Like a lot of people, hearing the name Hyundai would automatically make me think back to models like the Excel, Pony and even the Accent of the 8’s and 90s; models which represented the most basic levels of transportation. In the same fashion, I found the two previous generations of the Santa Fe very underwhelming, almost like cheap knockoffs of other more capable SUVs. They provided the basic look, feel and function of a SUV, but without any of the flare or attitude that made the segment appealing to me. With that said, the Santa Fe has certainly achieved impressive levels of popularity as a family hauler, so when I was offered the chance to drive a 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe XL, I was eager to uncover exactly what it was about the Santa Fe that attracted so many buyers.
Interestingly, Hyundai has chosen to split the Santa Fe into two separate offerings; the Santa Fe Sport, which provides two rows of seating, and the Santa Fe XL, equipped with a third row for up to seven passengers, an option which is brand new to the Santa Fe. No doubt, Hyundai is trying to cash in on the popularity of the Santa Fe name plate to get competitive in the 7-passenger market, something they struggled to do with the now defunct Veracruz model. My tester was a top of the line Santa Fe XL Limited AWD, which tipped the scales at just under $45,000. At that price the Santa Fe comes with everything you’d expect it to and more, including navigation, backup camera, heated steering wheel, heated and cooled front seats, heated second row seats and a panoramic roof. With features like this, it’s easy to see that Hyundai is aggressively moving away from focusing on buyers looking for simple basic transportation, and are targeting a more premium segment of the market. We simultaneously had a 6-passenger Ford Flex Limited, which at $60,000 truly let the Santa Fe demonstrate just how much you get for your dollar.
When I first saw the latest incarnation of the Santa Fe, I thought Hyundai had finally nailed the aggressive exterior look; which I found to be a very welcomed departure from the very car-like appearance of the previous generations. The swooping roof line, gorgeous 19” wheels, massive chrome grill and inviting LED accent lighting all contribute to the Santa Fe’s new premium look. It’s important to keep in mind that with the XL, we finally “promoted” the Santa Fe into the “Luxury” section of our test drives.
The interior of the big Hyundai is very well-executed; all the controls are well positioned and easy to use, the touch screen navigation and entertainment system is responsive and simple to understand. I found both the front and second row captain’s chairs to be extremely comfortable, and while the third row seats were comfortable and nicely finished, headroom was a little limited for a full size adult. The materials used inside were outstanding and nothing like what I’d come to expect, from the soft supple leather used on the seats, arm rests and door panels, to the mat finish soft touch plastics on the dash and controls.
Under the hood of the Santa Fe XL lies Hyundai’s 3.3L V6 putting out a healthy 290 horsepower. During my time with the truck, I really began to like this engine. While the Santa Fe XL is far from quick, power is adequate and delivery is exceptionally smooth. Better yet, efficiency is simply stellar for a vehicle of this size. During my week with it I observed mixed fuel economy of just over 10L/100km and highway economy closer to 9L/100km. In my opinion these are pretty impressive numbers for any vehicle that could seat seven. The Santa Fe does come equipped with an ‘Active Eco’ mode, I gave it a shot, but it only seemed to improve economy very slightly, while dramatically deducing throttle response and power, so I gave up on that pretty quickly. Also important to note that the Santa Fe XL is the only offering in Hyundai’s SUV lineup to come with a V6, this means the towing capacity for the Santa Fe XL at 2268Kg (5000lbs) is significantly better than that of the 4-cylinder powered Santa Fe Sport; that in itself may be enough to justify moving up to the XL version for some buyers.
Spending some quality time behind the wheel of the Santa Fe, it starts to become very clear that Hyundai knows exactly what their market is looking for, and how to deliver it. Everyone in the family will appreciate the ride which is extremely smooth and the cabin which is German luxo-barge levels of quite. Also, the optional Infinity sound system in my tester was phenomenal, definitely one of the better factory sound systems I’ve heard recently. Drivers will find that the turning radius of the Santa Fe is simply amazing. The turning radius is so tight it makes maneuvering the Santa Fe in downtown congestion an absolute breeze. The steering also offers another interesting feature which allows the user to toggle between three modes, each offering a different level of steering resistance. However, regardless of mode, the steering does feel slightly notchy, one of my very few complaints with the Hyundai. Rear passengers will appreciate the heated and adjustable second-row seating and generous leg room in both the 2nd and 3rd rows. However, the one glaring omission from the current offering is a rear DVD package. This feature is offered in some of the Santa Fe’s closest competitors such as the Honda Pilot and Ford Explorer and is certainly well received by both parents and children.
I recently caught a few scenes from the 1983 classic, National Lampoon’s Vacation. These scenes depicted an average family piled into the infamous Griswold’s family station wagon, touring across the country and running into all sorts of trouble and adventure along the way. Watching the images on the screen I couldn’t help but feel a little sad that the concept of a large cross-country family road trip that was once so popular had fallen to the wayside. I mean, what was the last blockbuster movie centered on a proper family road trip? Certainly nothing in my recent memory. But then I drove the Santa Fe, a Hyundai that can haul the whole family and their toys, in quiet luxurious comfort, without breaking the bank at the pumps, and all at a palatable price. Making it a vehicle so perfectly equipped for the family road trip that Clark Griswold himself would be impressed, and all those images of the family road trip came flooding back. I realized then, that the Santa Fe, which is such a huge leap forward for Hyundai, is actually a throwback to a simpler time. It is the modern day Griswold’s family station wagon; the wood paneling and vinyl seats have been replaced by a panoramic roof, air conditioned seats and touch screen navigation, but the concept of the perfect family hauler is alive and well at Hyundai.
2013 Hyundai Santa Fe XL Gallery