- Attractive new styling
- Very good fuel economy
- Easy-to-use infotainment system
- Good cargo space
- Plenty of standard features
- V-6 only on long-wheelbase version
- Steering feel isn't sharp
- All-wheel drive exacts bigger gas mileage penalty
- Sliding second-row seat is an option
The 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe splits its identity in two: the three-row ute goes V-6 only, while the five-passenger Sport leans on turbo power, a flexible second-row seat and a cushy ride to make its best case ever.
The 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe is two vehicles in one. Hyundai's merged its old Veracruz into the ether, and now, the Santa Fe comes in two flavors–the seven-passenger, three-row family wagon and a more compact five-passenger Hyundai Santa Fe Sport. The two-row Sport is built in Georgia, while the Santa Fe is imported from South Korea.
Between these two models, the Santa Fe cuts across a huge swath of CUVs and mini-utes, everything from the smaller Ford Escape and Honda CR-V, through the bigger five-passenger crossovers like the Ford Edge and Toyota Venza and Chevy Equinox. With the bigger model, which is 8.5 inches longer than the sport, with a wheelbase about four inches longer (and 40 cubic feet more passenger space), the Santa Fe lineup will spread all the way into the three-row realm where vehicles like the Dodge Journey, Kia Sorento, and especially, the Pilot, Highlander, and Explorer claim the vast chunk of sales.
Crossovers are all about room and utility, and neither Santa Fe comes up short. The Santa Fe's front seats are a step up from the most recent Hyundai vintage, with better support built into the bottom cushion. But the second row is where the action is: on some models, the second row slides on a 5.2-inch track for better flexibility, in the same way the seat in the Chevy Equinox moves. The seat also reclines and folds on a 40/20/40 split, making way for longer objects while preserving four seating positions. There's even some storage space below the cargo floor and even some space for a handbag ahead of the shift lever, though that'll block access to the audio ports. For three-row models, shoppers have a choice between the 40/20/40 layout or a six-passenger layout with cozy captain's chairs—and all of these models get Yes Essentials soil-resistant upholstery.
Hyundai's betting that new styling, along with better performance and a more flexible interior, will vault the Santa Fe into the top tier of those ranks. It's easy to see how its looks will go far. The Santa Fe's a grown-up ute from the outside alone, and its new two-tone interior makes for one sophisticated crossover.. The sharp edges and tight creases wrap around it in interesting new ways, and Hyundai's hexagonal grille gets its best treatment thus far here, bracketed by headlamps and foglamps. The D-pillar's upkick and stance remind us a little of the Escape, but the Santa Fe Sport's shape is more faceted and studied than the Ford's, no more or less handsome. The longer Santa Fe? It's a little less distinctive, but as a minivan replacement, it doesn't need to be flashy. The interior is another bar raised for Hyundai, with some faint GM cues penned in its shield of controls, surrounded by the usual swoops and fluid curves--and trimmed in two-tone materials, an upscale touch that looks better when it's capped in glossy trim than in faux wood.
The Santa Fe and Sport have the usual airbags (including a driver knee airbag) and stability control, and the option of all-wheel drive. Bluetooth is standard and a rearview camera is an option on all but the base model, but blind-spot monitors aren't offered. (They're on the way, Hyundai says.) The shorter-wheelbase Santa Fe Sport earns top 'good' scores in all categories, earning the IIHS Top Safety Pick again for 2013. It's also a top five-star performer according to the federal government. But those agencies haven't yet rated the three-row, longer-wheelbase Santa Fe.With a base price of about $25,000 for the Sport or about $29,000 for the longer version, the 2013 Santa Fe Sport makes the usual Hyundai case for value. It gets power windows, locks, and mirrors; air conditioning; cruise control; tilt/telescoping steering; steering-wheel audio and phone controls; and 17-inch wheels. The standard audio system is an AM/FM/CD player with satellite radio, USB and auxiliary ports, Bluetooth and audio streaming, and six speakers. A panoramic sunroof, Infinity audio, and an improved navigation system lift the Santa Fe to a higher plateau. Push-button start, automatic climate control, and heated-and-cooled front seats are available on some models.
The Santa Fe duo also gets standard Hyundai's BlueLink telematics system. This OnStar-like system incorporates turn-by-turn navigation and Bluetooth streaming for apps such as Pandora, and works in conjunction with your smartphone and an owner website to set up functions like speed limits and geofencing--setting up limits on where the car can be driven. A BlueLink app for the iPhone will be available, giving consumers the ability to lock and unlock and to start the Santa Fe by remote, too.
2013 Hyundai Santa Fe
Hyundai's design themes grow up with the new Santa Fe; the two-tone interior makes for one sophisticated crossover.
The upswept style of the new Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport signals a more mature phase of Hyundai design. If you thought the ballsy Sonata was a little too busy, the Santa Fe's calmer lines and the Sport's more cohesive details look like progress.
Now there's a clear family resemblance through the Hyundai crossover lineup, from the brash, bristly Tucson through the very streamlined long-wheelbase Santa Fe. The Sport's the best-looking of the trio, with a right-sized hexagonal grille bracketed in place with coordinated fog lamps and headlamps trimmed with LED lighting. The side sills stand out in relief up and over the rear wheel wells, and the rear door handles sit well back of the rear wheel opening in a way Mazda's now-defunct CX-7 would be proud of. It's all summed up by a simple, balanced treatment of taillights and glass on the tailgate. We can't help but pick out some vague likeness to the new Ford Escape in the rear end and the proportions around the headlights, but Ford's almost-hatchback crossover doesn't quite have the size to play out the curves you'll find on the Santa Fe Sport.
There's less absolutely distinctive about the Santa Fe--some Dodge Durango in the way its rear quarter windows are shaped. Hyundai says it's essentially a minivan replacement, anyway, and we can't think of one three-row crossover with outre styling that's been a big hit.
More conventional than the one in the Tucson, the cockpit in the Santa Fe siblings has grown up, too. It carries a shield of controls at its center, and flanks them with big air vents--a theme that's recurring pretty often in compact-car design, and just happens to go well with the sheetmetal. The dash surface undulates, dipping low in front of passengers and bubbling up for gauges and the center stack, and large knobs control fan speed and audio volume. On crossovers with navigation, an 8-inch screen glows under a matte surface, and electroluminescent gauges toss in a few more subdued lumens.
Some Santa Fe crossovers sport woodgrain trim, while others have a gloss finish that's more appealing and fits more easily with the control-pod theme. Hyundai's found out how two-tone interior treatments can wake up a cabin, and the Santa Fe and Sport offer some earthy colors and trims that link them a little more directly to the crossover world than any of their lines or surfaces.The sides of the Santa Fe are heavily sculpted, as is Hyundai's recent tradition, with an upward swing in the shoulder lending a stylish look that does impede a bit on the airiness of the cockpit.
2013 Hyundai Santa Fe
A powerful turbo's on tap, and the ride's never been better; the Santa Fe's three-mode steering is more set-and-forget.
The 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport puts some distance between itself and its long-wheelbase Santa Fe sibling by subtracting a couple of cylinders from the equation. The big Santa Fe is six-cylinder only; the Sport rolls with four-cylinders, turbocharged or not.
Even with less displacement, the Santa Fe Sport outperforms its Hyundai's old V-6 crossovers, while the longer Santa Fe equals that performance and tops it with better towing capability. Both versions outshine the last Santa Fe and the former Veracruz in ride comfort, too.The base engine on the Santa Fe Sport is Hyundai's 2.4-liter four, with 190 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque, straight from duty in the Sonata sedan. With direct injection and a hookup with Hyundai's in-house six-speed automatic, the base Sport earns the best fuel economy ratings of the lineup, up to 33 miles per gallon on the EPA's highway cycle. Our first drive offered only a brief exposure to the normally aspirated four at high altitudes--not an ideal driving experience--so we're holding back those impressions until we can test this model over longer distances under more usual conditions.
The turbocharged 2.0-liter turbo four is another familiar piece, as it's also shared with the Sonata. In this application it makes 264 horsepower and 259 lb-ft of torque, while topping out in front-drive form at 29 mpg highway. It smoothly conveys abundant power through a fairly wide swath of the powerband; we'd estimate a 0-60 mph time at 7.0 seconds on lighter front-wheel drive models, which weigh in at a lean 3459 pounds.
Long-wheelbase Santa Fes will get the only V-6 in the lineup, a 3.3-liter engine from the Azera sedan, with 290 horsepower, a six-speed automatic, front- or all-wheel drive, and a base curb weight of about 3900 pounds. Rolling on standard 18-inch wheels (19-inchers are an option), the Santa Fe comes out of the box, ready to tow 5000 pounds, its powertrain made more rugged and retuned for lower-powerband torque.
Both vehicles are connected with a six-speed automatic with a manual-shift mode available off the console-mounted lever. The shift quality's well sorted and the manual mode answers the call quickly, though deep calls for power can catch the gearbox napping. Step into the gas fully from a light throttle, and after a brief pause, the automatic shifts down eagerly, with a mild rebound felt through the drivetrain. You don't have to concentrate on being a smoother driver for the Santa Fe or the Sport to behave smoothly, though--an Active ECO mode will blur over shifts and throttle responses, saving very small amounts of gas at the same time.
We've spent many hours driving the pair--in a turbo Sport and in the long-wheelbase Santa Fe. Either one can be fitted with an optional all-wheel-drive system that uses an open center differential to distribute power from the front wheels to the rears when traction needs arise, and leans on anti-lock control to clamp down on wheelspin. All-wheel-drive models also have torque vectoring control on the rear wheels via the same means; to aid cornering, the inside rear wheel gets some braking applied automatically. All the electronics can be shut off, for times when wheelspin is your ally. Ground clearance is down to 7.3 inches, and the light-duty traction system (on principle, like the one in the Mercedes M-Class) is more an all-weather friend than a trail-blazer.
This year, all Santa Fe crossovers adopt a new suspension design and electric power steering, and a calmer, quieter ride is obvious after just a few miles of driving. The front struts and multiple links in the rear are fitted with bigger bushings and packaged more precisely inside the wheel wells, which Hyundai says frees up more cargo space and helps improve wheel control. The physics don't have to elude you--the silence from the wheel wells is proof enough, and the Sport feels absorbent and mostly controlled over freshly paved interstates and mildly broken back roads. When the gravel path gets really rutted, the Santa Fe Sport doesn't really lose its laid-back attitude, but does let its wheels (17-inchers are standard; 19-inchers are optional) rebound with a slightly firm thump. The longer-wheelbase Santa Fe uses its extra wheelbase to its advantage, damping even the worst surfaces well, even when those 19-inch wheels are specified.
Electric power steering has been a learning curve for all automakers, and Hyundai's path has taken it from the Sonata to the Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport with incremental improvements in feel and design. All these vehicles use a column-mounted motor, but the Santa Fe and Sport have the latest three-mode, driver-selectable steering that bowed on the 2013 Elantra GT. In that hatchback, we were happy to leave the heft-added steering in Normal mode all day. In the Sport, the "sport" setting's increased effort and later onset of assistance helped the car track better on the highway stretches of our test drive, just as the AWD system likely soaked up some of the on-center vagueness we've felt on the Elantra and Sonata. It's a good step forward; we'd leave Comfort's slow, light feel to anyone who thinks the last Santa Fe was a little too daring and sporty.
2013 Hyundai Santa Fe
Comfort & Quality
A sliding second-row seat and underfloor cargo storage are extra utility most other crossovers don't have.
Hyundai has split the Santa Fe into two models: a two-row Santa Fe Sport that seats five passengers, and a three-row Santa Fe that totes either six or seven, depending on its seating configuration.
By the numbers, the Santa Fe Sport rides on a wheelbase 106.3 inches long. it's 184.6 inches long, and 74.0 inches wide. That puts it in the ballpark of a wide swath of the crossover market, including everything from the Chevy Equinox to the Toyota Venza and Kia Sorento. It's larger inside than a Ford Escape or Honda CR-V, if not quite as big as a Toyota RAV4.
The three-row Santa Fe, meanwhile, has a 110.2-inch wheelbase that's 3.9 inches longer than the span on the Sport. It's slightly wider, too, and 193.1 inches long, 8.5 inches longer than the Sport. The Santa Fe GLS seats seven; the Santa Fe Limited seats six. Its overall interior volume of 146.6 cubic feet and 13.5 cubic feet of storage space behind third row make it more space-efficient than the Toyota Highlander--but smaller inside than a Honda Pilot, Nissan Pathfinder and Ford Explorer.In front of either Santa Fe, the size advantage over the smaller crossovers is clear. There's ample knee and leg room, though headroom for tall passenger will be slim if the panoramic sunroof option's ticked. The seats themselves are more shapely and supportive than in the last Santa Fe, with very good bolstering on the bottom cushion that's not overly firm. Most versions have a power driver seat, and richly optioned models have a power passenger seat and heating for both. It's worth noting that Hyundai's headrests sit back at an ideal angle--they don't jut too far forward, as some active headrests do.
There's storage for small items in the glovebox and console, and for drinks in the door pockets and dual cupholders. A deep, open-sided storage area ahead of the shift lever can swallow a medium-sized purse--but that will block the USB port and auxiliary jack.
The rear seat's a fixed bench on base Santa Fe Sport crossovers, but it splits and folds along 40/20/40 lines for better flexibility than most seats of its kind. Effectively it's a four-seater when the middle section is lowered for carrying long and skinny items, like copper pipe, toe molding, or skis. With the leather option package, the same seat adds a slide function that moves it along a 5.2-inch track--like the one on the Chevy Equinox and GMC Terrain, minus a few inches of travel. It's a very handy feature, and an underrated one if you've ever made a banzai Costco run without kids or a budget. The same sliding bench also has reclining seatbacks, a great feature we've grown to appreciate on long-distance trips where we're not in total control.
On the Santa Fe, the second-row seat is a shared peice, too. But with the longer wheelbase comes more rear-seat leg room to go with the very good seat comfort already in place. That's especially true of the Limited's second-row captain's chairs, which have properly placed armrests and an inch or so of headroom still in place, even with panoramic roof. Adults will find a couple of inches of knee room to spare--and a warm cushion, if it's fitted with heated second-row seats.
The third-row bench? It's only for very young passengers, because older people will get cranky at the thought of climbing through the Santa Fe's small passenger opening--even though the seats slide forward, there's still only a foot or so of wedgy space provided to get to the backmost seat. It's capped at the knees and overhead, too.
When cargo rules the day, the Santa Fe Sport's rear seats fold down as a trio or individually, and flatly, to free up more cargo space. The front passenger seat folds flat too, for carrying very long objects. You can fold down two seat sections for a three-passenger configuration, or lay them all flat to maximize cargo space. With the rear seats raised, the Santa Fe Sport can hold 35.4 cubic feet of stuff; with the rear seats all down, the cargo hold grows to 71.5 cubic feet--about 8 cubic feet more than the Equinox.
When unladen, the Santa Fe Sport's cargo bin has shallow, under-floor storage that's perfect for holding laptop bags securely out of sight. A cargo cover is also included, standard.
The Santa Fe's cargo bin may be on the small side, at 13.5 cubic feet behind the third row, but it expands to more than 40 cubic feet when the third row's folded flat--accomplished by pulling on straps to fold it down or to raise it in place. From the cargo hold--accessed by a power tailgate--the Santa Fe's second-row seats can be lowered, too, via a lever. There's some shallow storage in a plastic bin beneath the cargo floor, too.
Hyundai's gone to more effort in this Santa Fe Sport than ever, to damp out noise and vibration. Suspension noise has been tamed with better isolation, and the turbocharged and V-6 drivetrains hardly makes a distant whir as it climbs through the revs. The isolation in the cockpit is a magnitude better than in the Sonata sedan with nearly identical powertrains. On the three-row Santa Fe, there's some additional tire noise from second row back, which can make it a strain to hear first-row conversations.
At the same time, the textures and materials inside the Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport are drawn from a wider bin, and most pieces were well-fitted in our prototype testers. There's some textured plastic behind the steering wheel that doesn't look as rich as the rest of the dash, and the lower center console buttresses snap together in obvious ways during assembly--but from a driver's perspective, the cockpit's never looked better, and moves the needle authoritatively in the right direction, from the standard set by the Sonata, improved on by the Elantra.
2013 Hyundai Santa Fe
The Santa Fe has Bluetooth and an optional rearview camera, but some high-tech safety features aren't available--and neither are crash test scores.
The previous Hyundai Santa Fe was already a top achiever for safety; and according to crash-test results now out, it's done even better for 2013.
That's true at least when we're speaking of the shorter Sport; the long-wheelbase Santa Fe hasn't yet been crash-tested by either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). But the shorter-wheelbase Santa Fe Sport earns top 'good' scores in all categories, earning the IIHS Top Safety Pick again for 2013. It's also a top five-star performer according to the federal government.
All models have the usual standard front, side and curtain airbags, as well as a driver knee airbag, for a total of seven. Hill-start and downhill assist also are standard, along with anti-lock brakes, stability and traction control.
On the safety-technology front, Bluetooth is standard across the lineup. A rearview camera is offered on models with leather seats, where it displays on a 4.3-inch color LCD screen. On navigation-equipped Santa Fe Sports, the camera sends its output to the GPS' 8-inch screen. However, on vehicles without leather, there's no rearview camera at all. Hyundai says it's studying solutions, including a rearview-mirror-based camera, for future model years. A rearview camera is an option on the Santa Fe GLS, too.
Blind-spot monitors and parking sensors aren't available on the five-passenger Santa Fe Sport, though some compact crossovers like the Ford Escape now include them in pricey option packages. Blind-spot monitors are coming, Hyundai says.
2013 Hyundai Santa Fe
A panoramic sunroof, Infinity audio, and an improved navigation system lift the Santa Fe to a higher plateau.
The 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe is offered in either short-wheelbase Sport (five-passenger) or long-wheelbase Santa Fe (six- or seven-passenger) layouts; and the longer Santa Fe models get a little more equipment.
All Santa Fe Sport crossovers will include a good selection of standard features, including power windows, locks, and mirrors; air conditioning; cruise control; tilt/telescoping steering; steering-wheel audio and phone controls; and 17-inch wheels. The standard audio system is an AM/FM/CD player with satellite radio, USB and auxiliary ports, Bluetooth and audio streaming, and six speakers.
Hyundai expects most versions will come with an option package that bundles automatic headlights, a power driver seat, heated front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and and shift knob, and fog lights.
Santa Fe Sports with the turbo four-cylinder include all these features, and add 19-inch wheels and a trailer-towing prep kit.
Standard equipment is plentiful on the three-row Santa Fe, even if you get the base GLS. Remote keyless entry is standard, as are rear-seat heat and A/C vents, Bluetooth hands-free calling and audio streaming, steering-wheel audio controls, and the Blue Link telematics system. which offers remote start via its mobile app. GLS AWD models add a windshield wiper de-icer, as well as an Active Cornering Control feature.
Separately, for $950, there's a Popular Equipment Package on the GLS that adds fog lamps, roof rails, heated mirrors, a power driver seat, and heated front seats, among other things, while a Leather and Navigation package brings those things plus heated second-row seats, side-mirror turn signals, a heated steering wheel, power passenger seat, rearview camera system, dual-zone climate control, touch-screen navigation, and Dimension premium audio. No entertainment system is being offered--Hyundai thinks the days of seat-embedded screens are over.
Santa Fe Limited models go to a six-passenger layout with leather upholstery and heated second-row seats, a power front passenger seat, dual-zone climate control, an electroluminescent gauge cluster, a power liftgate, proximity key, push button start, a 115-volt AC power outlet, and 19-inch alloys, among other features.
On either model, a pair of option packages keep the ordering process simple. A leather/premium package adds a power front passenger seat; proximity-based keyless entry and pushbutton start; a slide-and-recline second-row seat with heating; a rearview camera with a 4.3-inch screen; and HD Radio. A technology package brings a panoramic sunroof with a sliding fabric sunshade, a navigation system, a heated steering wheel, and sunshades for the rear passenger windows. There's a slight difference in audio systems on this latter set of features: base crossovers get an in-house Dimension audio system with 10 speakers, while turbos roll with a powerful 550-watt, 12-speaker Infinity system with surround sound (it's optional on three-row Santa Fe, too).
The navigation system is updated with improved displays, including speed-limit signs, and voice recognition, and SD card slot for better updating. Pairing a phone to Bluetooth is easier, with pop-up commands, too.
Prices range from $25,295 for a base Sport to $38,595 for a long-wheelbase Santa Fe Limited with all-wheel drive and the Technology package.
2013 Hyundai Santa Fe
Gas mileage nears the 30-mpg highway range on the Santa Fe Sport, slightly behind its top competitors.
The new Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport get substantially better gas mileage than the crossovers they replace, but neither leads their respective classes.
The 2013 Santa Fe Sport checks in with official EPA ratings for the base front-drive four-cylinder of 21 miles per gallon city, 29 miles per gallon highway, and 24 miles per gallon combined. Add in all-wheel drive and the numbers slip to 20/26 mpg, or 22 mpg combined.
The turbocharged four earns EPA ratings of 20/27 mpg or 23 mpg combined for front-drive versions, and 19/24 mpg or 21 mpg combined for those with all-wheel drive.
The long-wheelbase Santa Fe and its 3.3-liter V-6 are rated at 18/25 mpg, or 21 mpg combined, in front-drive editions; all-wheel drive lowers those figures to 18/24 mpg, or 20 mpg combined.
For comparison, the slightly smaller 2012 Honda CR-V gets 23/31 mpg, and 26 mpg combined. Hyundai doesn't name the Honda a direct competitor, but it's bound to be compared, given the Santa Fe's pricing. With all-wheel drive, the CR-V is rated at 22/30 mpg or 25 mpg combined--a bit better than the Santa Fe Sport, with a bit less interior space. Ford's new Escape also earns a 33-mpg highway rating with its turbocharged 1.6-liter four.
Among slightly larger five-seaters, it's a clearer picture. A Toyota Venza, for example, is rated at 20/26 mpg or 23 mpg combined with the four-cylinder/front-drive combination, or 20/26 mpg and 22 mpg combined with all-wheel drive.
A three-row Ford Explorer four-cylinder, meanwhile, is pegged at 20/28 mpg or 23 mpg combined; with a V-6 it's less efficient than the Santa Fe, at 17/24 mpg, or 20 mpg combined in front-drive form. A front-drive Pilot's EPA ratings are identical to the Hyundai's; the Nissan Pathfinder bests it at 20/26 mpg, or 22 mpg combined.
Hyundai hasn't suggested the Santa Fe Sport will adopt the hybrid technology found on its Sonata sedan, but it says it has investigated stop-start technology, and the crossover does have an Active Eco mode that slows out shifts and throttle for slightly less fuel use in some situations.
NOTE: The 2013 Santa Fe Sport is one of a set of vehicles found to have overstated fuel-economy numbers. Hyundai's initial estimates of as much as 33 mpg highway for the new ute have been lowered, after tests run by the EPA, and figures indicated here have been updated to reflect retesting. Owners can register with Hyundai to receive reimbursement for the gas consumed above and beyond expected levels; more details are found at HyundaiMPGInfo.com.