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exterior image of a gray 2023 Hyundai Santa Fe parked on the street in Southern California

Pineapple Express - Comfy, Classy, & Capable

Heavy rain supplies ample opportunity to test the 2023 Hyundai Santa Fe under wet and dangerous driving conditions.

By Glenn Oyoung

Wed, Apr 12, 2023 01:46 PM PST

Images by the author.

The 2023 Hyundai Santa Fe arrived just before the latest atmospheric river to hit Southern California. The most famous atmospheric river, the Pineapple Express, carries moisture from the tropics and dumps as much as five inches of rain in one day. It rained heavily for more than half of the time I had the Santa Fe, giving me ample opportunity to test it under wet and dangerous driving conditions. The verdict: this mid-sized SUV checks off the 3C’s: comfy, classy, and capable.

Interior

I normally start reviews with the exterior, but given the fact I spent more time inside the Santa Fe avoiding the torrential downpour I’ll start with the interior. Our tester was the near top-of-the-line Calligraphy trim.

interior view of the front seats in the 2023 Hyundai Santa Fe
The driver and front passerger will enjoy the luxurious interior of the 2023 Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy

Clocking in just above $45K (a whopping $15K more than the base SE trim) it came equipped with a host of comfort and convenience features, starting with stylish and comfortable heated and ventilated seats covered in quilted Napa Leather. Staying toasty was a key priority for me during this time, and the heated seats coupled with the heated steering wheel were more than up to the task. Our fully loaded Santa Fe also featured one of the best panoramic sunroofs ever, providing passengers with a real-time view of the atmospheric river above them.

image of the interior of a 2023 Hyundai Santa Fe
The rear seat in the 2023 Hyundai Santa Fe - with the sun peeking in after the rainstorm.

The 2023 Santa Fe comfortably seats five people, and with the rear seats folded down creates a cavernous cargo area that can transport up to 71.3 cubic feet of Amazon returns. Take a look at what that looks like – it’s essentially the cargo bed of a 90’s pick-up truck. Pretty useful, especially since the floor is flat once the seats are folded down.

image of the interior of the 2023 Hyundai Santa Fe showing the hauling space when the rear seats are folded.
Fold the rear seats and the Hyundai Santa Fe turns into a small pickup, without exposing your stuff to the elements.

Technology

Technology-wise the Santa Fe checks off the key boxes a modern driver is looking for: a place to charge their phone (wireless charging, check!), phone integration (Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, check!) and huge IMAX-like displays (10.25” infotainment screen and footlong [12.3”] instrument cluster, check!). Rear passengers have access to USB charging as well as a proper 110-volt outlet – something every parent will appreciate (our screen time rules went out the window, thank you very much global pandemic.)

image featuring the full-size moonroof in the 2023 Hyundai Santa Fe
The massive moonroof further increases the feeling of spaciousness in the 2023 Santa Fe.

The 80’s Apple Essentials playlist sounded particularly great thanks to the 12-speaker premium Harmon Kardon audio system. Warm, entertained, and surrounded by ambient lighting of my choice, I could think of a lot worse places to wait out the rain than inside of a Santa Fe Calligraphy.

Safety

Once a drizzle hits L.A., we experienced Angelinos know that freeway crashes go up exponentially. Originally from the Midwest, this never ceases to amaze me. I’ve seen people texting (terrible), apply makeup (terrible), and even read a newspaper (insane) in traffic and somehow survive – but a dash of water and people start spinning out like they’ve been hit by a turtle shell in Mario Kart.

The Santa Fe comes equipped with the latest safety features to keep the shiny side up, rain or shine. This includes a convenient and legible Heads Up Display (not all HUDs are created equal, btw) and a host of active and passive safety features (e.g., Lane Keeping Assist,  Safe Exit Assist, Drive Attention Warning, Highway Driving Assist, the list goes on). These came in handy during the storms.

A feature I haven’t seen in other cars yet is the Blind Spot View Monitor (BVM in Hyundai terms.) The BVM IS AMAZING. When you engage the turn signal, the gauges on the digital dash are replaced by real-time view of the blind spot in the direction you’re moving over to.

image showing the amazingly useful Blind Spot View Monitor in the 2023 Hyundai Santa Fe
The amazingly useful Blind Spot View Monitor (BVM)

Between the HUD and the BVM, you do not have to take your eyes off of what is in front of you – which is a major source of all the freeway accidents we see as traffic starts and stops. This was a lifesaver in the treacherous freeway environment I tested the Santa Fe in over the weeklong review. The BVM is so helpful that it should be a required safety feature on all cars, along with a cellular service jammer (I’m kidding on this, only partially.) If we had those, the bodyshops might be looking to start boba shops.

closeup image of the dashboard of a 2023 Hyundai Santa Fe displaying the information message a driver received when the car in front starts to drive away.
Zoned out in a traffic jam? The Santa Fe will let you know when it's time to get going again.

If you are stopped in traffic and just zone out – a) been there, b) this is 40, c) music was better back then, I agree. For my fellow daydreamers, the Santa Fe will actually ping you and let you know that the vehicle ahead is on the move. It’s another pretty nifty feature that I saw first on the Santa Fe, one that will definitely spare you from being wailed on by Foghorn Leghorn behind you and potentially spare you from being rear-ended. Kudos to the safety engineers and product planners at Hyundai for loading up the Santa Fe with all of these useful safety technologies.

Performance & Handling

The Calligraphy trim is powered by a turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine rated at 281hp and 311 ft.-lb. of torque, which is available on the higher-end Limited and Calligraphy trims. During my time with the Santa Fe, it was sufficiently powered for daily driving. You’re not going to win any drag races in it, but I don’t think that most mid-size SUV owners are looking to set any land speed records. My guess is confirmed by the fact that the Hyundai website lists the Santa Fe’s fuel economy figures first under the detailed specifications. The EPA fuel economy ratings for the Santa Fe are  21 city / 28 highway / 24 combined.

exterior of the 2023 Hyundai Santa Fe, seen from the side of the vehicle
Side view of the 2023 Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy

Our loaner was configured in the optional AWD drivetrain, which was surely a key element of my ability to return it unscathed from all the commuting I did that week throughout the very soggy Southland. I was very confident in the Santa Fe’s ability to accelerate, stop, and handle in the wet. Though I’ve imagined returning to the truck world someday with a large SUV, the Santa Fe was so capable and comfortable for the whole family that I’ve since reconsidered and am now open to a mid-size SUV if the day ever comes to part with my beloved minivan (that is likely one of the few times in human history “beloved” and “minivan” have been published - so goes #vanlife).

Exterior

If you follow car design, you know that Hyundai and its stablemate brand Kia are on a bit of a decade-long tear in terms of turning heads. Hyundai’s Genesis luxury brand in particular is on fire with their GV80 SUV and the Santa Fe design has some resemblance to the GV80 in certain angles.

image of the exterior of a 2023 Hyundai Santa Fe, as seen from the rear
The rear of the 2023 Hyundai Santa Fe - here seen with the remnants of the rainstorm.

Overall the Santa Fe is a clean SUV design, though I prefer the GV80 front-end over the Santa Fe’s somewhat funky front-end. It’s the wedge headlights, sitting up high – the same reason I never cared for the Jeep Cherokee front ends circa 2014. SUVs need to look like SUVs darn it. 

Conclusion & Summary

After a week, the front-end kind of grew on me. In the very attractive Hampton Gray, coupled with the tooth-like black grille, the Santa Fe started to look like my very own mako shark that had kept me safe from collisions, the cold, and countless hours of boredom sitting in traffic logjams.

exterior of the 2023 Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy, seen from the front of the car
The 2023 Hyundai Santa Fe - wet.

I would recommend you check out the Santa Fe in the Calligraphy trim if you’re in the market for a mid-size SUV and your focus is safety and creature comforts. The next time the Pineapple Express visits I’ll recall fondly my time with the 2023 Santa Fe Calligraphy and tip my hat to the Hyundai product planners who kept this salaryman safe.

About The Author

Glenn Oyoung's profile picture

Glenn Oyoung

Glenn Oyoung is a marketer based in Los Angeles. Glenn’s lifelong passion for cars is rooted in playing with Hot Wheels, and has continued into 1:1 scale. He’s the former marketing director of American Racing, author of ‘vehicular alphabet books’ “C is for Car” and "P is for Petersen" in collaboration with the Petersen Automotive Museum. His passion for cars extends to his role as the founder of the monthly car meet Carcadia at Route 66, the most diverse car meet in the San Gabriel Valley.

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