In fall 2017, we tested two popular compact crossovers: the Nissan Rogue and the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport. At the time, we found the Hyundai to be the fancier-feeling vehicle, while Nissan’s Rogue was the better value for the money.
Just over two years later, we tried them out again. Since that time, the Hyundai has been fully redesigned (and renamed the Santa Fe) while the Rogue has received a new infotainment system but few other changes. How do they stack up today — compared to each other and their other peers?
The short answer is that the answer is that both models are better than they were in 2017, but that the overall conclusion is pretty familiar.
We’ll start with the 2020 Hyundai Santa Fe, which is priced from $26,995. This midsize five-passenger crossover competes most closely with models like the Ford Edge, Chevrolet Blazer and Honda Passport, but it’s roughly the same size as the Rogue.
The Santa Fe’s full redesign last year modernized its design, made the interior roomier, smoothed out its ride quality, updated its infotainment technology, and introduced more safety features as standard equipment.
Hyundai dialed back its generosity for the 2020 model year, removing radar-based blind-spot monitoring from the base SE trim level. But the Santa Fe still trumps several competitors for retaining standard equipment that includes a forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, a lane-departure warning with automatic steering corrections, adaptive cruise control and automatic high beams. Despite all its features, the Santa Fe costs significantly less than most midsize competitors.
Like most midsize five-passenger crossovers, the Santa Fe’s biggest advantage over compact models is its higher degree of style, refinement and luxury. That’s because some less-expensive compact models — including the Rogue — are phenomenally space-efficient, meaning they pack tons of passenger and cargo space into smaller footprints.
Most Santa Fe’s use a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with 185 horsepower. That is a similar performance to the compact class rather than most midsize competitors. Still, if you’re not wedded to extra zippiness or near-silent operation, you might appreciate that Hyundai lets you choose more value and fuel economy.
A 2.0-liter turbo with 235 horsepower costs about $2,000 extra on the Santa Fe’s top two trim levels. It is smoother and quicker, but its fuel economy slips by 2 mpg compared to equivalent 2.4-liter models: a mediocre 23 mpg in mixed driving with front-wheel-drive and 22 mpg with all-wheel-drive.
Overall, the Santa Fe does not jump out and dazzle with extra-cushy seats, an extra-quiet ride or extra-rich interior materials. It has some nice details, but it is a less dramatic upgrade from a Honda CR-V or Hyundai’s own Tucson than the difference between a Ford Escape and Ford Edge, or Jeep Cherokee and Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Instead, the Santa Fe shines for its general competence — not exactly mediocrity, because it is competitive in its class. But its most significant strength is that it doesn’t do much wrong, more than that it is truly stellar in many ways.
It’s user-friendly, it’s comfortable, it’s roomy. It doesn’t drive like a sports car, but it doesn’t feel clumsy or unnatural either. And it does that for prices that rival some compact models, especially considering its standard safety technology.
The 2020 Nissan Rogue, meanwhile, might be an even better choice for someone seeking primarily roominess, safety and value for the money.
Likely in its final model year before a full redesign, the Rogue is slower and noisier than the Santa Fe — and most compact crossovers. And its interior decor has seen few updates since the current model debuted six years ago, leaving its dashboard more dated-looking than the Santa Fe. But if you’re not looking for something fancy, the Rogue has aged well and remains a sensible choice in its class.
Priced from $26,395, the 2020 Rogue nearly as expensive as the fancier-feeling Santa Fe. Still, it throws in the blind-spot monitoring that the Hyundai has removed while matching most of its other standard safety technology. And unlike the last time we tested it a couple of years ago, the Rogue now offers Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, which comes standard on every model.
As another value point, the Rogue brings above-average fuel economy, using less gasoline than the slightly larger Santa Fe or most compact crossovers. The EPA estimates 29 mpg in mixed driving with front-wheel-drive or 27 mpg with all-wheel-drive.
Drivers who like to accelerate quickly may find the Rogue frustrating. Not only is it less peppy than the class norm, but its engine revs high when you push it to go, generating lots of noise. But if you’re not in a hurry, you can select its Eco mode — which keeps the engine quieter while also saving gas, as long as you don’t put your foot too close to the floor every time the stoplight turns green.
The Rogue does not feel fancy like the more poshly finished, quieter, sharper-handling Honda CR-V or Mazda CX-5. But it has above-average interior space, above-average fuel-economy, below-average price tags, and generally pleasant driving experience.
Shop the Rogue most closely against the pricier but all-around excellent Honda CR-V and the similarly value-focused Subaru Forester.
Brady Holt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association.