Interior fit and finish
The Santa Fe has been around since the 2001 model year. As such it has been a key player in Hyundai’s move from the perception of that of a company that builds throwaway vehicles to the fastest-growing brand in America. Although sales of the midsize CUV have been eclipsed by both the Elantra and Sonata sedans, early on the Santa Fe was Hyundai’s best-selling nameplate and a key player in the company’s turnaround here in the U.S.
Since its inception the Santa Fe has shared a platform with both the Hyundai Sonata and the Kia Optima. For the 2013 model year, Hyundai 86’d the name Tucson for its larger 3-row SUV, renaming it Santa Fe, while changing the name of the smaller 2-row Santa Fe to Santa Fe Sport.
The re-naming of its midsize crossover also coincided with the introduction of the third generation model of both the short-wheelbase Santa Fe Sport and long-wheelbase Santa Fe that share the same cockpit layout as well as body sheetmetal from the front doors forward.
So here we are. Outside, the third generation version is as bold and modern as anything in its class, featuring a high prominent beltline with sweeping angles that accentuate its flowing lines.
Like all recent re-designs from the Korean manufacturer, the 2013 Santa Fe Sport features the Korean manufacturer’s “Fluidic Sculpture” design language which, in the case of both new Santa Fe models, Hyundai refers to as “Storm Edge” (believe me, I couldn’t make up a name like that).
That being said, in front, large LED-trimmed headlamp enclosures taper downward towards a three-bar hexagonal front grille. Below that is a lower air intake with a black trim line that sweeps around the lower front air dam, continues over the wheel arches, runs along the lower body, sweeps up around the rear wheel arches and ties in with the lower rear bumper trim.
Along the body sides, a character line begins just aft of the front wheel arch and sweeps up along the body while bisecting both front and rear door handles. Above the rear door handle a more sculpted character line forms a gentle radius that terminates just above the wraparound taillights.
Also along the sides and between the wheel wells are two sculpted lower character lines – one in the sheetmetal and one in the black lower trim.
Inside you’ll find a slickly-designed interior notable for its liberal use of soft-touch surfaces and a fit and finish worthy of a Lexus. Although there are no fewer than a half dozen different materials and finishes, they were all executed flawlessly – even down to the rubberized material on the door panels just above the arm rests and window switches.
Up front both the driver and passenger have ample amounts of leg, hip and headroom. The front seats are large and very supportive. The backlit instrumentation is clear and easy to read. Driver visibility is good out the front and sides, but owners pay a price for all that swoopy exterior styling as visibility out the rear three-quarters is hindered by the large C-pillar.
The center stack on our tester featured an optional 8-inch touch-screen display with navigation. Improvements include a simpler user interface with voice recognition and the simple pop-up messages helped me pair an iPhone in record time without having to consult the owner’s manual.
The buttons located just below the screen controlling the on-screen functions are backlit, easy to read and intuitive. The module below this contained controls for the dual-zone climate control system as well as the front and rear defrost and fresh/recirculation functions.
There is more than enough room in the back seat for three adults with the wide rear doors allowing for easy ingress and egress. With just 2 passengers in back the center arm rest can be lowered that features 2 cup holders in a pop-out section in front. Cargo volume is a generous 35.4 cubic feet behind the second row seat.
All Santa Fe Sports come with a plethora of standard equipment including 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlight accents, rear spoiler and window wiper, keyless entry and alarm, power windows, locks and mirrors, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, steering wheel-mounted cruise, Sirius satellite radio with USB and aux inputs, Bluetooth iPhone connectivity with streaming audio and a 90-day subscription to Hyundai’s Blue Link telematics system.
Note: beginning May 16th, all Blue Link-equipped Hyundai vehicles will come standard with three years of connected car service at no additional cost that includes automatic collision notification, enhanced roadside assistance and a number of vehicle “health services” including a monthly vehicle health report, maintenance alerts, vehicle diagnostic code alert, recall advisor and in-vehicle service scheduling.
Safety equipment includes a full complement of 7 airbags, ABS, traction control, electronic stability control and downhill brake/hill-start assist control.
Our tester came equipped with three optional packages.
The Popular Equipment Package includes roof side rails, front fog lights, automatic headlights, heated front seats and exterior mirrors and a power driver’s seat with lumbar support.
The Leather & Premium Package that includes a leather-trimmed interior with heated rear seats, power front passenger seat, a sliding and reclining second row, dual automatic climate control and side mirror-mounted turn signals, rear camera, premium door sill plates and an auto-dimming inside rearview mirror.
Finally, the Technology Package added a panoramic sunroof (deletes the roof side rails), navigation system with 8-inch touchscreen (deletes the 4.3-inch color audio display from the leather package), a 90-day subscription to XM NavTraffic, a premium sound system, heated steering wheel and manual sunshades for the rear side windows.
Under and in the sheetmetal
Although it sits on the same wheelbase as the previous generation, a 30-percent increase in the use of ultra high-strength-tensile steel in both the body structure and outer door panels (totaling nearly 38 percent of the total) has improved torsional rigidity by 16 percent leading to improved collision energy management.
In addition, new stamping and roll forming has reduced the number of body parts in the new Santa Fe Sport. Together, these improvements have led to a decrease of 266 pounds over the 2012 Santa Fe.
The Santa Fe Sport is powered by Hyundai’s 2.4-liter direct-injected Theta II engine that produces a 190 horsepower and 181 lb.-ft. of peak torque – 15 more horses and 11 more lb.-ft. of torque than in the previous generation. EPA fuel economy numbers are 21/24/21 city/highway/combined, while my observed fuel economy was 22.5 in primarily suburban driving.
Both around town and on the highway, the suspension does a decent job of soaking up minor road imperfections, although it wasn’t always up to the task when it came to frost-affected pavement strips and potholes.
The Santa Fe Sport comes with a three mode steering system – Normal, Comfort and Sport. Feedback on the most aggressive setting, Sport, is just okay while the numbness progressively increases as you move to Normal and, finally, Comfort. That being said, Hyundai has managed to dial up on-center feel in the Sport mode eliminating most of the on-center numbness of the previous generation.
2013 Santa Fe Sport prices start at $24,450 for a base front-wheel-drive model equipped with the 2.4-liter normally aspirated engine and can top out at over $36,000 for a four-wheel-drive model equipped with the 2.0-liter turbo. Our FWD tester with the Popular Equipment Package ($950), Leather &
Premium Equipment Package ($2,950), Technology Package ($2,700), carpeted front and rear floor mats ($100), cargo net ($50) and cargo cover ($100) was about two-thirds up the ladder, bringing the total, including freight and handling ($825) to an even $32,175.
The Bottom Line
The 2013 Santa Fe Sport brings a lot to the table in the mid-size crossover. It seems that with every new generation Hyundai’s models get more stylish
on the outside and higher in quality on the inside. The ride is quiet, there’s a lot of room for the money and it’s one of the best-looking vehicles in the segment.
There are, however, still a few drawbacks. That swoopy styling comes at the price of limited rear visibility and both braking and especially steering feedback could stand some tweaking.
So here’s the bottom line: Hyundai owners have historically gotten a lot of bang for their buck and, with the brand’s increasing quality as evidenced by the 2013 Santa Fe Sport, that equation has only gotten better.