2013 Hyundai Santa Fe

Redesigned crossover comes in two handy sizes

With buyers moving up from smaller cars and down from larger trucks and SUVs, the compact "crossover" CUV segment in this country continues to boom, and now this all-new 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe joins the fray in two handy sizes. A two-row, five-passenger Sport model competes against the Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Edge, Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and Nissan Murano, and the three-row, six- or seven-passenger model to takes on the Chevy Traverse, Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot and Mazda CX-9. The former is about the same size as the outgoing 2012 Santa Fe. The latter (which replaces the aging Veracruz) is 8.5 inches longer on a 3.9-inch-longer wheelbase.

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To our eyes, this new 2013 Santa Fe looks good, and it's more distinctive than most compact CUV competitors. Its styling follows Hyundai's fluidic sculpture design direction, but toned down from the bold look that has helped lift the company's Sonata to a major player in the also super-competitive mid-size sedan segment.

The new interior is modern and stylish, with soft-touch surfaces and thoughtfully-arranged, well-marked controls. The base Sport offers "YES Essentials" stain-resistant cloth seats, a trip computer, Hyundai Blue Link (similar to GM's OnStar) safety and convenience connectivity with a one-year free subscription and a 40/20/40 split folding second-row seat to accommodate long items along with one or two rear passengers. The 2.0T Sport and LWB Santa Fe add more equipment and a plethora of available comfort, convenience and communications features, some exclusive.

The LWB Sante Fe offers 1.9 inches more second-row legroom and 5.6 cubic feet more total cargo capacity than the Sport. It comes with second-row climate controls and vents and a 50/50 split folding third seat with 31.5 inches of legroom. The second row is the 40/20/40 split folding bench in the GLS trim, twin Captain's chairs in the Limited.

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Model Lineup

The base 2.4-liter four-cylinder Sport also offers two-way power-adjustable lumbar support for the driver's seat, air conditioning (with a cabin air filter), power windows, locks and mirrors, electric power steering, six-speed automatic transmission (with a fuel-saving Active ECO mode), tilt and telescoping steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity, AM/FM/CD/XM/MP3 six-speaker audio with iPod/USB and Aux input jacks and a three-month XM Satellite Radio trial subscription, plus a windshield wiper de-icer, a rear window wiper, P235/65R17 all-season tires on 17-inch alloy wheels, cargo area under-floor storage and four 12-volt power outlets.

The turbocharged 2.0T adds an eight-way power driver seat with four-way adjustable lumbar, heated front seats and outside mirrors, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, front fog lights, chrome twin-tip exhaust, roof side rails, proximity key entry with pushbutton start, automatic headlight control, driver-selectable steering modes (DSSM), P235/55R19 tires on 19 inch alloy wheels, an electroluminescent gauge cluster and a trailer prep package. Saddle interior trim is available at no extra cost.

The seven-passenger LWB Santa Fe GLS offers some, but not all, 2.0T features. The six-passenger LWB Limited adds leather-trimmed seats and door panels, second-row Captain's chairs, 19-inch wheels and tires, dual-zone front automatic climate controls with a CleanAir ionizer and a 4.3" color audio system touchscreen with a rearview camera.

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The shorter Sports offer two engine choices: a 190-hp 2.4-liter four and a 264-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four, while the long-wheelbase (LWB) Santa Fe serves up only a 290-hp 3.3-liter V6. All three engines boast gasoline direct injection and drive through six-speed automatic transmissions with SHIFTRONIC manual capability, and all models offer optional Active Cornering Control (ACC) all-wheel drive. EPA economy ratings range from 22 city, 33 highway, 26 combined for the base front-drive four-cylinder Sport to 19/26/22 for the LWB fwd Santa Fe.

The ACC awd continuously monitors driving conditions and enhances stability by managing brake and engine torque and vectoring one or the other to or from individual wheels to balance both side-to-side and front-to rear traction. The result is improved cornering stability with reduced understeer (loss of front-wheel traction) or oversteer (loss of rear-wheel traction) to help the driver maintain control in tricky conditions.

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Options And Technology

A Popular Equipment Package for the base 2.4L Sport adds most 2.0T features, while a Leather and Premium Equipment Package piles on the leather interior, proximity key, a power front passenger seat, sliding and reclining second-row seats, heated rear seats, dual-zone climate control, the 4.3-inch touchscreen display and rearview camera, and more. A Technology Package comes with premium audio, a panoramic sunroof, a heated steering wheel and manual side-window sunshades.

Standard safety features include dual front, side-curtain and side-impact airbags and a driver's knee bag. Active safety features include Vehicle Stability Management (VSM), Electronic Stability Control (ESC) with Traction Control, anti-lock brakes (ABS) with Electronic Brake Force Distribution and Brake Assist, Downhill Brake Control (DBC) and Hillstart Assist Control (HAC). A rearview camera is available as part of the Leather and Premium Equipment Package, but not yet available are such state-of-the art features as lane departure and blind spot warnings, active cruise control and collision avoidance systems.

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Driving Impressions

We found our test Santa Fe Sport AWD 2.0T pleasant to drive. Its new, lighter structure is built with 37.7 percent high-strength steel, part of the reason the base Sport model is some 266 pounds lighter than the outgoing 2012 Santa Fe and the LWB Santa Fe nearly 400 pounds lighter than the Veracruz it replaces. This also makes it stiffer, which improved both ride and handling and better manages crash energy should something bad happen.

Its performance was good, its ride smooth and controlled over most surfaces, its braking strong and stable, and its handling -- thanks to a lightweight MacPherson strut front suspension, independent multi-link rear and stabilizer bars at both ends -- is at least as good as most competitors. Aside from a few minor niggles, our only disappointment was averaging 21-22 mpg in mostly freeway driving, well short of its 27-mpg highway rating.

Nevertheless, the new 2013 Santa Fe deserves consideration from customers shopping for a just-right-size compact CUV.

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