aren’t supposed to pick favorites, but it’s clear
Hyundai has a soft spot for its Santa Fe.
hear the Korean automaker tell it, the crossover played
a key role in Hyundai’s transformation from maker of
meek little econoboxes with shoddy reliability to a
brand that rivals the best from Honda and Toyota.
third generation of the Santa Fe, rolling into
dealerships now, demonstrates how far the company has
come. This handsomely redesigned crossover is packed
with utility and comes in two sizes: a five-passenger
version and a seven-passenger model.
larger Santa Fe offers a V-6 engine and a longer
wheelbase and starts at $28,350. The smaller model, now
called the Santa Fe Sport, starts at $24,450 and comes
with either a four-cylinder engine or an optional (and
regrettable) turbocharged four-cylinder.
revisions to the Santa Fe lineup cap off a decade-long
overhaul of Hyundai’s entire lineup. Though it took
several generations for each vehicle, the effort has
proved a stunning success.
annual U.S. sales more than doubled to 703,007 from 2001
to 2012, according to Edmunds.com. During the same
period, sales for the entire industry dropped 15
climb to legitimacy started in 2001 with the
introduction of the first Santa Fe. The automaker sold
nearly a quarter million of the five-passenger
crossovers in just the first three years it was offered,
almost double what it expected.
success resulted from several converging factors.
you think back to that point in time, there were not
nearly as many players in that segment," said Mike
Wall, an auto analyst at IHS Automotive. "When
Hyundai came out with (the Santa Fe), it had a
compelling design; it was well packaged; it was
the early Santa Fe had a bit of help in finding buyers.
Three years earlier, Hyundai had taken the remarkable
step of offering a 10 year/100,000 mile warranty.
had to fight some quality battles early on," Wall
said. "The warranty started changing that
conversation as the brand started to get its
President and CEO John Krafcik acknowledged as much when
he introduced the Santa Fe to the media in March.
"The Santa Fe is very, very important in our
history," Krafcik said. The warranty and the Sante
Fe "were probably the things that set the pace for
future growth and helped us get to where we are
Hyundai itself, the Santa Fe has come a long way since
its humble — and homely — debut.
2013 Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport models look identical,
save for differing lengths and slightly different
passenger doors. Their upscale, bold design is a big
improvement over the awkward, bug-eyed look of the
original Santa Fe in 2001.
interiors are also nearly identical, save for a third
row of seats on the larger Santa Fe. This bigger Hyundai
replaces the Veracruz and rides on a wheelbase about 4
inches longer than the Sport, and its overall length is
8.5 inches longer. The Santa Fe GLS holds seven people;
the Santa Fe Limited has two captain’s chairs in the
middle row for a total capacity of six people. The rear
seats fold flat when not in use.
the smaller Sport model and the seven-passenger version
include some clever use of space.
rear seats on the Sport and middle seats on the GLS are
split into three sections, and each folds separately.
The retractable cargo cover on all models stores under
the floor of the cargo area when not in use — helpful
for anyone who’s lost theirs to a messy garage.
on models with the Leather and Premium package, the
middle row of seats slide fore and aft. A growing trend
in minivans, this feature enables parents to move
forward a cranky child for easy pacifier or juice box
Santa Fe’s cabin is nicely bolted together, the
dashboard thoughtfully laid out. Faux-wood trim adds a
bit of character that’s lacking in other Hyundai
with the number of seats, the two models diverge when it
comes to their powertrains.
base Sport — which competes against Chevy Equinox,
Ford Edge and Toyota Venza — comes with a perfectly
capable direct-injected, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine.
It makes 190 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque and
pushes power to the front wheels via a smooth six-speed
automatic transmission. Hyundai made the engine’s job
easier by using plenty of high-strength steel, which
dropped about 260 pounds from the weight of the Santa
says this model is estimated to get 21 mpg in the city
and 29 mpg on the highway. In our week of testing this
model, we averaged 23 mpg. All-wheel-drive adds $1,750
to the sticker price, and drops fuel economy down to 20
mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway.
gear on the Sport includes alloy wheels, keyless entry,
a stereo system with Sirius satellite radio and
Bluetooth, seven air bags, and traction and stability
control. If that’s not enough spice for your
quesadilla, Hyundai also offers the more upmarket
turbocharged Sport. A drop from 29 mpg to 27 mpg on the
highway seems reasonable, especially when it’s the
result of 264 total horsepower from this 2.0-liter
until you get the turbo engine on the road. If it’s
faster, it doesn’t feel like it. Dead spots in the
power curve make you wonder if something crawled into
the fuel line.
this is a six-speed automatic transmission that hunts
excessively for the right gear and lags when a quick
downshift is needed. Abrupt shifts also cause occupants’
heads to bob slightly with each new gear.
advice: Forget the turbo. The better-executed base model
has enough power for less money.
who step up to the larger Santa Fe get a 3.3-liter,
direct-injected V-6 that makes 290 horsepower and 252
pound-feet of torque. Like its little brother, the Santa
Fe is front-wheel-drive with optional AWD. A six-speed
automatic transmission is your only gearbox option.
Santa Fe’s peers include the Honda Pilot, Toyota
Highlander, Nissan Pathfinder and Mazda CX-9. Though the
Santa Fe is the lightest of these competitors and has
the most horsepower, you can’t tell from the driver’s
seat. The gearbox and the engine feel a bit sluggish as
they work to get you onto the highway or from a stop.
daily driving in both Sante Fe models is pleasant; they
handle well for crossovers and are quiet and comfortable
on the road. Hyundai even went so far as to include on
all models a driver-selectable steering system, which
gives three different levels of steering resistance.
Unfortunately, all three are variations of numb. This
being a Hyundai, practically the only thing without a
warranty are the warranties. There’s a new vehicle
warranty, powertrain warranty, anti-perforation warranty
on the body, even a California emissions warranty. All
of this is free, plus five years of roadside assistance.
Hyundai no longer needs warranties to convince consumers
it can play in the same league as Toyota and Honda. Nor
does it need to discount its vehicles to sell them. A
loaded Santa Fe Sport AWD Turbo can approach $36,000,
and the larger Santa Fe AWD tops out around $39,000.
These models come with features including heated leather
seats, a heated steering wheel, touch-screen navigation
system, backup camera and a panoramic sunroof. The
prices are certainly competitive, but they aren’t the
bargain-basement offerings from Hyundai’s early days
in the U.S. market.
the Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport are any indication,
Hyundai has evolved to a point where it is known not
only as a rival to established brands, but an equal.
wonder Hyundai likes its Santa Fe.
HYUNDAI SANTA FE AND SANTA FE SPORT:
type: 4-door, five- or seven-passenger crossover SUV
Santa Fe Sport: 2.4-liter four cylinder engine or
2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder engine; Santa Fe:
3.3-liter V-6. front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive on
Santa Fe Sport base: 190; Santa Fe Sport Turbo: 264;
Santa Fe: 290
Santa Fe Sport base: 181; Santa Fe Sport Turbo: 269;
Santa Fe: 252
to 60 mph: Santa Fe Sport FWD: 9.3 seconds; Santa Fe
Sport Turbo AWD: 9.1 seconds, according to Motor Trend
fuel economy: Santa Fe Sport: 21/29 mpg city/highway;
Sport Turbo: 20/27 mpg city/highway; Santa Fe V-6: 18/25
price, excluding destination charge: $24,450 for Santa
Fe Sport, $28,350 for Santa Fe
take: A leader in Hyundai’s quest for legitimacy
Handsome exterior design, impressive interior
Some engine choices are lacking; no price advantage