2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport vs. 2017 Toyota Highlander

Detailed Review, Specifications & Comparison

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Compared to metal, the Santa Fe Sport’s plastic fuel tank can withstand harder, more intrusive impacts without leaking; this decreases the possibility of fire. The Toyota Highlander has a metal gas tank.

Both the Santa Fe Sport 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, crash mitigating brakes, lane departure warning systems, blind spot warning systems, around view monitors and rear cross-path warning.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration does 35 MPH front crash tests on new vehicles. In this test, results indicate that the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport is safer than the Toyota Highlander:


Santa Fe Sport



5 Stars

4 Stars




5 Stars

4 Stars

Neck Injury Risk



Neck Stress

313 lbs.

509 lbs.

Neck Compression

25 lbs.

73 lbs.

Leg Forces (l/r)

210/393 lbs.

409/517 lbs.

New test not comparable to pre-2011 test results. More stars = Better. Lower test results = Better.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration does side impact tests on new vehicles. In this test, which crashes the vehicle into a post at 20 MPH, results indicate that the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport is safer than the Toyota Highlander:


Santa Fe Sport



Into Pole


5 Stars

5 Stars

Max Damage Depth

15 inches

16 inches




New test not comparable to pre-2011 test results. More stars = Better. Lower test results = Better.


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


J.D. Power and Associates’ 2017 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 6th in initial quality, above the industry average. With 7 more problems per 100 vehicles, Toyota is ranked 13th.


The Santa Fe Sport 2.0T’s standard 2.0 turbo 4 cyl. produces 55 more horsepower (240 vs. 185) and 76 lbs.-ft. more torque (260 vs. 184) than the Highlander’s standard 2.7 DOHC 4 cyl.

Fuel Economy and Range

On the EPA test cycle the Santa Fe Sport FWD with its standard engine gets better fuel mileage than the Highlander FWD 4 cyl. (21 city/27 hwy vs. 20 city/24 hwy).

Brakes and Stopping

The Santa Fe Sport stops shorter than the Highlander:


Santa Fe Sport



70 to 0 MPH

177 feet

186 feet

Car and Driver

60 to 0 MPH

122 feet

131 feet

Motor Trend

60 to 0 MPH (Wet)

142 feet

146 feet

Consumer Reports

Suspension and Handling

The Santa Fe Sport 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 Sport 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 Sport 2.0T AWD handles at .80 G’s, while the Highlander LE pulls only .76 G’s of cornering force in a Motor Trend skidpad test.

The Santa Fe Sport 2.0T AWD executes Motor Trend’s “Figure Eight” maneuver quicker than the Highlander LE (27.7 seconds @ .57 average G’s vs. 28.3 seconds @ .64 average G’s).

For better maneuverability, the Santa Fe Sport’s turning circle is 2.9 feet tighter than the Highlander’s (35.8 feet vs. 38.7 feet).


The Hyundai Santa Fe Sport may be more efficient, handle and accelerate better because it weighs about 550 pounds less than the Toyota Highlander.

The Santa Fe Sport is 7.5 inches shorter than the Highlander, making the Santa Fe Sport easier to handle, maneuver and park in tight spaces.

Passenger Space

The Santa Fe Sport has .1 inches more front shoulder room and 1 inch more rear legroom than the Highlander.

Cargo Capacity

The Santa Fe Sport has a much larger cargo area than the Highlander with its rear seat up (35.4 vs. 13.8 cubic feet).

Pressing a switch automatically lowers the Santa Fe Sport’s optional rear seats, to make changing between passengers and cargo easier. The Highlander doesn’t offer automatic folding seats.

To make loading groceries and cargo easier when your hands are full, the Santa Fe Sport’s 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.


The Santa Fe Sport’s standard towing capacity is much higher than the Highlander’s (2000 vs. 1500 pounds).

Servicing Ease

The Santa Fe Sport 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 Santa Fe Sport has a maintenance free battery for long life without checking the battery’s water level. The Highlander doesn’t have a maintenance free battery, so the water level in the battery’s cells must be checked often to prevent damage.


The Santa Fe Sport offers a remote vehicle starting system, so the vehicle can be started from inside the driver's house. This allows the driver to comfortably warm up the engine before going out to the vehicle. The Highlander doesn’t offer a remote starting system.

The power windows standard on both the Santa Fe Sport and the Highlander have locks to prevent small children from operating them. When the lock on the Santa Fe Sport 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 Sport 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.

Economic Advantages

Insurance will cost less for the Santa Fe Sport owner. The Car Book by Jack Gillis rates the Santa Fe Sport with a number “5” insurance rate while the Highlander is rated higher at a number “8” rate.

According to The Car Book by Jack Gillis, the Santa Fe Sport is less expensive to operate than the Highlander because typical repairs cost much less on the Santa Fe Sport than the Highlander, including $241 less for a water pump, $606 less for an alternator, $242 less for a starter, $263 less for fuel injection, $531 less for a fuel pump, $385 less for front struts and $1378 less for a timing belt/chain.

IntelliChoice estimates that five-year ownership costs (depreciation, financing, insurance, fuel, fees, repairs and maintenance) for the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport will be $786 to $2071 less than for the Toyota Highlander.


The Hyundai Santa Fe Sport has won recognition from these important consumer publications:


Santa Fe Sport


Consumer Reports® Recommends


Top Pick

Car Book “Best Bet”



© 1991-2018 Advanta-STAR Automotive Research. All rights reserved.

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