Nearly one in ten Hyundais sold in the United States last year was a Santa Fe crossover utility vehicle. Hyundai clearly wants that number to grow in 2013, as the company has redesigned the Santa Fe and given buyers two options to choose from.
The new Santa Fe seats seven and is longer than the model it replaces, while the Santa Fe Sport seats five and is roughly the same size as the previous version.
Hyundai loaned us a Santa Fe Sport in 2.0T trim for this review. There are substantial changes for 2013. In addition to new styling and a new platform, Hyundai eliminated the V-6 engine option from the Sport. In its place, buyers may select either the base model or the 2.0T version. Base models feature a 2.4-liter, 190-horsepower four-cylinder engine while the 2.0T has a 2.0-liter, 264-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Both come only with a six-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard with all-wheel drive as an option. The longer and heavier seven-passenger Santa Fe retains a V-6 engine.
The turbo-charged four-cylinder engine delivers a good performance. Acceleration is quick, with little turbo lag, and the engine effortlessly revs to 6,000 rpm when prompted. Sixty miles per hour arrives in just 7.5 seconds. The downside of all this effortless performance and eager throttle response is found at the gas pump. This Santa Fe Sport averaged 22 miles per gallon in a week of mixed use that included an extended highway stint.
An improved suspension handles bumps and broken pavement well. Sharp pavement breaks, such as potholes, can produce some abrupt responses, but the Santa Fe Sport still does amazingly well over such surfaces. With the redesign came an improvement in the body structure, which results in an interior free of squeaks and rattles.
Handling is highlighted by a driver-selectable steering system that allows for “comfort,” “normal” or “sport” settings. “Comfort” removes just about all the effort and all the feedback in steering, “normal” is OK, while “sport” actually gives the driver a feel of the road, though some of that is probably a byproduct of the increased effort required while in that mode. Still, driving the Santa Fe in “sport” proved to be much more rewarding compared to the two other settings.
That said, directional stability on the highway was only average. There are other cars out there that have a better sense of “straight ahead.” Performance in turns is highly competitive for the field and braking is smooth and easily controlled.
The all-wheel-drive system proved its worth on a longer highway trip with some light snow. There’s no low range for rugged off-roading, and while dirt roads would seem well within the Santa Fe’s capabilities, forest service trails are probably another matter entirely.
With the redesign, Hyundai has not only come up with a much better Santa Fe for 2013, but has also rejected the “one size fits all” approach as there are two options available. Hyundai is betting that the market will see this logic and respond appropriately.
I haven’t seen the larger 2013 Santa Fe yet, nor do I think I need to after spending some time with the shorter Santa Fe Sport.
The Santa Fe Sport seems ideally sized for a typical family. It’s maneuverable, fits easily in the garage, drives nicely and is quite comfortable.
The interior is very well done. Our review car had the Leather and Premium Equipment Package for $2,450. However, even without it the Santa Fe Sport 2.0T includes power door locks, push-button start, power windows and mirrors, air conditioning, a power driver’s seat and front seat heaters. This package also features leather upholstery and heated rear seats that are adjustable for leg room and backrest angle.
This package also features leather upholstery and heated rear seats that are adjustable for leg room and backrest angle. Cargo room is good. One minor complaint: When the rear seats are moved forward, there is a surprisingly large open gap at the front of the cargo floor.
Controls are generally easy to use. I appreciated the backup camera, which was part of the Leather and Premium Equipment Package.
I could do without the Technology Package, which was also on our car. This $2,900 option includes a navigation system, a power panoramic sunroof, upgraded audio and a heated steering wheel.
Driving the Santa Fe Sport was pleasant. Cars in this class that are fun to drive usually end up being more expensive. Our top-of-the-line Santa Fe Sport wasn’t exactly a bargain basement special. It started at about $30,000 and ended up at nearly $36,000.
Hyundai has come a long way in recent years. I have seen it in the quality and desirability of its products that are now at least the equal of just about anything on the market. However, with this improvement come higher prices, though the cars are still very competitive.
Jim MacPherson is the host of "The Car Doctor" show airing Sundays at noon on WTIC-AM. Paula MacPherson is his wife and new-car review partner. Send comments, questions, suggestions in care of Special Publications, Hartford Courant, 285 Broad St., Hartford, CT 06115, or email firstname.lastname@example.org