The 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe mid-size sport utility vehicle stands out from the crowd for its attractive styling, comfortable ride, value pricing, surprising standard features and warranty.

In fact, sales of Hyundai's best-selling SUV are up 26.4 percent so far this calendar year - to more than 60,000 - compared with the same period a year ago. And this is the Santa Fe that had only minor changes in standard and optional equipment for the model year.

The 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe. (AP Photo/Hyundai)
The 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe. (AP Photo/Hyundai)

Maybe more shoppers are finding the Santa Fe because it's a recommended buy of Consumer Reports magazine, where reliability is rated as average. Perhaps the buying decision is easier knowing the Santa Fe comes with Hyundai's industry-leading, 10-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty plus a five-year/60,000-mile new-vehicle, limited warranty that is transferrable to the next buyer.

There's no doubt shoppers like getting a lot for their money, and this is where the Santa Fe shines most.

With 290 horsepower from its V-6, the Santa Fe boasts more horsepower than the Toyota Highlander with 270-horse V-6 and the 250-horsepower Honda Pilot.

Plus, even the base Santa Fe comes standard with modern, light-emitting diode accent lights by the headlights. Neither the Highlander nor the Pilot does. Door handles and the grille on all Santa Fes are chrome-colored for a rich look, while door handles on all 2014 Highlanders are the same color as the vehicle paint and the grille is black. A leather-wrapped steering wheel is standard on the base Santa Fe, but Honda Pilot buyers can only get this on the top-of-the-line EX-L model.

Best of all, starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for a base, front-wheel drive, 2014 Santa Fe GLS is $30,775. The starting retail price for an all-wheel drive, 2014 Santa Fe GLS is $32,525.

All Santa Fes are powered by a 3.3-liter, double overhead cam, direct injection V-6 mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.

Standard equipment on the base SUV includes heated front seats, eight-way, power-adjustable driver's seat, Shiftronic manual shift mode, air conditioning, rear air conditioning and heat controls, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, electroluminescent gauge cluster, power door locks and windows with all window buttons illuminated, automatic on/off headlights, remote keyless entry and more.

Note that the base, 2014 Santa Fe GLS has seats for seven, while the uplevel Limited model comes with second-row captain's chairs for a total passenger capacity of six.

There is another SUV with Santa Fe in its name - the 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport. The Sport is not a trim level of the three-row Santa Fe, however. It is a shorter-wheelbase SUV that has seats only for five passengers, and it comes only with four-cylinder engines.

In comparison to the Santa Fe, the base, 2015 Toyota Highlander LE with a 3.5-liter V-6, six-speed automatic, front-wheel drive and three rows of seats - capable of accommodating eight passengers - has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $31,605. The 2014 Honda Pilot with 3.5-liter V-6, five-speed automatic, front-wheel drive and seats for eight has a starting retail price of $30,700.

The engine power in the Santa Fe Limited tester came on smoothly and strongly, accompanied by confident engine sounds.

Yet, the power didn't seem to penalize fuel economy. The front-wheel drive tester averaged just over 20 miles per gallon in combined city/highway travel. This was a tad below the federal government fuel economy rating of 21 mpg in city/highway combined travel.

This 21-mpg rating, by the way, is equal to that of the lower-powered Highlander and Pilot. It's also the average mpg of many other SUVs on the market, including SUVs that only offer five seats, such as the 2014 Volkswagen Tiguan with turbocharged four cylinder and the luxury, 2014 Lexus RX 350 with V-6.

On the outside, the Santa Fe looks less boxy than the Pilot and Highlander, and the appealing styling masks the vehicle's 16-foot-long length.

The test Santa Fe also drove as if it was a smaller vehicle - more like a two-rows-of-seats vehicle.

There was some weight shifting felt from side to side on twisty mountain roads, and the Santa Fe took up more room in parking spaces than anticipated early on in the test drive.

But dynamically in around-town trips and country road travel, the Santa Fe felt sprightly and comfortably easy to drive.

Highway trips can be especially pleasant, given that the Santa Fe's long wheelbase of 9.2 feet mutes the bobbing up and down that can come from highway expansion cracks.

Front row seats were nicely supportive yet a bit cushioned, too. Second-row seats amazed by offering as much legroom - 41.3 inches - as the front seats have. And even the smallish rear bench had 31.5 inches of legroom, which compares with the 27.7 inches in the third row of the Highlander. The Pilot's 32.1 inches of third-row legroom, however, is bigger.

Santa Fe passengers sit up a ways from the pavement, but getting inside the front and second-row seats was not arduous, even for small-statured adults, because door sills were slim. Third row access requires some maneuvering of the second row seats.

Controls and knobs are well-placed in the Santa Fe, save for the fuel door button that's difficult to see at the driver door armrest.

There has been one safety recall involving just 28 Santa Fe SUVs built during 10 days in November 2013. During production, tires with damaged sidewalls may have been installed. A tire with sidewall damage poses a risk of coming apart during travel, which could lead to a crash.

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