The Hyundai Santa Fe mid-size crossover utility is all-new for 2013, built on a new lighter-weight, higher-strength platform. The 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe comes in two handy family sizes.
The two-row, five-passenger 2013 Santa Fe Sport, about the same size as the outgoing 2012 Santa Fe, competes in the fast-growing field of domestic and import compact crossovers that includes the Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Edge, Toyota RAV-4, Honda CR-V, and Nissan Murano.
The larger, three-row, six- or seven-passenger 2013 Santa Fe is 8.5 inches longer on a 3.9-inch-longer wheelbase to take on the Chevy Traverse, Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, and Mazda CX-9.
The compact Santa Fe Sport fits neatly between Hyundai's smaller Tucson and the larger Veracruz. The long-wheelbase (LWB) Santa Fe will replace the Veracruz. Santa Fe (and Tucson) are crossover utility vehicles, or CUVs, meaning they are car-based sport utilities, essentially tall wagons, which offer more car-like driving dynamics and fuel efficiency than truck-based SUVs.
Two engine choices are available in the Santa Fe Sport: a 190-hp 2.4-liter non-turbo inline-4 and a 264-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. The LWB Santa Fe comes with a 290-hp 3.3-liter V6. All three engines benefit from high-pressure gasoline direct injection (GDI) and drive through 6-speed automatic transmissions with SHIFTRONIC manual capability, and all models offer available Active Cornering Control (ACC) all-wheel drive.
EPA fuel economy ratings range from 22 City, 33 Highway, 26 Combined for the base front-wheel-drive four-cylinder Santa Fe Sport to 19/26/22 mpg for the LWB FWD Santa Fe with its V6.
Hyundai's ACC all-wheel drive continuously monitors driving conditions and enhances stability by managing brake and engine torque and vectoring one or the other toward or away from individual wheels to balance side-to-side and front-to rear traction. The result is improved cornering stability, reduced understeer (loss of front-wheel traction) or oversteer (loss of rear-wheel traction) to help the driver maintain control in tricky conditions. Standard Hillstart Assist Control (HAC) minimizes roll-back on steep uphills, while Downhill Brake Control (DBC) manages speed and enhances control on steep descents.
To our eyes, this new Santa Fe is a handsome piece that's more distinctive than most of its compact CUV competitors. Its styling follows Hyundai's recent fluidic sculpture design direction, though slightly toned down from the level of boldness that has helped lift the company's Sonata to a major player in the super-competitive mid-size sedan segment.
The 2013 Santa Fe's new interior is modern and stylish, with an obvious focus on soft-touch materials and thoughtfully arranged, well-marked controls. The base Santa Fe Sport offers YES Essentials stain-resistant cloth seats, a trip computer, Hyundai Blue Link (similar to GM's OnStar) safety and convenience connectivity and a 40/20/40 split folding second-row seat to accommodate skis, golf clubs or surfboards along with one or two rear passengers. The Sport 2.0T and Santa Fe add more equipment, and a plethora of comfort, convenience and communications features, some exclusive, are available.
The longer Santa Fe boasts 1.9 inches more second-row legroom and 5.6 cubic feet more total cargo capacity than the shorter Sport does. Santa Fe comes with second-row climate controls and vents and a 50/50 split folding third seat with 31.5 inches of legroom. The second row is the 40/20/40 split folding bench in the GLS trim, twin Captain's chairs in the Limited.
The new, lighter structure is built with 37.7 percent high-strength steel, part of the reason the base Sport model is some 266 pounds lighter than the outgoing 2012 Santa Fe and the LWB Santa Fe nearly 400 pounds lighter than the Veracruz it will replace. This also makes it stiffer, which enhances both ride and handling for driving enjoyment, and better manages crash energy should something bad happen. The suspension is lightweight MacPherson struts in front, independent multi-link in back, with stabilizer bars at both ends.
We found our test Santa Fe Sport AWD 2.0T fully competitive and pleasant to drive. Its performance was impressive when needed, its ride was smooth and controlled over most surfaces, its braking was strong and stable, and its handling was at least as good as most competitors in its class. Aside from a few minor niggles, our only disappointment was averaging 21-22 mpg in mostly freeway driving, well short of its 27-mpg highway government rating.