Dan Frio, Reviews Editor
Last fall, Hyundai introduced the Santa Fe Sport to reinforce its position among compact crossovers. Now with this new long-wheelbase version, the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe is taking aim at the big-body crossovers, the six- and seven-passenger family haulers.
Astute observers will recognize the larger Santa Fe as the crossover formerly known as the Veracruz. Introduced seven years ago, the Veracruz offered lots of family wagon for the money, but was as forgettable as it was competent. It languished while other Hyundai models surged ahead, and Hyundai executives now admit they didn't properly muscle the new nameplate into public consciousness. This time around, they chose to leverage the Santa Fe name to help out.
The idea was simple: Make the two models identical from the B-pillar forward. Behind it, add 4 inches and a third row, fortify the chassis to tow up to 5,000 pounds (the first Hyundai thus capable), and bolt on a dual exhaust with trapezoidal tips for visual distinction. Like the Veracruz, the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe will offer a V6 and available all-wheel drive.
A Capable V6, but No Turbo
Only one powertrain will be offered in the Hyundai Santa Fe: a 3.3-liter V6 coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission. The direct-injected six-cylinder, also found in the Azera sedan, makes 290 horsepower and 252 pound-feet of torque. Although the Santa Fe's V6 makes more power than the optional 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder in the smaller Santa Fe Sport, it doesn't make as much torque.
The larger Santa Fe weighs just 330-360 pounds more than the Sport. Was the 2.0T ever considered for the Santa Fe? Not seriously, Hyundai says, and even then only in the earliest stages of development. But product managers and engineers say that the turbo, with some recalibration, would likely work just fine in the bigger crossover.
Keeping the turbo out of enrichment mode and reducing noise would be the biggest challenges, but the larger issue according to one product manager is simply the sway that V6 engines hold over the perceptions of American buyers.
Wobbles, but Only When Pushed
We drove the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe on the tight roads that snake from coastal San Diego into the hills and canyons of its inland communities. The Santa Fe isn't exactly tuned for these quick transitions, but it does well for its size.
Like the Sport, the larger model uses struts up front with an independent multilink in the rear. There's slight pitching and rolling when driven aggressively, but drive it the way you would with the family onboard and it's plenty stable. One sharp dip did leave us trying to wobble our way through the apex. It's then you're reminded that this is a 4,000-pound crossover on all-season tires.
Our drive route didn't include any dirt or gravel, but the older potted, cracked and patched rural highways we drove on revealed the Santa Fe's exceptional compliance and ability to absorb road rash. There's a slight hum from the road and wind rushing over the A-pillars, but nothing that overcomes cabin conversations.
The bumpy pavement also gave us a decent feel for the transparency of the Santa Fe's optional AWD system, which apportions torque and braking to the rear wheels as necessary on corner entry and exit. But as with most modern crossovers, the most challenging terrain the Santa Fe will likely encounter is the local trailhead or the overgrown weeds at the local soccer field.
Tuned for Comfort
On these roads, the throttle leans lazy, although you can assume control of the six-speed auto via the console shifter (no paddles here) to keep quick bursts of speed on tap. The Santa Fe offers Normal, Comfort and Sport steering modes, selectable via a button on the steering wheel. All three modes feel pretty much the same — that is to say, numb — although Sport adds some weight, but also quickly induces fatigue.
Compared to the Sport, the bigger model offers better visibility since its windows run more conventionally flat along the beltline, as opposed to the Sport's, which rise and taper at the C-pillar. This is still a big car, but doesn't drive anywhere as "big" as, say, a Ford Explorer. The window design also helps alleviate some of the typical third-row claustrophobia.
Direct injection and modern sorcery like chromium coatings on sliding surfaces and a variable-speed oil pump help the V6 deliver competitive fuel economy across the spectrum. Front-drive models return 18/25 city/highway mpg with 21 combined, right on par with the Explorer or Honda Pilot. All-wheel-drive models decrease only slightly, returning 18/24/20 mpg, also right in the wheelhouse with most big crossovers.
The Santa Fe comes in GLS and Limited trims, both with two seats in the third row. The former offers a middle seat in the second row with 40/20/40-split folding seatbacks, while the Limited comes with second-row captain's chairs for six-passenger seating.
There's 31.5 inches of legroom in the third row, which may sound impressive, but the combination of a slightly elevated floor and a dip in the roof makes for a low seating position. It puts the knees of even shorter passengers up around their chest. The Limited model helps somewhat, offering an open channel between the second-row seats in which to stretch out a leg.
Like most Hyundai products, the Santa Fe features a handsome cabin design with good materials, fit and finish. The base GLS offers the bare minimum of features but options include navigation, a rearview camera, leather, heated rear seats, dual-zone climate control and a heated steering wheel.
The Limited comes standard with leather and a power liftgate, and a single options package that nets a navigation system with 8-inch touchscreen display, a panoramic sunroof and a 12-speaker Infinity audio system. You're out of luck if you want the power liftgate or sunroof, but still need seven seats. Neither are options on the GLS.
Stacks Up Favorably
Prices with destination start at $28,350 for the base GLS (add $1,750 for AWD) and peak at $37,750 for a loaded Limited model. That lines the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe up with other three-row competitors like the Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Mazda CX-9 and Nissan Pathfinder.
That makes sense, as the Hyundai Santa Fe compared favorably with its competitors in every other respect. It actually drives smaller than the Explorer and snappier than the Pilot, if not as sharp as the CX-9. And like every other Hyundai in the lineup, it stacks up more than adequately in terms of features for the money. That's typically a winning combination in this segment, provided consumers forget the Veracruz and embrace the new, bigger Santa Fe.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
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