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2015 Toyota Highlander vs. 2015 Hyundai Santa Fe: Which Is Better?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro July 2015

If you're interested in a new midsize SUV with room for your whole family -- and all their accessories -- we're certain you have the 2015 Hyundai Santa Fe and the 2015 Toyota Highlander on your shopping list. But which SUV is better? And which one should you get? We have all the answers for shoppers who are having trouble deciding between a Santa Fe and a Highlander.

2015 Toyota Highlander

Following a complete redesign last year -- with a wide range of updates, new features and improvements -- the Highlander is unchanged for 2015.

2015 Hyundai Santa Fe

In addition to steering and suspension tweaks, the Santa Fe adds a more convenient optional power lift gate that will open if the driver stands near the Santa Fe with the key for a few seconds.

Reliability

According to reliability experts at J.D. Power, the Highlander performs a little better than the Santa Fe when it comes to dependability. Specifically, the Highlander earned four out of five circles in the firm's Power Circle Ratings -- indicating better-than-average dependability -- while the Santa Fe earned a merely average 3-circle store.

When it comes to warranty length, however, the Hyundai has the Highlander beat. The Santa Fe offers 5 years or 60,000 miles of bumper-to-bumper protection, compared to the Toyota's 3 years or 36,000 miles of coverage. Meanwhile, the Santa Fe's 10 years or 100,000 miles of powertrain coverage easily trumps the Toyota's 5 years or 60,000 miles.

As a result, reliability is a mixed bag: While the Toyota will likely be more dependable than the Hyundai, the Santa Fe offers better manufacturer coverage. It will be up to you to decide which one is more important.

Fuel Economy

The Santa Fe only has one powertrain option: a 290-horsepower 3.3-liter V6. It's mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission, and it returns up to 18 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg on the highway.

The Highlander, meanwhile, has three choices. Base models use a rather underpowered 185-hp 2.7-liter 4-cylinder, which returns up to 20 mpg city/25 mpg hwy. Most Highlander models are powered by a 270-hp 3.5-liter V6, which returns up to 19 mpg city/25 mpg hwy. Finally, drivers who place a special priority on fuel economy will want the Highlander Hybrid, which uses a 280-hp hybrid V6 and returns up to 27 mpg city/28 mpg hwy.

While that's a lot to take in, here's a general overview: In practice, the vast majority of Highlander and Santa Fe models get almost exactly the same fuel economy. You'll only see gas-mileage differences if you choose a 4-cylinder Highlander, which offers only a slight benefit, or a Highlander Hybrid, which offers far better fuel economy but at premium prices.

Safety

In government crash tests, both the latest Highlander and Santa Fe earned a perfect 5-star overall safety rating. The Santa Fe didn't score quite so well in testing carried out by the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), earning a Marginal score in the firm's difficult small-overlap front crash test. The Highlander, meanwhile, earned the top Good score in that test, and it took home an esteemed IIHS Top Safety Pick+ designation.

As for safety features, the Highlander once again outshines its Hyundai rival. While the Hyundai offers everything you need (side-curtain airbags, a backup camera and anti-lock brakes) along with a few key options (parking sensors, a blind spot monitoring system, rear cross-traffic alert and lane-change assist), the Highlander simply offers more. Its options list includes forward-collision warning with automatic braking, lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control and automatic high beams -- none of which you can get in the Santa Fe.

The result of all this is that drivers who consider safety above all else will certainly prefer the Highlander to its Hyundai rival.

Technology

When it comes to technology, the slightly newer Highlander boasts some major benefits over its Hyundai rival. The most important advantages are safety features, which we've already covered: items such as forward-collision alert with automatic braking, lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control and adaptive high beams. But the Highlander's benefits don't stop there. Toyota's SUV also includes an available rear-seat entertainment system -- curiously not offered in the Santa Fe -- along with unique touches such as Toyota's Driver Easy Speak system, which can amplify a driver's voice so rear passengers hear it better.

In our opinion, the Santa Fe is hardly outdated when it comes to equipment and features, but the Highlander is so cutting-edge that it easily beats out its Hyundai rival for drivers who consider themselves to be technophiles.

Value

Despite the Highlander's advantages over the Santa Fe, the Hyundai has the more expensive base price between the two SUVs. The Santa Fe comes standard with a V6 engine, while the Highlander offers a standard 4-cylinder engine. Add the V6 to the Highlander (as the vast majority of buyers do), and you'll discover that the Highlander is $870 more than the Hyundai ($32,810 with shipping next to the Hyundai's $31,940). That price difference remains relatively constant as you ascend through the trim levels.

To us, the Highlander easily justifies its slight price premium by touting more and being better in just about every area, including J.D. Power reliability scores, safety equipment, crash-test ratings and technology. Despite its higher price, we consider it to be the better value.

Autotrader's Advice

Although the 2015 Hyundai Santa Fe is an excellent family crossover, we have little doubt that the 2015 Toyota Highlander is better. For a very similar price to the Santa Fe, the Highlander offers stronger reliability ratings, better crash-test scores, more safety features, improved technology and just slightly better gas mileage. The Santa Fe's sole advantages relate to its warranty and its price tag. If you're a budget-minded shopper looking to keep your family SUV for a while, those features may be enough to convince you to pick the Santa Fe over the Highlander. But for most drivers, we believe that the Highlander is the best pick.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2015 Toyota Highlander vs. 2015 Hyundai Santa Fe: Which Is Better? - Autotrader