When we tested the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport in Fall 2012, we were impressed with the refinement, tech integration, and style of the midsize crossover and felt that it would make a worthy alternative to many midsize models on the market such as the Nissan Murano, Ford Edge, and Toyota Venza. It was also just the right size to potentially attract buyers looking at smaller vehicles like the Mazda CX-5 and Ford Escape. For couples, active singles and small families, it fit the bill perfectly.
But Hyundai knew it wasn't the right fit for everyone, particularly larger families and grandparents that still want something they can haul the grandkids around in without being saddled with a chronically un-hip minivan or lumbering fullsize SUV the rest of the time.
Somewhat counter-intuitively, the Sport is the replacement for the previous two-row Santa Fe, and the Santa Fe (sans Sport) roughly replaces the Veracruz after its one-year absence from the lineup. Just a few inches longer in wheelbase and length than its Sport smaller sibling, the three-row Santa Fe adds just enough practicality to make a solid case for itself. We recently tested the redesigned 2014 Kia Sorento and were disappointed that for such a comprehensive engineering redesign, Kia didn't take the opportunity to lengthen it to make for a more accommodating third row.
The Santa Fe's third-row accommodations are substantially more hospitable than the Sorento's. Although we wouldn't go so far as to call them spacious, for the occasional need to carry more than four passengers, they're fine. Hyundai even thoughtfully put climate controls in the third row to make those passengers as comfortable as possible.
Both the second and third-row seats are foldable from the rear cargo area. The third row folds with a yank on the strap, while the second row is folded by a latch release on the side of the cargo area. However, fitting truly long cargo may require creativity because the front passenger seat does not fold flat.
In addition to its flexible interior, Hyundai gave the Santa Fe a full 5000-lb towing capacity. That's on the higher end of the midsize crossover class matches that of the Ford Explorer and 2013 Nissan Pathfinder. The Prep Package, which includes engine, oil and transmission coolers, is included on all non-Sport Santa Fe models. Customers that wish to tow will have the option of installing their own aftermarket hitch receiver or going with a dealer-installed unit that will be available in time for the summer 2013 vacation season.
On-paper, the Santa Fe's 3.3-liter direct-injected V-6 provides plenty of power with 290 hp and 252 lb-ft of torque, but the torque peak of the engine is a high 5200 rpm. In comparison, the torque peak of the optional 2.0-liter GDI turbo in the Sport model is 269 lb-ft and comes on at just 1750 rpm with a nice long and flat plateau until 3000 rpm.
Consequently, the seat-of-the-pants torque delivery of the two engines could not be more different. The torque on the turbo four peaks early and is consistent into the midrange. By contrast, the 3.3 V-6 needs to be revved to really get things moving. Fortunately, the engine is responsive to throttle input and revs freely. In addition, the smooth, quick-to-downshift six-speed automatic transmission is adept at anticipating the driver's power demands and putting the engine into the meat of its powerband. From a heat-management standpoint, the naturally-aspirated V-6 is probably a better choice for the Santa Fe than the 2.0 turbo would have been, but the difference in torque delivery is a stark contrast. Thankfully, the 3.3 V-6 is not unpleasant-sounding under the whip, with an eager, smooth growl from idle to near redline. We didn't have time to test the model during its time with us, but a 0-60 time in the mid-high 7-second to 8-flat range seems probable.
Tech to Your Taste
From the B-pillar forward, the Santa Fe is a virtual clone of the Sport, with the same hexagonal-themed interior styling, cabin tech and features. Looking over the specs of our tester, we saw "HD Radio" listed as a feature, but the AM stations in the area that we know simulcast in HD still sounded fuzzy. When we went into system settings, we were greeted with several rows of small icons allowing for granular configurability of many of the vehicle's features. Once we found the setting to enable HD audio tuning for both AM and FM, and were soon listening to the crisper audio afforded by AM HD.
Santa Fe Sport
On the subject of configurability, Hyundai continues to roll out its driver-selectable steering system, which gives the option of "Comfort", "Normal" and "Sport" settings. It does not change the ratio of the steering, just the level of assist. As on the Kia Sorento, the feature came across as slightly gimmicky. Potential buyers might play with it on the test drive and new owners may try the three settings during the first few weeks of ownership, but will likely set and forget quickly. We found the "comfort" setting to be disconcertingly over-boosted, normal to be fine, and sport slightly little firmer. We would be happy with either of the latter two as the default setting.
Easy to Drive, Sometimes Fun
At right around two tons, give or take some weight for AWD versus FWD and six seats versus seven, the Santa Fe is no featherweight and is about 300 lb heavier than its two-row sibling. Yet, the nimble, easy-to-drive character of the Sport model carries over largely intact, which was one of the stated goals of the engineering team. Compared to the acknowledged class-benchmark Mazda CX-9 for driving dynamics, we'd give a slight edge to the Mazda in the area of steering precision but give the Santa Fe the nod for feeling a little lighter on its feet, probably due in no small part to its 400+lb weight advantage over the larger Mazda.
In terms of value, the Santa Fe makes a good case for itself. With many well-equipped examples in this class easily cresting the $40,000 mark, our Limited AWD example totaled $38,730, including destination. The only noteworthy feature missing from our tester was a driver-side memory seat.
The 2013 Santa Fe may be a good ways off from being the volume leader in the midsize three-row crossover segment, but it does give Hyundai another arrow in its quiver to aim at the heart of the segment, and presents a modern, value-packed package for midsize buyers.
| 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited AWD |
| BASE PRICE || $35,830-$38,730 |
| VEHICLE LAYOUT || fFront-engine, AWD, 6-pass, 5-door SUV |
| ENGINE ENGINES || 3.3L, 290hp/252 lb-ft DOHC 24v direct-injected V-6 |
| TRANSMISSION TRANSMISSIONS || 6-speed automatic |
| CURB WEIGHT || 4068 lb (mfr) |
| WHEELBASE || 110.2 in |
| LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT || 193.1 x 74.2 x 66.5 in |
| 0-60 MPH || 8.0 sec (MT est) |
| EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON || 18 / 24 mpg |
| ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY || 187 / 140 kW-hrs/100 miles (est) |
| CO2 EMISSIONS || 0.96 lb/mile (est) |
| ON SALE IN U.S. || Currently |