Santa Fe pricing, we see 2013-2015 models average $15K-$19K depending on the trim and mileage. 2016-2018 Santa Fes cost around $18K-$26K. And 2019-2021 used Santa Fe prices run from $25K up to $35K typical. Supply chain issues have impacted the new and used car markets making models costlier than normal the past few years.
When prioritizing reliability, safety scores, owner satisfaction, and value – 2013-2018 Santa Fe models stand out as most recommended assuming typical mileage and condition factors. The latest 2019+ Santa Fes are truly exceptional but command higher new pricing and limited used inventory currently exists. Avoid 2002-2009 Santa Fes plagued by engine defects or opt for post-2009 models after the issues were addressed.
While no vehicle is perfect, the Hyundai Santa Fe continues to improve each generation with enhancements to quality, safety, performance, and technology features. Pricing also remains competitive positioning the Santa Fe as a smart buy in the mid-size SUV segment. We hope this overview detailing the best and worst Santa Fe model years aids buyers on their next purchase.