IN A NUTSHELL: Still a good alternative to the ubiquitous Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot, and a vehicle I could easily recommend.
CLOSEST AMERICAN-MARKET COMPETITORS: Kia Sorento, Toyota RAV-4/Highlander, Honda CRV/Pilot, Mitsubushi Outlander/Endeavor (now discontinued), Dodge Journey, Chevrolet Equinox/Traverse, GMC Terrain/Acadia, Ford Escape/Explorer, Nissan Murano, VW Tiguan, Subaru Tribeca (soon to be discontinued), Mazda CX-5/CX-7.
I won't bother this time, as I have often done in previous reviews of their products, to start by going over the Hyundai/Kia entire history in the American market, and how they started out here in the 1980s and 90s selling junk with poorly-built products. By now, most of you already know quite well how their engineering and build-quality rapidly changed after 1997-2000, and how their vehicles became respectable alternatives to Japanese-designed products. That, of course, continues on today, although there are some signs that we may have seen the Koreans peak in quality from 2005-2010 or so, and that some cost-cutting and the use of thinner, more lightweight parts is creeping into their products. Prices, of course, have also risen with the better quality. Gone are the days when you could get brand-new $10,000 Accents and Rios....today, they start closer to about $14-15,000. But, IMO, Hyundai and Kia still deliver good value and reasonably-well-built products for the money.
Such is the case with Hyundai's Santa Fe, the corporation's mid-sized, car-based unibody SUV that traditionally fit in the slot between the smaller compact Tucson and the larger (marginally) full-size Veracruz SUVs. The veracruz, unfortunately, despite its good quality and refinement, just never proved to be much of a hit in the American market, and is being discontinued. The first-generation Santa Fe was well-built, but a little on the smallish side (the Tucson had not been introduced yet), and, from my memory, had a fair amount of road noise. It provided good, reliable all-weather transportation, though (an ex-pastor of mine owned one for years, loved it, and just recently replaced it with another Santa Fe). The somewhat larger second-generation model, IMO, was a vast improvement, and, I thought, extremely well-done. Its interior trim, smooth drivetrain, interior space-efficiency, and overall build-quality were all first-rate, and I particularly liked its soft suspension and smooth ride over bumps, which is increasingly hard to find in today's clearly sport-oriented auto-world and firm underpinnings. Of course, the soft suspension and tires on the second-generation model meant body roll and slow steering response, but the way I saw it, so what?...it wasn't meant to be a sports car. I liked it enough that I seriously condidered buying one myself, though I ended up choosing a Outback instead, with Subaru's (admittedly) unbeatable AWD system. I did shop with, though, and help some others purchase a second-generation model......including a former co-worker and his wife that I had worked with for years before I retired.
The new 2013 Third-Generation Santa Fe offers four different trim levels in the American market.......Sport, Sport 2.0T, GLS, and Limited. Sport and Sport 2.0T models seat 5 and have two rows of seats. The GLS model, somewhat longer and heavier, has a third-row and seats 7....though 3rd-row seats are usually best for children and small adults. The Limited, also with a third-row, seats 6 because of the individual Captain's-Chair seats in the second row. All use the same 6-speed Sport-Shift automatic transmission....no conventional manual is offered. Sport models use a normally-aspirated 2.4L four with 190 HP and 181 ft-lbs. of torque. Sport Turbo models, as the name suggests, use a turbocharged 2.0L in-line four with 264 HP and 269 ft-lbs. of torque. GLS and Limited models use a normally-aspirated 3.3L V6 with 290 HP and 252 ft-lbs. of torque. All versions offer a choice of FWD or AWD.....a marketing plus, IMO, over some other crossover-SUV's which only offer AWD with the larger engines. Base prices start at $24,450 for Sport models, $27,700 for Sport 2.0T, and $28,350 for both the GLS and Limited models.....not bad, IMO, although the Tech and Equipment-packages can bump that up by several thousand. Sport models come with 17" wheels/65-series tires, GLS models with 18" wheels/60-series tires, and Sport 2.0T and Limited models with 19" wheels/55-series tires. (I found the 19" wheels on my test car, though not really uncomfortable, a little firm-riding for my tastes, and would probably choose the 17" wheels and softer-riding 65's as my own daily-driver). An interesting new spot, of course, for the V6 GLS/Limited models and their three-row seats is that they will, in effect, replace the discontinued Hyundai Veracruz models in Hyundai's pecking-order.
Disliking the Hyundai shop somewhat closest to my house (it is too small, too crowded, and sits in a miserable-traffic area not well-suited for test-drives), I hopped in my Verano (I like driving Veranos, with their relaxing quietness and refinement) and, after my morning treadmill and swim, headed out to the next-closest Hyundai shop somewhat further out, with still-crowded but with more sane levels of traffic. It is a much bigger dealership, much easier to park, and with (usually) a much better choice of vehicles. There was a number of new Santa Fe models in stock, but almost all of them were Sport or Sport Turbo FWD models. I didn't see much in the way of AWD models, and no V6 GLS or Limited models at all. When I asked about them, the Hyundai reps said that the V6 models wouldn't be available in the D.C. area for probably three or four weeks yet.......the factory has delayed shipment, but not told the dealerships why.
For the actual review, I had planned to do one of upper-level models. But, considering the (local) delay in getting them, plus the fact that the CL member who requested the review lives in FL and (probably) does not need AWD, I decided to go ahead and check out one of the FWD Sport 2.0 Turbo models in stock. One of them was done in a stunning metallic sunset-orange color called Canyon Copper with a black cloth interior...IMO, it was absolutely gorgeous. It had minimal options, and listed for a quite-reasonable $28,925. So, I got the stock number, went inside, whipped out my driver's license (it is usually Xeroxed for a test-drive), got the key-fob from the sales-reps, and got started.
MODEL REVIEWED: 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0 Turbo FWD
BASE PRICE: $27,700
Carpeted Floor Mats: $100
Cargo Mat: $50
Cargo Cover: $150 (This, IMO, is money well-spent, and should be standard)
Mud Guards: $100 (These should also be standard)
DESTINATION/FREIGHT: $825 (about average for this class)
Relatively smooth/refined (at low RPMs) and responsive 2.0L Turbo four.
Smooth, refined 6-speed automatic transmission.
Choice of FWD/AWD on all versons....a marketing plus.
Superb brake pedal location/feel for an SUV.
Firm but not harsh ride with 19" wheels/55-series tires on Sport 2.0T.
Relatively good steering response by SUV standards.
Good wind/road-noise control.
Fairly responsive steering.
Push-button Variable steering-effort.
Standard Hillstart Assist and /Downhill-Brake modes.
Fairly good underhood layout except for battery.
Nice underhood gas-struts, not a cheap prop-rod.
Well-done paint job.
Some nice (IMO) paint colors available on Sport Version.
Nice black lower-body cladding and splash-guards protects paint from road-debris.
Solid-feeling body sheet metal.
Nicely-applied exterior trim quality.
Nice engine START/STOP button.
Relatively comfortable front seats.
Good front/rear headroom for tall persons.
OK rear legroom, depending on front-seat adjustment.
Fairly good (but not killer) stereo sound quality.
40/20/40-split rear-seats with 60/40-recline function.
Generally well-done controls/gauges/*****....with one exception.
Nice fore/aft shift-lever motion....no more zig-zags.
Nicely-trimmed, fairly roomy and versatile cargo area.
Excellent 10/100 and 5/60 Hyundai/Kia warranties...but not always transferable.
Once again, the almost inevitable stiffening of tires/suspension with new vehicle-models.
Slightly jumpy throttle starting from rest.
No traditional 3-pedal manual transmission offered.
No U.S.-market diesel models offered as in Europe.
Battery only partly-accessable with ease.
Peek-a-Boo rear visibility out large D-Pillars.
Press-o-Matic seat headrests.
Needless paint-color code-name changes between the different trim levels.
No body-side mouldings for parking-lot ding protection.
Cheaper-feeling upper dash materials than before.
Large but somewhat wobbly-feeling fan-speed **** (manual climate-control version).
WWE-grade exterior door pull-handles.
Temporary spare tire (a number of SUVs have a real one).
V6 GLS/Limited 6 and 7-seat models not (yet) available as of this date.
The third-generation Santa Fe, like most of the Hyundai sedans and its smaller brother Tucson SUV, get a stem-to-stern redesign inside and out. The front and rear ends, in particular, get a much different treatment tis year, especially on the 5-seat Sport Versions, which get a big, triangular-upsweep D-pillar that screws up outward-rear visibility to the sides. The 6/7 passenger GLS and Limited models have more conventionally-shaped rear windows/D-Pillars, and though I couldn't actually sit in one to confirm it, will probably have better rear-visibility. The rather big, chrome-garish grille in front is reminisicent of that on the new Sonata, but somewhat more horizontal and not upswept as much. The triangular up-sweep headlights run partially down the sides of the hood/front fenders. I much preferred the styling of the former, 2Gen model....this kind of aero-stuff is just not my cup of tea, but I realize that styling is subjective and that opinions differ on it.
The sheet metal panels all seemed reasonable solid and durable.....Hyundai doesn't seem to have economized by using tin-foil panels to save either weight or cost. I especialy liked the black-plastic cladding that ran around the entire lower-part of the vehicle to help protect that gorgeous sunset-orange paint job from road-debris. The optional ($100) mud-guards also help, but, IMO, they should be standard. Like most new vehicles these days, there are no body-side mouldings to protect from parking-lot dings. The large, well-chromed door handles, IMO, look nice and classy. But the heavy, Hulk-Hogan pull they need to unlatch the doors, though not a problem for most of you (or me) could make it somewhat difficult for smaller children or older frail adults with arthritic hands/fingers. Most of the exterior trim seemed solid and well-applied, and the twin outside mirrors swiveled and snap-locked easily. On the Sport models, mirror-mounted turn-signal indicators are not standard....they are part of a major Leather/Equipment package.
I had mixed-feelings about the paint-colors, and the way they are marketed. In general, they looked pretty nice, and all of the new Santa Fe paint jobs I saw were very-well done, though black, as with other vehicles, sometimes has a little more orange-peel. Ten different colors in all are offered, and eight of them seem to be exactly the same shades on both the Sport and GLS/Limited models, but yet given different names....confusing. The ninth and tenth (the gorgeous Canyon Copper on Sport models and a nice ice-blue Pearl on the GLS/Limited models) vary by trim level, and are only offered on those specific trim lines. I think that Hyundai is doing GLS/Limited buyers a disservice by not offering the Canyon Copper on those trim lines.
Open up the rather solid-feeling hood, and, (surprise).......there are two nice gas-struts to hold it up for you. No fumbling around with a cheap prop-rod, as we see on even $50,000 versions of the new Ford Explorer. There is a nice underhood sound-insulation pad (and it seems to work...more on that later). The general underhood layout is good, but not the best I've seen. The turbocharged 2.0L four, transversely-mounted, fits in pretty well, and there is a fair amount of room around the sides of the block to reach components. All of the dipsticks, filler-caps, and fluid reservoirs are generally easy to reach. But the two-tone plastic engine cover (Hyundai has to advertise the fact on top of the engine that it is a Sport/turbo model), blocks some of the top-engine access, and battery, though with exposed terminals that are easy to reach, is partially-hidden under other components, and will need some extra steps to clean or replace.
Though I generally prefer the interior styling of the older, second-generation model, I can't say, overall, that Hyundai has done a bad job on the new one.....it is actually, with a few exceptions, pretty nice. I'll get those few flies in the ointment out of the way, right now, so I can concentrate on the nice things. The head-rests, like in some Volvos, in an apparant effort to prevent whiplash, tend to tilt forward in the back of your head/neck, to the point that, for some people, (I'm one of them), they can be difficult to adjust to a really comfortable position to rest your head. The large round fan-speed **** in manual climate-versions, like on some Toyota/Scion models, has a somewhat wobbly feel as it rotates. The stereo sound quality is generally OK, but is definitely not in the killer-sound or Mark-Levinson league....you'll notice a difference. The upper-dash material is hard and rather unpleasant-feeling, but that's about it. The rest of the interior is pretty nice.
The gauges are clear, well-designed and easy-to-read. In the Hyundai tradition, the center readout-screen is bathed in blue light (my test-car didn't have a big NAV screen). The curved bar-graphs inside the primary gauges for fuel and engine-temperature readouts aren't necessarily my cup of tea, but are still relatively clear and easy to read. The nice soft fabric on the headliner and dual sun-visors felt pleasant. The seats are relatively comfortable, and the black fabric felt reasonably nice and durable, though I generally prefer lighter two-tone interiors (which are available). The shift-lever (finally) dumps Hyundai's annoying (IMO) habit of using zig-zag shift-motions, and now has a nice fore/aft motion. All of the *****/switches (except for the aforementioned fan-speed) seemed well-attached, clearly labeled, and easy to use. The steering wheel, I thought, was well-shaped (much like the ones used in a lot of GM vehicles), and comfortable to hold, though it lacked the leather-wrapping, with, of course, is part of the optonal Leather/Equipment Package. Headroom front and rear, as expected from the generally high roofline, is good even for tall persons. Legroom, in back, of course, depends on where the front seats are adjusted, but is generally OK. The rear seats, even in the base Sport models, are divided 40/20/40 for fold-down (how's that for versatility?) and recline 60/40 for rear-passenger comfort. Nice polished wood-tone trim is available in some of the interiors, but it's not used as much as in some previous interiors.
Lift up the fairly solid-feeling rear hatch, and the cargo area itself is fairly roomy, due to the reatively high roofline, and is reasonably well-finished with black fabric/carpet on the floor and a somewhat harder but still pleasant-feeling covering on the side walls. On the Sport models, unfortunately, there are no remote seat-back releases at the back of the trunk for the 60/40 rear-seat drop...they have to be released from inside the car. Under the trunk floor are several handy moulded cubby-compartments and the jacking tools. The temporary spare tire (many SUVs, especially those off-road capable, have a real spare) is mounted underneath well-up underneath and forward of the rear bumper. It is partially-lowered by a slit-**** under the trunk floor (I didn't actually try the **** myself, because of the difficulties of raising the tire back, but that's how the Hyundai reps said it worked). My test-car had the optional ($150) pull-shade cargo cover...it should be standard, IMO, and is money well-spent. Unlike the flimsy-feeling pull-covers in some vehicles (The one in the Toyota Prius seems to be the worst), this one seemed reasonably well-made. My test-car also had the optional ($50) cargo-net to help keep things organized....but it's something I could probably live without.
ON THE ROAD:
Start up the turbo four with a proximity key/fob and an engine START/STOP button (base/non-turbo Sport models get a conventional igniton switch), and the engine comes to life smoothly and quietly with a fair amount of refinement, though you can still hear it idling. I compare it favorably with the well-respected VW/Audi 2.0 turbo four of the same size.....an engine I have liked for years. Like the VW/Audi mill, it easily gets out of its own way, and has a fair amount of spunk, especially at lower RPMs. Accelerating from low speeds, you feel a noticeable push in the back, as peak torque of 269 ft-lbs (more than in the V6, I might add) peaks from a low 1750-3000 RPM. The engine is fairly refined for a turbo four and has fairly low noise levels, though the V6 would likely be more refined at higher RPMs. Granted, my test car was FWD, and lacked the extra weight/drag of the AWD, but, IMO, this engine can easily handle it, just like the VW/Audi 2.0T easily handles the Quattro/4-Motion AWD systems. Hyundai apprantly agrees, since the specs, at least, offer both FWD and AWD with this engine.
The 6-speed Sport-Shift automatic is refined and generally shifts smoothly, even in the manual-mode. Hill-Start-Assist and Downhill-Brake-Control features are standard on all models, even the base Sport. There are no shift-paddles, but the manual bump-lever-shift works well, though the manual-shift gate is to the right of the regular-shift-gate instead of the more-common left. The ride (as I had feared) was noticeably stiffer on the Sport Turbo model than with last year's (IMO) delightfully supple chassis...but still not really uncomfortable, and my test-car, of course, had the largest 19" wheels and lowest-profile 55-series tires. The wheels/tires on the other models, being less-aggressive, will (likely) ride a little smoother. There was a very small amount of the fore-aft porposing motions common to some high-stance SUVs and trucks, but so small as to be virtually unnoticeable. Steering response was generally good, and body roll (as expected) was less than with last year's softer chassis. There is a button on the steering wheel that varies power-steering effort (but nothing else) from COMFORT/NORMAL/SPORT. I noticed little difference between the three individual settings, but a significant difference between COMFORT and SPORT....they might as well just drop the NORMAL setting. Wind and road-noise were both generally well-controlled, and the brake pedal, IMO, was superb....especially by SUV standards. It was well-located so that my big circus-clown size-15 shoes didn't have any hang-up at all on it going from gas to brake. The pedal's response was quick and immediate, with virtually no mushiness or free-play, though, like with most SUVs, you're not going to have Porsche stopping distances.
Generally a good redesign, although, a with most new Hyundais, I personally prefer the last-generation body/chassis/interior. Hyundai has always (at least for the last 10-15 years or so) given good value for your automotive dollar. Quality has gone up, but so have the prices. Still, the list-pricing on the new Santa Fe, especially if, like on my test-car, you can live without a lot of options or equipment packages, seems quite reasonable. The 2.0 turbo engine is an impressive daily-driver, gets reasonably good mileage, and can use lower-cost 87-octane fuel if desired. The interior is comfortable and generally well-done, though the body-style on the 5-seat versions compromises rear-visibility. Past versions were reasonably reliable, and there is little reason to believe that that the new version will be much different....and if anything does break, of course, Hyundai has one of the longest warranties in the buisness, though not all of the warranty may (?) be transferable to a second-owner outside the immediate family. I still think, even with the latest version, it is a good alternative to the ever-popular Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot, and place it solidly on my recommended list.
And, as always, Happy Car-Shopping.
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Nice review Mike. Another strong competitor from Hyundai
I liked the last-generation design the way it was, and generally wish they had left it that way....but the new CAFE and emissions rules, of course, are forcing the use of smaller engines, sometimes with turbos. And Hyundai still refuses to bring the small diesels over here that they sell in Europe. Those small diesels have decent low-RPM torque and high-mileage combined, and I think would work quite well here.
Producing 197PS, the 2.2 CRDi diesel engine delivers high performance with fuel economy. 6-speed manual transmission is available across the range, with 4WD models offering the option of an advanced 6-speed automatic transmission. With 422Nm of torque, the New Generation Santa Fe offers power on the open road whilst giving it the capability to comfortably cruise with a caravan or boat in tow. And through the combination of advanced technologies and structural innovations, road noise, vibration and harshness have all been reduced. The new Santa Fe not only performs - it also offers serenity and quiet.