For 2013, the Hyundai Santa Fe takes on a dual role in the Korean automaker’s burgeoning North American lineup. Several months ago at the media event marking the introduction of Hyundai’s 2012 Azera, we asked Hyundai Motor America CEO John Krafcik what he perceived the next opportunity for Hyundai’s lineup here to be. He mentioned he’d like to have a true family-oriented vehicle to market here in the U.S.
With the new long wheelbase Santa Fe his desire has been fulfilled.
Available in both long and short wheelbase (Santa Fe Sport) models, the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe brings a third row and a considerable degree of family friendliness to Hyundai’s most popular crossover utility vehicle for the first time. Meanwhile, the short wheelbase Santa Fe Sport, continues along the more sporty path established by the cute ute at its introduction back in 2001. The long wheelbase model essentially replaces the Veracruz in Hyundai’s product portfolio. That model languished in the company’s showrooms—even while the Santa Fe was a perennial best seller.
Three engines are offered for the 2013 models; a 2.4-liter inline four making 190 horsepower and 191 ft-lbs of torque (22 mpg-city/33-highway), a 2.0-liter turbocharged four making 264 horsepower and 269 ft-lbs of torque (21-city/31-highway) and a 3.3-liter V6 (mounted exclusively in the long wheelbase model) delivering 294 horsepower and 252 ft-lbs of torque (19-city/26-highway). Hyundai’s proprietary six-speed automatic transmission is standard equipment across the board—regardless of engine choice.
We spent a day driving the Santa Fe Sport with the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine in the mountains around Park City, Utah at altitudes above 8,000 feet. The first thing we noted was the considerable power and quickness with which the engine endowed the Hyundai. The next thing that registered for us was the level of sophistication exuded by the Santa Fe. Easily the quietest model from the manufacturer we’d ever experienced (save the super-upscale Equus luxury car) the all-new Santa Fe benefits from a double-layered windshield, floor insulation, and a dashboard noise absorption pad, as well as a number mechanical improvements adopted specifically to reduce its noise levels.
Hyundai’s product representatives repeatedly stressed how much lighter the new Santa Fe is than its predecessor. The Sport model carries some 266 pounds less weight than the outgoing Santa Fe. Meanwhile, the long wheelbase version is some 397 pounds lighter than the Veracruz, even though both models have significantly more content than the automobiles they supplant. One of the advantages Hyundai has in this regard is the operation of its own steel plant, enabling it to play around with alloys. This also helps the company keep its production costs down.
As with all the rest of Hyundai’s lineup, the new Santa Fe benefits mightily from handsome styling, smart packaging and a strong standard feature set. All-wheel drive models feature active cornering control to make the Santa Fe more responsive in tight turns, meanwhile a 550-watt audio system is available with Logic7 surround. The Santa Fe offers a panoramic sunroof, which effectively turns the cabin of the CUV into a greenhouse. With it, the lightness and airiness of the interior is distinctively remarkable. Other features include keyless entry and start, dual climate control, a cooled glovebox, and side window sunshades.
The overall design of the interior is pleasing to the eye and seating is quite comfortable. We spent the entire day behind the wheel of the Hyundai with no feelings of fatigue whatsoever. The steering wheel is heated, as are all four primary seating positions. Secondary controls are arranged with considerable logic—think of a function, put your hand where you think its control ought to be, and you’ll find it right where your hand went.
Remarkably, Hyundai’s representatives chose to introduce the new model at considerable altitude. For those of you who don’t know, oxygen starts getting pretty thin above the 5000-ft mark, which reduces an engine’s ability to make power. A turbocharged powerplant will suffer from this considerably less than a normally aspirated engine as the turbocharger pressurizes the intake system—essentially creating its own atmosphere. The twin-scroll design employed by the turbocharger fitted to the engine further serves to improve overall engine responsiveness.
Still, to feel the spryness with which the 2013 Santa Fe Sport went about its tasks was delightful. Over the road, the Santa Fe is very stable—changes of direction are accomplished with considerable alacrity, while acceleration and braking are very competent. The steering system is adjustable, offering three variations of feel and responsiveness.
Graced with a combination of handsome styling, a strong feature set, competent powertrain choices, and newfound passenger capacity, the future looks pretty bright for the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe.
Pricing starts at $25,275 (including destination charges).