Sport model's strong and relatively economical turbo engine
available third-row seating
Weak base engine with little fuel economy benefit
poor rearward visibility.
more about this model
Hyundai's product assault has been incessant over the past few years. In rolling out the new third-generation 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe, the company completes a product overhaul as comprehensive and logistically complex as the recent Mars rover landing.
The launch of Hyundai's new midsize tall wagon-cum-CUV is, appropriately, no less convoluted. After all, this compact SUV will serve double duty in the automaker's lineup, poised to do battle with roughly a dozen competitors. Here's how the Santa Fe plans to do it.
The 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, seating five, replaces the current Santa Fe. In a few months, a longer-wheelbase version of the Santa Fe with three rows of seating will replace the larger Hyundai Veracruz.
Like the existing Santa Fe, the new Santa Fe Sport will be available with two engines. A 2.4-liter normally aspirated direct-injected four is the base engine, while a turbocharged and direct-injected 2.0-liter four replaces the V6. Either engine can be had with front- or all-wheel drive, while a six-speed automatic is the only transmission offered. The long-wheelbase version of the new vehicle — known simply as the 2013 Santa Fe, sans Sport designation — will be available only with a 3.3-liter V6. Clear as mud?
Generating 264 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, the 2.0T cranks out 10 fewer ponies than this same engine in the Hyundai Sonata. The difference is chalked up to revised intake and exhaust routing and a unique engine calibration. More importantly, the Santa Fe delivers 269 pound-feet of torque between 1,750 and 3,000 rpm, so the shove is in the right place for a family hauler such as this one. In fact, the turbo engine generates more torque than the outgoing V6.
Though the new Santa Fe Sport carries nearly the same dimensions as the outgoing trucklet, it's stiffer and weighs considerably less — some 266 pounds were shaved by sweating the details of the chassis' design and expanded use of high-strength steels. Struts underpin the front end and a compact multilink suspension is found at the rear so as not to intrude on cabin space.
No Shortness of Breath
We drove a 2.0T-equipped AWD Sport through woodsy, hilly Park City, Utah, notable for its power-sapping 8,300-foot elevation. The thin air didn't faze the Santa Fe. Turbocharged engines generate their own atmosphere, so there was plenty of reserve thrust and immediate response any time the car was in motion. The 2.0T is a capable engine, doing its business without a lick of fuss or noise, convincingly nailing the coffin shut on the idea that a V6 is a requirement. As for the 2.4-liter engine, well, we didn't get to drive one of those, or a front-drive 2.0T.
On our drive, the Santa Fe was notable for its quietness. Aside from a faint wind rustle at the A-pillars, little noise comes between you and a conversation with passengers while at freeway speeds. The new chassis feels solid on the road, though the wide C- and D-pillars form a blind spot the size of Oklahoma. A caveat — the roads in this area are generally smooth, so we'll withhold final judgments on ride and noise suppression until we've wheeled this new CUV locally.
Curiously, the electric power steering has three calibrations that can be selected via a button on the steering wheel, all of which are fairly numb. While it could be argued that steering feel isn't high on the priority list of shoppers in the Santa Fe's bread-and-butter segment, we'll point out that the steering-feel-havin' Mazda CX-5 exists and feels considerably more precise from behind the wheel.
Part of our drive route included a loose gravel dirt road to show off the Santa Fe's new more capable AWD hardware. It operates transparently, aiding corner entry and exit by adjusting the amount of torque apportioned to the rear wheels. Still, like most modern crossovers, the Santa Fe is pavement-biased and will be found almost exclusively on freeways and in parking lots. It's no rock crawler, and that's OK.
Fuel economy is the payoff of the lighter chassis, improved aerodynamics and engines. Base 2.4-liter models return 22/33 city/highway mpg (21/28 with AWD), while the 2.0T models deliver 21/31 mpg (20/27 mpg with AWD).
The 4-5 mpg drop for AWD models in freeway conditions is odd, as the AWD system can completely disconnect power to the rear wheels in such conditions and adds just 137 pounds over the front-drive model. Nevertheless, the fuel economy of the new Santa Fe improves on that of the outgoing model in every guise and is among the more frugal in its class.
More Than Clever Math
Inside, the cabin is similarly sharply styled, with improved appointments. There's plenty of space in either row of seating, and the front seats offer respectable long-haul comfort, though the sliding, tilting backseat is on the flat side to accommodate its 40/20/40 folding ability.
In typical Hyundai fashion, features abound. Beyond the long list of standard equipment, options include navigation, a heated steering wheel, panoramic sunroof, dual-zone climate control, a rearview camera, even heated rear seats.
Prices with destination start at $25,275 for a base 2.4 and $28,525 for the 2.0T — add $1,750 for AWD — and rise quickly from there. Adding navigation or the panoramic sunroof to a 2.4-liter model requires three packages totaling $6,600 (or two packages totaling $5,350 on 2.0T variants). There are a lot of other features included in the packages, but flexibility is not one of them.
At this price point, the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport lines up directly with segment leaders like the Ford Escape and Honda CR-V. The former also offers a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, while the latter simply does everything well. The newer, cleverer 2013 Santa Fe measures up favorably to both. If it can deliver on its excellent mileage numbers and remain as quiet as it did on the roads of rural Utah, this Santa Fe could be yet another well-executed piece of Hyundai's grand plan to compete head on with its foreign and domestic rivals.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.