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The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tests front crash prevention systems. With a score of 6 points, IIHS rates the Automatic Emergency Braking optional in the Santa Fe as “Superior.” The Highlander scores only 3 points and is rated only “Advanced.”

Both the Santa Fe and the Highlander have standard driver and passenger frontal airbags, front side-impact airbags, driver knee airbags, side-impact head airbags, front seatbelt pretensioners, front-wheel drive, height-adjustable front shoulder belts, four-wheel antilock brakes, traction control, electronic stability systems to prevent skidding, daytime running lights, rearview cameras, available all-wheel drive, lane departure warning systems, blind spot warning systems, around view monitors and rear cross-path warning.

For its top level performance in all IIHS frontal, side, rear impact and roof-crush tests, with its optional front crash prevention system, and its available headlight’s “Good” rating, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety grants the Santa Fe its highest rating: “Top Pick Plus” for 2017, a rating granted to only 44 vehicles tested by the IIHS. The Highlander was last qualified as only a “Top Pick” in 2016.


The Santa Fe comes with a full 5-year/60,000 mile basic warranty, which covers the entire truck and includes 24 hour roadside assistance. The Highlander’s 3-year/36,000 mile basic warranty expires 2 years and 24,000 miles sooner.

Hyundai’s powertrain warranty covers the Santa Fe 5 years and 40,000 miles longer than Toyota covers the Highlander. Any repair needed on the engine, transmission, axles, joints or driveshafts is fully covered for 10 years or 100,000 miles. Coverage on the Highlander ends after only 5 years or 60,000 miles.

The Santa Fe’s corrosion warranty is 2 years longer than the Highlander’s (7 vs. 5 years).


J.D. Power and Associates’ 2016 Initial Quality Study of new car owners surveyed provide the statistics that show that Hyundai vehicles are better in initial quality than Toyota vehicles. J.D. Power ranks Hyundai third in initial quality, above the industry average. With 1 more problems per 100 vehicles, Toyota is ranked fourth.


The Santa Fe’s 3.3 DOHC V6 produces 105 more horsepower (290 vs. 185) and 68 lbs.-ft. more torque (252 vs. 184) than the Highlander’s standard 2.7 DOHC 4 cyl.

Brakes and Stopping

The Santa Fe stops much shorter than the Highlander:


Santa Fe



60 to 0 MPH

116 feet

131 feet

Motor Trend

60 to 0 MPH (Wet)

140 feet

144 feet

Consumer Reports

Suspension and Handling

The Santa Fe has standard front and rear gas-charged shocks for better control over choppy roads. The Highlander’s suspension doesn’t offer gas-charged shocks.

The Santa Fe has vehicle speed sensitive variable-assist power steering, for low-effort parking, better control at highway speeds and during hard cornering, and a better feel of the road. The Highlander doesn’t offer variable-assist power steering.

The Santa Fe Limited AWD executes Motor Trend’s “Figure Eight” maneuver quicker than the Highlander LE (27.5 seconds @ .63 average G’s vs. 28.3 seconds @ .64 average G’s).

For better maneuverability, the Santa Fe’s turning circle is 1.8 feet tighter than the Highlander’s (36.9 feet vs. 38.7 feet).

Passenger Space

The Santa Fe has .1 inches more front shoulder room, 2 inches more rear legroom and 3.2 inches more third row legroom than the Highlander.

Cargo Capacity

To make loading groceries and cargo easier when your hands are full, the Santa Fe’s available cargo door can be opened just by waiting momentarily behind the back bumper, leaving your hands completely free. The Highlander doesn’t offer a hands-free gesture to open its cargo door, forcing you to put cargo down if your hands are full.

Payload and Towing

The Santa Fe’s standard towing capacity is much higher than the Highlander’s (5000 vs. 1500 pounds).

The Santa Fe has a higher standard payload capacity than the Highlander (1444 vs. 1370 lbs.).

The Santa Fe has a higher maximum payload capacity than the Highlander (1515 vs. 1455 lbs.).

Servicing Ease

The Santa Fe uses gas struts to support the hood for easier service access. The Highlander uses a prop rod to support its heavy hood. It takes two hands to open the hood and set the prop rod, the prop rod gets in the way during maintenance and service, and the prop rod could be knocked out, causing the heavy hood to fall on the person maintaining or servicing the car.


The power windows standard on both the Santa Fe and the Highlander have locks to prevent small children from operating them. When the lock on the Santa Fe is engaged the driver can still operate all of the windows, for instance to close one opened by a child. The Highlander prevents the driver from operating the other windows just as it does the other passengers.

To help drivers see further while navigating curves, the Santa Fe Ultimate offers optional adaptive headlights to illuminate around corners automatically by reading vehicle speed and steering wheel angle. The Highlander doesn’t offer cornering lights.

The Santa Fe has a standard center folding armrest for the middle row passengers. A center armrest helps make middle row passengers more comfortable. The Highlander doesn’t offer a middle row seat center armrest.

Economic Advantages

According to The Car Book by Jack Gillis, the Santa Fe is less expensive to operate than the Highlander because typical repairs cost much less on the Santa Fe than the Highlander, including $230 less for a water pump, $608 less for an alternator, $241 less for a starter, $260 less for fuel injection, $576 less for a fuel pump, $383 less for front struts and $1383 less for a timing belt/chain.