The 2.4-powered Santa Fe is still a class leader While form appears to be high on Hyundai’s list, function is still retained.
The ultra-competitive midsize crossover SUV segment always seems to be moving at high-speed. New models are constantly being introduced, so you always hear about them either on TV, social media, or on the street since they sell in such high volumes. For today’s automaker to sit on an existing model for even a few years, they run the risk of letting their bread-and-butter models become obsolete. These midsizers have effectively displaced the sedans that families have traditionally flocked to in the past. Practical design, a commanding view of the road ahead, relatively decent fuel efficiency, and the ability to avoid the minivan stereotype all play a role in keeping the sales numbers as high as they are.
Hyundai’s Santa Fe was introduced right in the thick of the initial SUV craze in 2001. It provided masculine tough-guy design built on top of the Sonata platform of the day. This was also about the time where Hyundai started to really figure things out, continually increasing their engineering know-how and build quality, and never really stopping ever since. The second-generation (from 2007 to 2012) added more size, more power, more features, and more refinement to Hyundai’s strong seller, all while maintaining the expected competitive price.
Hyundai again redesigned the Santa Fe for the 2013 model year. One interesting item is that Hyundai has split the model into two different CUVs, both differing in overall length. This 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport is the shorter of the two, with two rows of seating. The Santa Fe (without the Sport suffix) is nearly 22cm longer and offers a third row of seating, enough to fit up to seven passengers. Hyundai provided us with a Santa Fe Sport 2.4L Premium AWD model, in a tasteful Serrano Red for the week.
I was a little disappointed to find out that our tester did not feature Hyundai’s 2.0T turbo-four, but those feelings changed dramatically once I began to get a feel for the car. The standard 2.4L four-cylinder motor produces a robust 190hp and 181lb-ft of torque. These numbers are impressive considering the fact that you used to have to step up to a V6 engine to get these kinds of output numbers ten years ago. The six-speed auto makes the most of the available power, and I never felt that the 190hp was inadequate. It always felt like “enough” power. First gear is fairly short to get you moving with some authority, and sixth gear will spin the engine at just over 2000rpm at 100km/h.
Part of Hyundai’s “fluidic sculpture” design language that defines the entire lineup flows into the interior of the car as well. The centre console features a lot of curves and soft edges. While form appears to be high on Hyundai’s list, function is still retained. I liked the good use of matte surfaces (glossy surfaces are magnets for fingerprints) and controls were easy to use without taking your eyes off the road. Even though my tester was not fully loaded to the brim, it featured enough toys that most would ask for. I especially liked the heated steering wheel (standard on all but the base model), useful for our Canadian winters. The second item I liked is the adjustable steering wheel weighting. I locked my setting into the “Sport” mode, which makes for a heavier steering feel. The “Comfort” setting was noticeably lighter and required less effort to turn the wheel. One interior point I did not like as much was the rearward visibility. The swoopy external styling makes for a small rear-quarter window (located behind both rear doors). This somewhat hampers blind-spot visibility. The large side mirrors help, but I am used to good visibility all around.
Hyundai rates the Santa Fe at 10.5L/100km in the city, 7.7L/100km on the highway, and 9.2L/100km combined. I was unable to attain these numbers in the week that I had the car. My driving habits consisted of a 75% city + 25% highway mix. I observed an average of 12.2L/100km – nowhere close to what Hyundai Canada reports, and not what I would consider representative of my driving style. Perplexed, I happened to stumble upon the American ratings for the Santa Fe. It turns out the numbers that I was seeing were much closer to what the American Environmental Protection Agency was reporting. It is likely down to the differences in testing between the two governmental agencies. Knowing this, I consider the Santa Fe to be “acceptable” on fuel. The instantaneous fuel efficiency readout would indicate a value of less than 10L/100km at highway cruising speeds.
One of the features that many automakers are incorporating into their cars nowadays is an “Economy” mode. Hyundai is no exception. Enabling the Eco mode dulls throttle response and promotes transmission upshifts lower in the RPM range to keep revs low. I personally did not like the slower throttle tip-in, but found out it that it was possible to replicate the economical transmission shifting program by doing it yourself in the manual shifting mode. While this did involve more co-ordination, the transmission was happy to accept manual commands.
The Santa Fe Sport offers more than enough room for five, a capable powertrain, lots of storage space front and rear, plenty of toys and features (even in the midrange Premium model), and strong Hyundai value. It does a lot of things well. As competitive as this segment is, this SUV is worth a good look.