In the year 2000, Hyundai unveiled their first ever SUV, the Santa Fe. This midsize crossover SUV was followed up by the Tucson in 2004, a compact SUV with a smaller body.
Both have gone on to become synonymous with value for money and excellent warranty coverage (as offered by all Korean automakers). While the Hyundai Tucson is a global bestseller, here in America the bigger Santa Fe is right up there with it in yearly sales volume.
But which Hyundai SUV is for you? Is the Midsize Hyundai Santa Fe a better deal than the compact Hyundai Tucson? Does the Tucson’s lower price point make up for the extra space and other features you get with the Santa Fe? Let’s take a closer look.
The Hyundai Santa Fe is the next size up from the Hyundai Tucson, and it comes with more standard features. It also gives you the option to upgrade to a powerful turbocharged engine. The Hyundai Tucson is at the end of its cycle and an all-new look is coming in 2022, so buyers may want to wait–if a smaller SUV is preferred.
Styling – Exterior
The Hyundai Tucson looks decent, but rather uninspired compared to some of Hyundai’s latest offerings. That is perhaps expected, as the current generation Tucson is at the end of its cycle and an all-new look is coming next year.
Meanwhile the Hyundai Santa Fe, which received a recent makeover in 2020, looks considerably more up to date. For better or for worse, it shares the thin, slit-style headlamps found on the Hyundai Kona and Hyundai Palisade. In between them is a massive front grille-something that’s become a bit of trend in today’s car market.
Styling – Interior
Moving inside the Tucson, the story is the same–nothing wrong, but rather boring. It just can’t match the interiors found in Hyundai’s own newer Venue or Kona models, or those inside more recently refreshed compacts like the Honda CR-V or Nissan Rogue.
By comparison, the Santa Fe’s cabin is more up-to-date and oozes class all around, despite some odd design decisions here and there.
The Hyundai Tucson’s 2.0-liter inline-4 engine produces 161 horsepower and is matched with a 6-speed automatic transmission. Higher trims get a bump to 181 horsepower, although the difference in reality is unnoticeable.
The Hyundai Santa Fe base model is capable of producing 185 horsepower with it’s 2.4-liter Inline-4 engine, though because of its heavier chassis, doesn’t feel much more capable than the Hyundai Tucson. For that reason, we highly recommend the gutsier, 277 horsepower turbocharged engine (found on the Limited and Calligraphy trims), that truly places it a class above the Tucson.
Passenger Room and Practicality
Both models offer a seating capacity of 5 people. The Hyundai Santa Fe has more front and Rear leg/shoulder/hip room than the Tucson.
The Tucson has a listed cargo space of 31 cubic ft. with seats up and 61.9 cubic ft. when the rear seats are folded down. The Santa Fe, on the other hand, offers a more generous 35.9 cubic ft. of cargo volume when the seats are up, and an impressive 71.3 cubic ft. when seats are down.
Despite these differences, both models would be sufficient for long outdoor trips like camping, with plenty of cargo space for many essentials and belongings.
Technology and Features
Convenience features included in both models include Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and BlueLink. Both also feature a HUD display, showing the mph and other information reflected on the windshield.
Remote start, Blind Spot Collision Warning, and GPS navigational systems are also available in both models.
The Tucson and Santa Fe each have a combined fuel economy of 25. The Tucson has city fuel economy of 23, and a highway of 28, while the Santa Fe has a city fuel economy of 22 and a highway of 29. The Santa Fe has a larger fuel tank capacity of 18.8 gallons, more than the Tucson’s 16.4 gallons, which means it can also go for longer trips without needing to refuel.
Of course, if you get upgraded Hyundai Santa Fe engine, the fuel efficiency takes a significant hit.
The Tucson base model SE features Forward Collision Detect and starts at $23,700. The Value trim has BlueLink connectivity, Blind-Spot Collision Warning, and a remote start proximity key, which starts at $25,150. The SEL and Sport trims start at $26,100 and $28,250, respectively. The Limited trim comes with a heated steering wheel and a surround view monitor, starting at $29,400. The Ultimate trim comes with pedestrian detection and Smart Cruise Control with Stop & go, with a starting price of $32,050.
The Santa Fe is somewhat pricier. The base model SE starts at $26,275, and the SEL starts at $28,025, both of which sport the 185 hp engine. The SEL2.0T trim featuring the 235hp Turbo engine starts at $34,875. The Limited (standard 185 hp) trim starts at $36,025, while the Limited 2.0T (235hp Turbo) starts at $37,875.
Hyundai designed their 2021 models with the latest safety features to ensure everyone’s safety. The Tucson and the Santa Fe have the following safety options: Forward-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection (FCA-Ped), Blindspot Collision Warning, High-Beam Assist, Rear Cross-Traffic Collision Warning, Lane Keeping Assist (LKA) systems, and Driver Attention Warning (DAW), which sends audio alerts if distracted or inattentive driver patterns are detected by the vehicle.
Both models also feature Smart Cruise Control with Stop & Go, meaning that the cruise control will maintain safe distances with other drivers.
Safety features unique to the Santa Fe include Ultrasonic Rear Occupant Alert, which will sound the horns, flash the lights, and send you BlueLink alert if there’s movement in the back seat. This is designed to prevent children or pets from being left in the car. It also features Safe Exit Assist (SEA) to prevent passengers from stopping on to the road if another car approaches, which is useful for exiting after street or parallel parking.
Both cars fared well in crash testing. They both earned 5 stars in tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), as well as the highest possible ‘Good’ rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
While the Tucson is a compact SUV and the Santa Fe is Mid-Size, they both carry many of the same technology and safety features, have roughly the same fuel economy, and can seat 5 people.
The features that are unique to the Santa Fe include a motion detection system for back seat movement while parked, which is handy for families who routinely take small children or pets with them on car trips. For them, they should look at the Santa Fe.
Overall, we think the Santa Fe is the smarter buy right now only because the Hyundai Tucson is at the end of its cycle. However, if early reviews are anything to go by, the upcoming Hyundai Tucson might very well be worth holding out for. If you’re dead set on getting a smaller, compact SUV right now, then the likes of the Mazda CX-5 or Kia Sportage are better options.