Best & Worst Hyundai Santa Fe Years

We've ranked all Hyundai Santa Fe models for every generation so you can avoid picking the worst Hyundai Santa Fe years and pick the best one.

In this guide, I’ll analyze all Hyundai Santa Fe generations, revealing Santa Fe’s best years to buy and the worst Hyundai Santa Fe years to avoid.

Utilizing data from reliable sources like NHTSA, VehicleHistory, and various consumer reports, this guide collates and showcases years of data, highlighting Hyundai Santa Fe’s yearly reliability.

We will explore Hyundai Santa Fe’s common issues, necessary recalls, and standout features by breaking down each best and worst year for Hyundai Santa Fe.

Let’s dive right in.

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Table of ContentsShow

Hyundai Santa Fe Generations

The Hyundai Santa Fe, initially introduced to the market in 2001, swiftly gained popularity as a competent crossover SUV, providing buyers with a compelling blend of comfort, utility, and affordability.

The first generation (SM) debuted offering a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine or a more powerful 2.7-liter V6, with features like side-impact airbags and anti-lock brakes, illustrating Hyundai’s commitment to providing value-packed vehicles.

Here is a table showcasing all Hyundai Santa Fe generations from 2001.

1st generation (SM)2001-2006
2nd generation (CM)2007-2012
3rd generation (NC)2013-2018
4th generation (TM)2019-2023

Understanding the differences between these generations is crucial, as significant modifications and updates typically occur with each generational shift.

Hyundai Santa Fe Best, Neutral, and Worst Years

When establishing our rankings and categorizations for the Hyundai Santa Fe’s best and worst years, we consider various aspects, including but not limited to:

  • Owner-reported reliability (surveys)
  • Annual maintenance costs
  • Safety ratings
  • Consumer Reports reliability scores
  • Consumer Reports owner satisfaction scores
  • NHTSA recalls, investigations, and complaints
  • Edmunds owner ratings
  • JD Power owner ratings
  • Kelley’s Blue Book (KBB) owner ratings
  • VehicleHistory owner ratings
  • owner ratings

A graph will be presented below to comprehensively illustrate the consolidated ratings from the sources above.

Hyundai Santa Fe Car Smite Score Combined Overall Score

Next, a categorization table elucidates which model years stand out as the best, neutral, and worst within each generation.

GenerationBest YearsNeutral YearsWorst Years
1st generation (SM)20062004
2nd generation (CM)2011
3rd generation (NC)2015
4th generation (TM)2019

Neutral Years are characterized as model years that neither shine brightly nor have substantial drawbacks, offering a balanced mix of reliability and satisfaction.

Understanding that certain factors, like NHTSA recalls, inversely affect the car’s dependability score is pivotal, often signaling widespread issues.

Let’s dive into the best, neutral, and worst Hyundai Santa Fe years.

Best & Worst Years for Hyundai Santa Fe 1st Generation (2001-2006)

Hyundai Santa Fe 1st generation 2001 model
The 2001 Hyundai Santa Fe

Hyundai launched its venture into the SUV market with the Santa Fe in 2001, exploring a synergy of affordability and solid performance.

The last model of the generation – 2006, is Santa Fe’s best years, while the earlier models – 2001-2003, are the Hyundai Santa Fe years to avoid.

The Best Years: 2006

With substantially fewer owner complaints and recalls on NHTSA, 2006 is categorized as Hyundai Santa Fe’s best year in this generation.

This year presented a choice between a 2.7L Delta V6 engine and a 3.5L Sigma V6 engine, paired with a 5-speed manual or 4/5-speed automatic transmission.

Additionally, it offered commendable fuel efficiency for the time, with the 2.7L V6 providing 17 city / 23 highway mpg.

On the inside, the model did not mainly wow the market with advanced technological features but did solidify its standing with standard amenities like air conditioning, power windows, and door locks.

On the safety front, anti-lock brakes and side-curtain airbags were notable inclusions for the year.

Despite this, it wasn’t entirely devoid of issues. Some owners reported minor problems with the fuel system and occasional electrical glitches.

The Neutral Years: 2004, 2005

Navigating through the 2004 and 2005 models, Hyundai managed to stabilize the Santa Fe to an extent, ensuring a balanced performance and reliability matrix.

The engine options remained consistent with the choice between a 2.4L 4-cylinder engine and a more robust 2.7L V6, ensuring respectable power while maintaining a decent fuel economy, offering 18 city / 24 highway mpg for the 2.7L V6 with automatic transmission.

The 2004 Hyundai Santa Fe encountered issues with the transmission yet was not broadly maligned for massive breakdowns or pervasive issues.

On the contrary, the standard GLS trim offered decent interior amenities like cruise control and quality stereo systems, and available front-side-impact airbags enhanced the safety.

The 2005 Hyundai Santa Fe mirrored a similar path with no alarming spike in issues, yet neither did it present a remarkable leap in technological or performance aspects, positioning these years in a neutral standing.

The Worst Years: 2001, 2002, 2003

With relatively many NHTSA recalls and owner complaints, 2001, 2002, and 2003 are the Hyundai Santa Fe years you should avoid.

The 2001 and 2002 Hyundai Santa Fe models were substantially impacted by various electrical system, engine, and suspension issues.

The regular engine stalls posed not just an inconvenience but a noteworthy safety concern, leading Hyundai to recall vehicles with 2.7L V6 engines due to the failure of the crankshaft position sensor.

Additionally, a pervasive issue with the rear trailing arm cracking due to corrosion led to recalls, attempting to remedy the front coil and rear trailing arm corrosion problems spanning the 2001-2006 Santa Fe models.

The 2003 Hyundai Santa Fe didn’t escape unscathed either, as it became synonymous with brake problems, notably reduced braking performance.

Hyundai initiated recalls for 2003 and 2004 models with 3.5L, 4WD, and ABS systems to tackle the ABS sensor malfunctions that hindered braking distances.

See NHTSA 2001, 2002, 2003 Hyundai Santa Fe recalls and complaints.

Best & Worst Years for Hyundai Santa Fe 2nd Generation (2007-2012)

Hyundai Santa Fe 2nd generation 2007 model
The 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe

The Hyundai Santa Fe made a strategic leap into its second generation, showing off its all-new unibody construction and noticeably elevated aesthetic appeal.

The last years of the generation – 2011 and 2012 are Hyundai Santa Fe’s best years while avoiding the 2007-2010 models is recommended.

The Best Years: 2011, 2012

Are the Hyundai Santa Fe 2011 and 2012 good cars? With fewer recalls and complaints and good ratings from platforms like Consumer Reports, 2011 and 2012 are Hyundai Santa Fe’s best and most reliable years in the second generation.

In these years, potential buyers encountered an intriguing array of powertrain options, which included a 2.4L  Theta II 4-cylinder engine that offered 175 hp and a 3.5L Lambda II V6 engine providing a robust 276 hp.

The 2.4L engine showcased an impressive fuel economy of 20 city / 28 highway mpg, providing a balanced blend of performance and efficiency.

Technological amenities also saw an upward trajectory with Bluetooth, steering-wheel audio controls, a free trial of SiriusXM satellite radio becoming standard across all trim levels, and even navigation becoming available on Limited models.

Regarding safety, stability control, front-seat side airbags, full-length curtain-type airbags, front active head restraints, and hill descent control provided an additional layer of security for the occupants.

Although there were reports of engine stalling, Hyundai acted proactively, recalling models to address worn connecting rod bearings that could cause engine damage.

The Worst Years: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010

Which years to avoid Hyundai Santa Fe? With many owner complaints and recalls on NHTSA, 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010 are the Hyundai Santa Fe years to avoid at all costs.

The 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe was plagued with myriad problems across various systems, most notably within the electrical and fuel systems, brakes, and the engine.

A significant issue arose where the valve cover gasket would leak oil onto the alternator, leading to failure.

Furthermore, widespread Electronic Stability Control (ESC) and fuel sensor malfunctions left owners frustrated and, in some cases, stranded.

Hyundai launched a series of recalls to manage persistent issues like stop lamp switch malfunctions, which induced the ESC malfunction light to illuminate, and an ABS module short circuit that presented a fire hazard in the engine compartment.

Subsequent years, like 2008 and 2009, didn’t fare notably better, with ongoing issues in the fuel system and continued fuel sensor malfunctions.

Meanwhile, the 2010 Hyundai Santa Fe was not spared from transmission issues, including jerking, hard shifting, and a disturbing clunking noise beneath the hood.

See NHTSA 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 Hyundai Santa Fe recalls and complaints.

Best & Worst Years for Hyundai Santa Fe 3rd Generation (2013-2018)

Hyundai Santa Fe 3rd generation 2013 model
The 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe

Embarking on its third generation, the Hyundai Santa Fe showcased a compelling evolution in design, feature set, and mechanical prowess, providing consumers with various economical and luxurious options.

With numerous engine issues, 2013, 2014, and 2017 are the Hyundai Santa Fe years to avoid in this generation, while 2015, 2016, and 2018 are Hyundai Santa Fe’s best years regarding reliability and affordability.

The Best Years: 2015, 2016, 2018

With outstanding J.D. Power, VehicleHistory, and Consumer Reports ratings and fewer reported issues and recalls, 2015, 2016, and 2018 are Hyundai Santa Fe’s best years for the third generation.

These models introduced multiple powertrain options, which included a 3.3L Lambda II V6 engine providing 290 hp and 252 lb-ft of torque, paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission, rendering a respectable fuel economy of 18 city / 25 highway mpg.

Noteworthy is the 2018 model, which not only maintained the reliability of its predecessors but also introduced advanced safety features, such as the standard rearview camera and the availability of Hyundai’s Blue Link system, which included emergency safety assistance and other beneficial telematics services.

Additionally, the introduction of the Ultimate Package offered heated rear seats, a panoramic sunroof, and an 8-inch touchscreen with navigation, blending comfort with technological advancement.

Notwithstanding, Hyundai issued necessary recalls, addressing notable problems like steering wheel detachment in the 2018 model.

The Worst Years: 2013, 2014, 2017

The generation’s most problematic Hyundai Santa Fe years are 2013, 2014, and 2017. You should avoid these years like the plague as they saw many issues that spanned engine, steering, and safety.

The 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe was especially plagued with engine problems, where owners reported engine overheating issues, excessive oil consumption, and misfiring.

The right front axle shaft was also subject to recall due to its propensity to fracture and create a safety hazard.

Issues didn’t end there, with an ABS short circuit prompting a recall due to the potential fire hazard within the engine compartment.

The 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe perpetuated some of these engine and steering concerns, with reports of a clunking noise from the steering column and less responsive steering, while the 2017 model excited the severity of the issues with widespread reports of engine failures.

See NHTSA 2013, 2014, 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe recalls and complaints.

Best & Worst Years for Hyundai Santa Fe 4th Generation (2019-2023)

Hyundai Santa Fe 4th generation 2019 model
The 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe

The 4th generation of Hyundai Santa Fe presents a captivating chapter in the model’s evolution, with an aesthetic and mechanical revamp that signaled Hyundai’s adherence to contemporary automotive advancements.

In this generation, 2019, 2020, and 2023 are Hyundai Santa Fe’s best years, while 2021 and 2022 are the Hyundai Santa Fe years you should avoid.

The Best Years: 2019, 2020, 2023

Equipped with the latest technological and safety features and quite good owner ratings from platforms like J.D. Power, Consumer Reports, VehicleHistory, and, 2019, 2020, and 2023 are Hyundai Santa Fe’s best and most reliable years in this generation.

In the 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe, buyers could opt for a 2.4L Theta II inline-4 engine generating 185 hp or a more powerful 2.0L Smartstream G2.0 turbo-4 engine that pumped out 235 hp, both mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission.

Introducing safety features like a forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and an attention warning system added a layer of safety that family-oriented buyers welcomed.

The 2020 Hyundai Santa Fe furthered this in higher trims like the Limited and Calligraphy, which featured leather seating surfaces, premium door sill plates, and a Harman Kardon premium audio system.

The Worst Years: 2021, 2022

2021 and 2022 received several recalls concerning domains like transmission and engine; therefore, they are categorized as the Hyundai Santa Fe years to avoid in the fourth generation.

The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe was subjected to critical reviews due to prevalent engine failures, posing a reliability and safety risk.

Numerous recalls were issued, addressing daunting problems like a complete loss of drive power attributed to oil pump malfunctions and potential fire hazards due to fuel leaks at pipe connections.

The 2022 Hyundai Santa Fe seemed to inherit some of these mechanical woes, with reports highlighting struggles with engine performance and transmission problems, such as erratic shifting and unresponsive acceleration in certain conditions.

See NHTSA 2021, 2022 Hyundai Santa Fe recalls and complaints.

Hyundai Santa Fe Average Resale Values

See the subsequent graph, which shows the Hyundai Santa Fe’s average resale values across various model years.

Hyundai Santa Fe Average List Price


Navigating through Hyundai Santa Fe’s intricate journey, it’s evident that 2015, 2016, and 2018-2020 model years are the Hyundai Santa Fe’s best years that will afford commendable reliability and satisfaction.

Which Hyundai Santa Fe year strikes the best balance between reliability and advanced features for your individual needs?

Share your insights in the comments below!

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Jonathan Eckert

Jonathan is an ASE-certified mechanic with over 22 years of hands-on experience in the automotive industry. His expertise spans a wide range of vehicles, but he specializes in diagnosing and repairing Japanese cars. His previous workplace highly commended his meticulous attention to detail, and that's exaclty what he uses at Car Smite to craft the best guides for each purpose.