Driven: 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T AWD

By Brandon Turkus

September 19, 2012

—Park City, Utah
We could start this story off the same way every other publication starts a Hyundai story: a clichéd report on how Hyundai is in the midst of a golden age, can’t put a foot wrong, and is possibly the greatest thing since sliced bread, right before we dive into a review of some new piece of motorized “fluidic sculpture.” We won’t waste your time with that. We know Hyundai makes great products, and it’s probably safe to say you know, too.
Part of what’s made Hyundai so successful over the past few years isn’t that its cars are spectacular to drive; it’s that they look good, feel upscale, and represent a value (a value that is much different than the one the brand represented for the first 15 or so years of its US existence). The 2013 Santa Fe Sport is no exception.
[Click here to read our review of the 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT]
The sheetmetal of this new Santa Fe is downright handsome. The front fascia is attractive sharing some resemblance with a Genesis Coupe (particularly in the headlights and fog lights). Its hexagonal, chrome-clad grille looks decidedly upscale and modern, as well. One of Hyundai’s primary design elements is a character line that runs from the front wheel arches all the way towards the back of the car, where it integrates neatly with the wraparound taillights. That little detail is present and accounted for on the Santa Fe, and looks to be well executed on a CUV body.Driven: 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T AWD
As refreshing as the new exterior is, it’s got nothing on the Santa Fe’s new interior. The last Santa Fe was designed and built before Hyundai revolutionized its products, and it shows. The old interior is awash in cheap, unforgiving black plastics that are molded into generic, unimaginative shapes. Ask a small child to draw a vehicle’s center stack, and odds are it’d look like the old Santa Fe’s radio/HVAC cluster.
For this new model, all the stops have been pulled out. The dominant material is still plastic, but it’s done in such a tasteful manner as to be inoffensive. Plastic content feels similar to the Ford Escape, but the Hyundai lacks the sharp, unpleasant edges that abound in the Ford’s cabin. Instead, there are gentle, eye-pleasing curves. The upper half of the center stack (the vents and nav display) resembles the hexagonal grille and protrudes ever so slightly from the actual dash. It’s an appealing look that adds a modern twist to the interior.
From behind the wheel, the electroluminescent gauges were easy to read, and the color display that sat between the twin gauge pods looked quite good. The tilt/telescopic steering wheel was wrapped in leather, felt appropriately sized, and generally sat well in hand. We wouldn’t have minded a bit more additional padding in the rim, but this is a family CUV, not an M3. The buttons on the face were easy to figure out, and despite the sheer number, we had no issues managing the various entertainment and information options without taking our mitts off the wheel.
Hyundai did a fine job of engineering the Santa Fe’s seats. The balance between comfort and support was quite even, with enough bolstering to keep us nestled in during cornering, but enough comfort so that we weren’t disturbed along some of the dirt forest roads we explored along the way. The perforated leather (available in beige, black, and a handsome saddle color) of our tester looked and felt quite good. We weren’t able to experience the gray cloth interior, unfortunately.
For 2013, the Santa Fe comes in both long- and short-wheelbase models. The long-wheelbase Santa Fe is actually a replacement for the unloved Veracruz, and is available in both six- and seven-passenger versions. The short-wheelbase model, called the Santa Fe Sport, is what we were testing, and is the most direct follow-up to the last-generation CUV. Despite losing four inches in wheelbase to the three-row version, the Sport still offered a good level of versatility.
Driven: 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T AWD
The seats folded in a 40/20/40 split, allowing a great range of configurations for cargo hauling. The entire second row could also slide fore and aft along a track of 5.2 inches, while the backrests can recline—perfect for the kiddies to fall asleep on a road trip. Packing for said road trip wouldn’t be tough either, with a healthy 35.4 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row. That represents a marginal upgrade over the last-generation model, but puts this new Santa Fe right in the thick of the segment (only the Kia Sorento offers more than a cubic foot of extra cargo space).
Driving along for that road trip should be a relaxing experience, as well. Both the suspension and steering of the Santa Fe were up for the long-haul duty. The steering was classically electric, being light and rather numb. Not even the trick Driver Selectable Steering Mode system (which we previously tested on the Elantra GT) made a huge impact on the steering weight. With Sport offering up a mere 10-percent increase in effort, it just didn’t feel like quite enough heft to make us happy. Despite the lack of weight, it felt quite nice on center, mitigating the usual small corrections that come with less-resistant EPAS tillers (even in the feathery Comfort steering mode). If you just need to point the Santa Fe straight, then you’ll probably really like this tiller.
Thankfully, our test route wasn’t straight, which put into stark relief the lack of feedback coming off the wheel. There just wasn’t much going on to inform us of what was up with the front wheels. Not that we were surprised, we’d just hoped that someone would have solved the biggest issue facing electric steering.
The ride on the winding mountain roads of our test route demonstrated the composure of the Santa Fe’s McPherson-front/multilink-rear suspension. Body roll and vertical motion were both well managed, meaning Billy and Susie won’t be redecorating the back of the front seats with regurgitated chicken nuggets. Surprisingly, our test route took us along some seriously bumpy dirt forestry trails (usually, manufacturers are notorious for picking roads that highlight vehicles in the best possible ways). Despite the terrain being more appropriate for a pickup, the Santa Fe’s impressive secondary ride qualities shined through, keeping most of the bumps from being a huge in-cabin disturbance. Likewise, impact noises were blunted by Hyundai’s inclusion of extra sound deadening.
On real roads, the extra-quiet ride of the Santa Fe was in even greater evidence. Sitting somewhere between the Genesis Sedan and Equus on the serenity scale, the Santa Fe was arguably the quietest CUV we’d tested in quite some time. Wind noise rarely intruded upon the cabin, and it would take some fairly epic imperfections (along the same scale we found on the forestry trail) to elicit any noticeable impact noises. Tire roar was pretty much nonexistent, as well. If a quiet ride is important to you, there’s a great deal to like about the Santa Fe.Driven: 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T AWD
Now, we’re sure there are those who might bemoan the use of extra sound deadening material. “But it adds weight, and every vehicle should have a Chapman-esque obsession with weight savings,” you might say. Well, not surprisingly, we agree. So did Hyundai. In fact, even with the additional weight of extra sound deadening, Hyundai managed to drop 266 pounds of body fat over the old model. That number includes a new underbody tray for improved aero, and tougher crash structures for both European NCAP standards and American rollover standards.
With the curb weight at a scant 3459 pounds (for the lightest front-drive, 2.4-liter engine), the Santa Fe is 56 pounds lighter than the Ford Escape, a vehicle that’s actually classified as a sub-compact CUV (the Santa Fe Sport is considered a compact CUV). Against two of its primary competitors, the Chevrolet Equinox and Ford Edge, it packs a 318-pound and 539-pound advantage, respectively. Those numbers are for the lightest, front-drive, four-cylinder competitors, as well. Our all-wheel-drive, turbocharged tester actually sat at a porkier 3706 pounds, which was still down on the comparable Equinox by 216 pounds and Edge by 528 pounds.
When mated with a 2.0-liter, turbocharged engine borrowed from the Sonata Turbo, that low curb weight allowed the Santa Fe to be both quick and efficient. In front-drive trim, it should net a wallet-pleasing 31 miles per gallon on the freeway (our all-wheel-drive tester is rated at a still-decent 20 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway), while still delivering the sort of turbocharged thrills that come with 264 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque from 1750 to 3000 rpm.
In actual practice, we weren’t really able to get a good handle on fuel economy. The high-altitude test route and the steeply sloped roads meant we were digging much further into the throttle than we would on a normal economy run. Look for a more extensive economy test when we’re able to drive the Santa Fe Sport on home turf.
Despite these two factors inhibiting our fuel economy, they didn’t put a huge damper on the out-and-out speed of this Hyundai. Acceleration, even climbing a grade at 8000 feet, was respectable. On level ground, nailing the throttle gently pressed us back in our seats, and around-town running was made all the easier by the low-end punch of the blown engine. Whether you view it as a good thing or a bad thing, there wasn’t much engine noise that infiltrated the cabin (blame all that sound deadening again).
Regardless of engine or drive configuration, all Santa Fe Sports are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Even with the high-altitude wreaking havoc on the engine’s power, this trans always seemed to keep the power flowing. It was quick on both upshifts and downshifts, with only a slight hunt for gears when dropping down. The manual mode (a floor-mounted push/pull setup) was fine, but seemed to be there more for improved towing prowess than performance.
Driven: 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T AWD
Pricing for the Santa Fe Sport starts at $24,450 for a front-drive vehicle with the base 2.4-liter, four-cylinder. For your hard-earned monies, you’ll be getting 190 horsepower, 181 pound-feet of torque, a 33-mpg highway rating, and standard goodies like 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlight accents, seven airbags, and the BlueLink telematics system. Adding all-wheel drive will cost $1750, regardless of the engine. Three packages are available in a sequential order (Pack B requires Pack A, while Pack C requires A and B).
The Popular Equipment Package adds roof rails, fog lights, automatic headlights, heated mirrors, and heated seats with a power driver’s seat bumps the price to $25,400. The Leather & Premium Equipment Package builds on the Popular Equipment Pack with proximity key, leather seats, power passenger seat, the passenger-pleasing sliding/reclining and heated second row, and a 4.3-inch touchscreen display with a rear-view camera, moving the price to $28,350. Finally, a Technology Package takes everything from the Leather & Premium Pack and adds a panoramic sunroof, an eight-inch touchscreen navigation system, a Dimension stereo, and a heated steering wheel for a final price of $31,050.
Jumping up to the turbocharged powertrain automatically includes the Popular Equipment Package, along with a reasonable $1600 premium. The Turbo tacks on an extra $700 automatically for specific equipment like 19-inch wheels, the TFT cluster display, and a trailer-prep package. For the math averse, the price for a base Sport Turbo is $27,700. From there, the same Leather & Premium Equipment will up things to $30,150, while adding the Tech pack results in a price of $33,050.
All told, a loaded-to-the-teeth Santa Fe Sport 2.0T with all-wheel drive and the Tech pack will cost $34,800 (plus $825 for freight). It’s a pricey sum, but not out of this world compared to a loaded Ford Edge Limited 2.0T, which starts at $35,935, is only available in front-drive, and costs an extra $795 for navigation. The Equinox looks like a bargain until you realize its $33,090 starting price is for an all-wheel-drive LTZ with the base four-cylinder, no sunroof, and no navigation.
2013 Santa Fe Sports are still relatively rare on dealer lots, but that should certainly change once production ramps up. Hyundai’s lack of production capacity may be the thing that hurts the Santa Fe most. In our eyes, the Santa Fe Sport certainly seems worth whatever wait it takes to get from the factory to your door (hell, try custom ordering it—it’s an experience).
Once you’ve taken delivery, though, you’ll own arguably one of the best vehicles for a small family on sale today. With decent power, efficiency, space, equipment, and a price that won’t break the bank, the Santa Fe Sport is certainly the kind of product that reminds you of just how far Hyundai has come.
2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T AWD Technology
Engine: Turbocharged inline-four, 2.0 liters, 16v
Output: 264 hp/269 lb-ft
Weight: 3706 lb
Fuel Economy, City/Hwy: 20/27 mpg
Base Price: $34,800
On Sale: Fall 2012