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2018 Hyundai Santa Fe vs. 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan: Which should you buy?

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When it comes to three-row SUVs, there are few out there that actually contain a third row that works for adults and children. The Hyundai Santa Fe is a stalwart in the category, performing as a true minivan alternative for years. Volkswagen redesigned the Tiguan with American audiences in mind, adding an optional third row.

The Santa Fe is years into its current generation and received a facelift for 2017 with the addition of advanced safety features and Android Auto compatibility. The 2018 models is a carryover from the previous year. For this review, I drove the 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited Ultimate with all-wheel drive. It has a starting MSRP of $41,300.

Volkswagen’s Tiguan is all-new for 2018. It’s longer, seats more people, and molded by Volkswagen’s contemporary design language. The SUV was designed specifically for American buyers and fits directly below the Atlas in the VW stable. The model I drove for this review is the 2018 Tiguan SEL Premium with 4Motion. The third row is a $500 option that was added to the model. The MSRP is $38,950.

2017 Santa Fe

Performance

The three-row 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe gets its power from a 3.3-liter V6 engine that achieves 290 horsepower. The engine would in no way be described as beefy or strong but it is proficient. A six-speed automatic transmission delivers smooth shifts that helps make acceleration a steady process. The cabin is well-insulated against engine noise.

Under the hood of the 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan you’ll find a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission that puts out 184 horsepower. While the SUV’s powertrain isn’t sluggish, it’s not as inspiring as other SUV’s power plants. Acceleration is a steady but noisy experience.

Both models have plenty of power to get up to speed and are able to easily scoot around town.

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Fuel Economy

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the 3.3-liter V6-powered Santa Fe achieves 18 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. The Tiguan gets 21 mpg in the city and 27 on the highway.

2017 Santa Fe

Seating

Both models seat up to seven people. However, only the Santa Fe has a third row that is usable for adults and children though adults may not want to ride back there for a long period of time.

The Tiguan’s third row is basic and appears to be an add-on without comfort in mind. Adults won’t be comfortable in the last row of seating but small children and the family dog will be okay.

Cloth seating is standard in both models while leatherette and leather seats are available.

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Interior Features

The Hyundai Santa Fe and Volkswagen Tiguan come with a similar list of standard features. The Santa Fe offers a 7-inch display infotainment display, a six-speaker sound system, Bluetooth connectivity, a USB port, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, satellite radio, HD Radio, and dual-zone automatic climate control, and a rearview camera.

The Tiguan base model comes equipped with a , a 6.5-inch touch screen six-speaker sound system, Bluetooth connectivity, a USB port, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, MirrorLink, and a rearview camera.

Both models allow buyers to expand the number of features to be just shy of what luxury models offer at a cost. The Tiguan’s Digital Cockpit is similar to Audi’s Virtual Cockpit but much more toned down in its offering.

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Cargo Area

The Volkswagen Tiguan has marginally less cargo space than the Hyundai Santa Fe in nearly every configuration except when the second and third row seats are folded- there, the Tiguan wins out by two cubic feet. A hands free liftgate is available in both models.

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Safety

The Tiguan and Santa Fe perform equally as well in crash tests performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The usual lineup of modern safety technologies including rear cross-traffic alert, blind spot warning, and lane departure warning, are available in both SUVs.

2017 Santa Fe

Pricing

The 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan has a starting price that is more than $5,000 lower than that of the 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe ($25,195 vs. $30,850). The Tiguan has more grades to choose from than does the Santa Fe. A top tier Tiguan starts at $37,550 and the highest-grade Santa Fe starts at $39,550.

Warranty

The 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan comes backed by a 6-year/72,000-mile bumper-to-bumper limited warranty.

Hyundai’s 2018 Santa Fe comes backed by a 5-year/60,000-mile new vehicle limited warranty and a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain limited warranty.

2017 Santa Fe

Which one should you choose?

When you’re choosing between the Hyundai Santa Fe and the Volkswagen Tiguan it comes down to four factors. The first is seating. How many seats do you truly need? If you’re planning on just using the third row for storage, you may find that the Tiguan is the better choice for you. If you’re set on the Santa Fe and don’t need the seats, check out the Santa Fe Sport, a smaller version of the same vehicle.

The second consideration is price. If you need a budget-friendly buy, not many three-row SUVs are available for a lower price than the Volkswagen Tiguan. Even in the top trims, both vehicles will never come close to what luxury three-row SUVs offer but they’re very nicely appointed. Be sure to try multiple grades of the same vehicle when you test drive at your local dealership.

Speaking of dealerships… Choosing between these two may come down to which dealership you like better. Does the Kia dealer near you have multiple poor customer service reviews online while people love the local Volkswagen dealer? Evaluate your potential new dealership connection as much as you evaluate your potential new vehicle.

Finally, it may come down to which vehicle you just like better. Sometimes it doesn’t matter what the numbers say. Do you prefer the aesthetics of the Hyundai Santa Fe over the Volkswagen Tiguan? Go with your heart. Sometimes when vehicles are so close in capacity, quality, and price, the real deciding factor can be which one you just like best.

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Written by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

Eileen is the writer of the nationally syndicated column Automotive Minute in The Business Journals, which explores the automotive industry focusing on news, reviews, and interviews. She loves finding out about the business strategy, design, and drivability of vehicles. Eileen is a contributor to U.S. News & World Report Best Cars.

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