By on August 28, 2012

Anyone can write a world-class review of an interesting car. Something like a McLaren M4-12C or a Ferrari 458 lends itself well to Clarksonian prose, full of overwrought similies and hyperbolic commentary on the driving experience. Writing a great review of an utterly boring, utilitarian car that captures the reader’s attention? Now that takes work.

And then, there’s an even bigger challenge when trying to review something like the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe. It’s a crossover, which means 98% of the readership is pre-disposed to hating it right off the bat. Outside of planet TTAC, a lot of people really care about crossovers. You, the station wagon/hatchback loyalist may not be able to fathom this, but there is a reason the Honda CR-V is one of the best selling vehicles in the country. It just works. Every other automaker in the industry tries different formulas to knock the Comfort Runabout Vehicle (yes, that’s what CR-V stands for) off of its comfortable perch, but nobody has succeeded thus far. Not with fancy tech features (Ford Escape), great handling (Mazda CX-5), great fuel economy (erm…Mazda CX-5) or simply another flavor of vanilla (Toyota RAV4). With this car, Hyundai will be marketing a car that looks and feels nicer than everything else out there.

The old car was bland on the outside and durable on the inside, if we’re being charitable. This generation is a different story, with the most striking difference being the size-XL Tucson styling that works better on the larger crossover. The interior is an incredible leap forward from the previous car. Whereas the old one was durable and simple, with a couple premium touches (like blue back lighting) thrown in for good measure, the new car makes a solid attempt at appearing upscale.

All the switch gear and interior materials are well above the previous car – they’re even better than the bits and pieces used in the Genesis. The layout is similar to the Elantra GT’s dashboard and instrument panel, so this is likely Hyundai’s future interior design direction. With all cars so close in quality, interior and exterior design is an important selling point for new cars – Hyundai has leveraged that with cars like the Elantra and Sonata, but the priorities of buyers in this segment aren’t always so superficial.

All press trips are carefully planned in order to maximize the car’s benefits and minimize its flaws; in this case, we were driving the new Santa Fe in Park City, Utah, with elevations approaching 9,000 feet at some points. The only variants available to test were the five-passenger Santa Fe Sport models with the 2.0T engine and all-wheel drive. Next year, the three-row Santa Fe will arrive, with a longer wheelbase and 6 or 7 passenger seating, as a replacement for the Veracruz. None were on hand to drive.

At altitude, the 2.0T performed admirably, but the lack of any of the base model 2.4L naturally aspirated cars was telling; we’ll wait until we’re back at sea-level to make a final judgement call. Even with our foot to the floor, the 2.0T barely broke a sweat, while the six-speed automatic did its best to minimize its presence. The absence of the agricultural 3.3L V6 in the previous model is a welcome one, though three-row models get a revised 3.3L identical to the unit featured in the Azera. Credit for the improved performance can’t rest entirely with the engine alone. Hyundai managed to trim 266 pounds out of the new car versus last year’s model.

The new Santa Fe’s road manners are similar to the old one. The steering is heavier but not entirely communicative. The Driver Selectable Steering Modes (just like the Elantra GT) increase the steering heft, but doesn’t help with tactile sensation. In this segment, it’s not like most buyers really care, and it’s a marked improvement from the Xanax-laden system in the previous model. Like the old car, the ride isn’t completely sorted; the shocks “jack” up and down a fair bit over uneven pavement (something that will be explored in future Suspension Truth column), lending a bit of a pogo stick feel to the car. Again, it’s much improved over the old car (which, after a couple of years in the Kreindler fleet, had a pretty harsh ride), but not quite class leading. NVH is greatly improved, and it truly is a quiet car, allowing you to enjoy the Infinity sound system that came with our tester. The system sounded great, but the rest of the package, including the navigation screen and the multi-layered menus, were a bit frustrating to use. At one point, it refused to accept the destination address listed in the Hyundai supplied map book – the site of the 2002 Olympic skiing events. Not exactly a shack in the middle of nowhere.

To get all this you’ll have to take the $30,270 Santa Fe Sport AWD and drop another $2450 for the Leather and Premium Package, as well as $2900 for the Technology Package that also adds a panoramic sunroof and a backup camera, among other items. Even at that price, the 2013 Santa Fe is tempting – it’s much more interesting both visually and mechanically than something like a Toyota Venza, is devoid of the annoying MyFord Touch system that plagues upper trim levels of the Blue Oval cars and offers up fuel economy numbers that are at the top of the segment; 2.0T cars can return 21/31 mpg city/highway with front drive and 20/27 with all-wheel drive, while the 2.4L front-driver can return as high as 33 mpg on the highway.

The fly in the ointment here is, you guessed it, the CR-V. For all it lacks in tech features and avant-garde styling and turbocharged engines, the CR-V has three key advantages that are powerful enough to sell people on the product. The cargo floor is extremely low, making it easy to load groceries and strollers into the back. The “one-touch” rear seats are so simple and so efficient that they seem designed with a showroom floor demo in mind. And a back-up camera with multiple angles (including a downward view for looking at poles and solid objects) comes standard on every model. Chances are, many of you are scoffing at the idea of an dated-looking, dated-feeling, low-tech, dull-to-drive Honda reigning supreme over Hyundai’s upscale crossover (or the Escape, or the CX-5), but for people who don’t spend time reading about cars on the internet, the little features that make their day-to-day existence easier – which are plentiful in the CR-V, that end up selling cars in this segment.

Hyundai provided travel, accomodations, flights, meals and a 2013 Santa Fe for the launch event. 

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56 Comments on “Capsule Review: 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T AWD...”


  • avatar
    tuffjuff

    The problem with the CR-V isn’t necessarily the lack of competetive features.

    It’s that it’s REALLY FREAKIN UGLY.

    • 0 avatar
      crtfour

      I’m with you. In my opinion, I think the back end of the new CR-V is hideous. People must like them though because I already see a lot on the road. Maybe ugly is the new cool? Another case in point is the Nissan Murano.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      The previous CR-V was fugly, the new one, while not exactly a looker isn’t nearly as bad as its predecessor.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    SUV fan here, I own one. My Escape isn’t exceptional at anyone thing, but it does several things very well. Light off road capability to get to a fishing spot? Check. Enough room for GF, three teenage boys, and their sporting kit to go get pizza after a game? Check. Flip the back seats down and load flat boxes from Ikea? Check. Enough ride height to make it an excellent urban assault vehicle? Check. It’s kinda like that old pair of boots in your closet that you wear on the weekends. To drive the purist crazy, I traded in an extended cab, lifted 4wd Ranger on it.

  • avatar
    LeeK

    It’s okay Alex, there are a number of us who appreciate the overall utility of a well-designed crossover and don’t feel the compromise of the lower gas mileage of the type outweighs the generally larger cargo capacity, higher driving position, increased ground clearance (think of the potholes we routinely encounter in the urban landscape), and better headroom. I’ve lived with a first generation CR-V for over a decade and appreciate it for what it provides: excellent reliability, a comfortable ride, and a vehicle that delivers on 99% of what I need it to do. We are now blessed with all kinds of variations from sporty (Tiguan, Forrester) to luxurious (Edge, Murano), to appliance-like (Rogue, CR-V). Sometimes it is perfectly okay to want and own an appliance.

    • 0 avatar
      Ubermensch

      If you hit a pothole of the type that could only be navigated with the added ground clearance of a CUV, then the fragile car based suspension and rims of that CUV will be just as destroyed as a car with standard ground clearance. That is why most enthusiasts deride CUVs, as they only add ride height without the ruggedness of a true off road SUV suspension. I have grown to appreciate the virtues of the CUV, but I still can’t stand the pretending of the buyers who think they are somehow invulnerable to the hazards of the urban landscape by driving a jacked up car.

  • avatar
    suspekt

    “…Chances are, many of you are scoffing at the idea of an dated-looking…”

    I sincerely disagree with this statement.

    The CR-V is one of the freshest looking vehicles on the road today regardless of price.

    I raised this in a seperate post where I drew comparisons between the new Kinetic Escape and the CR-V. Both present very very different approaches to car design.

    The CRV has a wonderful tension in its design. If you look at it from afar (and the new Accord) it looks like an Archers’ bow with the string pulled back to full tension. The CRV is a static object, but it transmits that moment of tension when the arrow is released from the Archers bow.

    The Escape takes a very different approach. It applies the Kinetic styling DNA to every square inch of the exterior chasing an overall design that seems to rely in self-similarity at the micro level in order to arrive at a Kinetic theme on the macro level. Im sure this sounds crazy. At any rate, when looking at it from afar, it appears over wrought and the whole is much less appealing than the tasteful individual elements.

    2 different approaches to exterior design.

    Honda wins on the design front in my opinion. The CRV is honestly a knock-out design. It will look fresh unchanged even 5 years from now. That is Honda’s strength and they executed it perfectly on the CRV.

    • 0 avatar
      carguy

      I would agree for the exterior but the interior looks 10 years out of date.

      • 0 avatar
        tuffjuff

        +100

        I may not like the exterior of the new model (side profile isn’t bad, but that rear end and sloping on/after the D pillar make me want to puke) but at least it looks BRAND NEW, as it should.

        The inside, not so much, but nobody who buys Honda really cares about that sort of thing, as evidenced by the fact the last-gen CR-V also had a dated looking, uncompetitive interior, also.

    • 0 avatar
      MBsam

      At first I though this comment was satirical but then I realized you were being serious and I suddenly got very very sad.

      If people are thinking the lazy, haphazard design of the current CR-V has any kinda of “tension” or “knock-out” quality then it’s clear that the art programs in our school systems are failing. I don’t believe Honda’s designers themselves would say there is any tension or simplicity in the CR-V design. it looks far more fussy (especially from the rear) than the Ford. The front grill is almost laughable.

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      The new CRV is fugly, capital F fugly. In 5 yrs it will still be ugly. So is the Crosstour, Pilot, Insight, Odyssey, and Ridgeline. Trying to justify an unattractive design by saying it looks “new” or “different” doesn’t change the fact that it is not cohesive or functional, or even following current trends by copying the good looking cars in each segment.

      It isnt just Honda either, most Toyotas, Nissans, all Mitsubishis, most Subarus, etc, they all seem to have decided to design cars by committee.

      People are not buying Hondas because they look good, they are buying Hondas because they are extremely reliable appliances and they simply do not care about the cars looks.

  • avatar
    Off a Cliff

    I thought the Santa Fe was really a competitor of the next step up, on the small side of midsize SUV-dom. It’s certainly bigger than the CR-V, CX-5 and and Escape, though a touch smaller than a Ford Edge (or Sorento, Murano, Highlander), which is why it starts at ~25k, well above the start of the three ‘compact’ SUV’s and a bit below the Edge.

  • avatar
    FJ60LandCruiser

    As a bitter hater of crossovers, they’ve become a necessary evil, and new ones are so refined you’re now forced to choose between abysmally boring transportation in sedan or CUV form.

    Since only one has the wagon form factor that provides actual useful cargo capacity, I’d have to pick a CUV. The CX-5 is actually pretty and fun to drive, making it ALMOST a car I’d want to drive if I’d ever dump my 2500HD GMC farm truck.

  • avatar
    ixim

    Isn’t the Escape the sales leader in this segment, followed by the CRV? My I4 RAV4 AWD averages 24mpg on fill ups; can get 30mpg + loaded up for the Shore, carries 5 seniors in comfort, etc., etc. Versatile, reliable, even a little fun to drive. Now, if my other car were a 3 series…..

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Good point about hauling seniors…that’s all I see driving the Japanese twins. With no turbo or direct injection from either Toyota or Honda, Lexus nor Acura offer lack fun and torque in the CUV segment.

      • 0 avatar
        WRohrl

        Y’all ought to go and drive a Rav4 with the V6. There is no shortage of HP or Torque in that one. Even the 4cyl is torquier than you’d expect it to be along with getting stellar fuel economy relative to the segment. All this with an ancient 4speed automatic that seems to do just fine in real world driving. And if it were to break I’d imaging will probably be a lot easier/cheaper to fix than the new 8-speeds.

      • 0 avatar
        tuffjuff

        @WRohrl

        My biggest complaint about the RAV4 is that it’s just too small. I’m 6’5, it’s waaaay too small. Makes the Terrain/Equinox look like a cavern.

        I could maybe, for the price, look past the Yaris-looking interior, or the “looks quite old” exterior and possibly even the fact it’s a lemming car that everybody and their mother buys BECAUSE everybody ELSE and THEIR mother buys…. but I can’t. Because it’s too friggin small.

        I have it narrowed down to an Edge or Equinox/Terrain, and before you ask, for me it’s primarily due to ease of entry/exit. I’ve got a bum knee, and getting in and out of my ’12 Focus really does a number on both knees given my height as well as the height of the vehicle. If it weren’t for that, I’d be looking at an Azera (EXCELLENT vehicle, the new one) or the 300/Charger. I’d look at the new Santa Fe, but the missus already has that pegged as her next vehicle, so I’m not allowed to touch. D:

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        Norm, the RAV4 has had an available V6 since 2006, and it is very quick. If that RAV4 isn’t “fun” it’s for reasons other than the drivetrain.

        tuffjuff,
        “the fact it’s a lemming car that everybody and their mother buys BECAUSE everybody ELSE and THEIR mother buys”

        Your definition of “fact” is pretty loose…

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        Yea for a while the RAV4 V6 was the fastest vehicle in the Toyota lineup.

    • 0 avatar
      rudiger

      Yes, the Escape has been the traditional CUV sales leader, which one might think is really saying something, considering the original lasted for eleven years with only grille/tailight updates.

      OTOH, like all domestics, much of Escape sales are commercial fleets. The likelihood of finding a CR-V on a rental lot isn’t nearly as common. And ‘street-price’ of the Escape is usually quite a bit less than the CR-V, as well.

      So, we’re back to the same conundrum in that CR-Vs are more likely to be purchased by the people who actually have to drive them. The Escape isn’t particularly bad (up until the latest version of the Equinox, it was the only game in town for a passable, domestic CUV), but its market focus hasn’t been quite as much on civilian sales as the CR-V (and the Escape is engineered accordingly).

  • avatar

    One of my girlfriends just got married and she was asking me what’s a good SUV/crossover for her family when she eventually has kids. After seeing that womam’s KIA loose control in Missouri I couldn’t recommend either Kia or the Santa Fe. Instead I’m luring her towards the Dodge Journey. The Pentastar V6 is a better engine and the Uconnect is the best infotainment available. She likes the more aggressive looks. After all, I can get her a brand new one for $8000 off. Every penny helps.

    • 0 avatar
      tuffjuff

      The Journey is a great package with an even greater price. It’s only downfall is that it, too, is small.

      Also, how you can get $8k off a car that costs $24k I don’t know, but congrats to you on that, good sir.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      Plenty of search hits on stuck throttles for Dodge and Chrysler products.

      These things happen from time to time.

      And I’d make sure that your girlfriend picks a Dodge that wasn’t covered under the recent recall for fire risk.

      • 0 avatar
        SC5door

        I’d seriously question the quality of the Journey as well, regardless that it was “refreshed” it was still designed and engineered during the Daimler-Chrysler years…..which means corners were cut, just like the 1980′s. An example would be just looking at the overhead console….same cheap garbage from DC.

    • 0 avatar
      rodface

      There was nothing wrong with that woman’s Kia, except maybe the aftermarket floormat that made her pedals get stuck. Guess that wouldn’t have happened if it was a Dodge…

    • 0 avatar
      SC5door

      Except the 2011 Sorento has brake-throttle override.

      http://blog.newsok.com/carsok/2012/05/23/brake-throttle-override-becomes-the-new-standard/

  • avatar
    hreardon

    My wife recently purchased a CRV-EX AWD to replace her aging Ford Escape. She absolutely loves it. True to the article, she loves the fold-down rear seats, the loading height in the trunk, the backup camera, bluetooth and overall comfort.

    In short – it may have hard plastics on the interior, it may not be the most stylish, but to my wife, it’s an ole’ reliable Honda that’s comfortable, quiet, all wheel drive, has all the creature comforts SHE cares about and was a great package at ~$25,000.

    I’m not a big CUV fan, but even I have to admit that I’ve been smitten by this new CRV. Honda nailed it.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Okay, I give up. First, earlier this morning, Lincoln is channeling Chevy Malibu, now Hyundai is channeling Ford Fusion with that Venetian blind grille. What’s going on?

    Bah! Humbug!

  • avatar
    Pinzgauer

    On the CR-V name…

    My family bought the 4th CR-V to arrive at the dealer in 1997. I’m not sure where I heard this, but from that time on I have always thought CR-V stood for “Compact Recreational Vehicle”.

    A quick look at wikipedia show both are correct, “There are discrepancies as to what “CR-V” stands for, Honda sales literature in UK reportedly made references to “Compact Recreational Vehicle”, other Honda references (including the official Honda Japan CR-V Fact Book[1] and Honda Worldwide[2]) cite “Comfortable Runabout Vehicle”. “

  • avatar
    Russycle

    Saw one of these this morning when I stopped for coffee, and it caught my attention. It was parked next to a Volvo SUV and full-size American SUV. Out of the three, I’d take the Santa Fe hands down unless I spent all my time hauling way too many kids around. CUVs may not excel at anything but they check a lot of boxes for people who can’t afford to keep three or four vehicles in their garage.

  • avatar
    LKre

    Looked at and sat in it at an auto show. The interior is plasticky and door panels are a bit hollow, but aside from that looks very good. A taut, composed shape. The 7-seat version, once appears, will probably surpass CRV in most ways, including power and practicality. No crossover looks better to me than new Santa Fe, except Evoque and X5.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      What mainstream CUV interior isn’t “plasticky”?

      And besides, pretty much all the early reviews say that the SF Sports has one of the better interiors, not that it exactly means much for CUVs.

      • 0 avatar
        rudiger

        The lastest Escape actually has pretty decent ‘soft-touch’ plastics everywhere.

        Unfortunately, you have to move to the upper tiers to get better ‘non-rental grade’ cloth on the seats…

      • 0 avatar
        bd2

        Pretty much all the early reviews have stated that the SF Sport has an interior better than most in the segment above with plenty of soft-touch materials (ahem, Honda Pilot).

        It’s only along the bottoms that the SF Sport has hard plastics, which the Escape has as well.

  • avatar
    -Cole-

    Clarkson prose is terrible. Every review of his in the Times is awful. Try to read one.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    Crossover lovers need not apologize…I consider us more evolved than the haters.

    I love the look of the Santa Fe, but it appears the packaging is going to kill it’s chances for me. I want a sunroof, power drivers seat and backup camera. That’s it. I don’t need a million other options. It seems Hyundai is getting a little ambitious, but perhaps they’ve earned it.

    The CR-V looks better every day…..

  • avatar
    cRacK hEaD aLLeY

    You guys are nuts. The CRV is extremely competent in serving its demographic of parents and empty-nesters. Anyone with a new mortgage and small children and need to do weekend runabouts looking for descent resale value on top of something that JUST WORKS buys either a CRV or RAV4.
    Anything else, you are just trying to be different for the sake of it. Might as well buy that Mitsubishi, Jetta TDI or better yet a RHD Trooper Diesel from Australia and join a forum to justify being different.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      Actually, we chose between a 4 cylinder RAV4 and Jetta wagon. The RAV4 is a superb vehicle in many ways. But like most other CUVs, it drove just like the Camry we were selling. We got the Jetta. I opted out of some of that utility for something “different”, and am happy with that choice every time I get behind the wheel.

    • 0 avatar
      mkirk

      “…or better yet a RHD Trooper Diesel from Australia…”

      I’ll take mine with all vinyl and locking diffs please!

      And isn’t any buyer of a CUV just trying to be different than those driving a minivan which, 99% of the time would be the more practical choice?

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Actually, it’s a competitive market. http://www.trucktrend.com/features/news/2012/163_news0801_july_2012_suv_sales_ford_escape_maintains_leada_over_honda_crv_chevrolet_equinox_close_third/index.html

  • avatar
    icemilkcoffee

    I not a lemming/fan of CUVs. But this Hyundai looks great. Almost as good looking as the Outlander Sport.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    It drives me crazy to hear the raves about the cavernous ‘low load floor’ of the CR-V. Has anyone lifted the floor panel to see how much room there is ‘underneath’ the ‘cavernous low load floor’? If anyone bothers to do so, what they’ll discover is there’s absolutely no storage space above the rear tire beneath the floor. None. Zip. Nada.

    That’s how Honda did it – they removed all the below floor storage space. The same isn’t true of any of the CR-V’s competitors. If you check say, the Ford Escape, there’s actually room to store items ‘below’ the load floor (compartments, even), hidden from prying, thieving eyes.

    In fact, it’s even possible to lower the front of the rear load floor to a different level on the Escape for more room (but then the floor isn’t flat with the rear seats folded). And, it makes for a sloping load floor, too, but you get the idea.

  • avatar

    I drive an ’05 (second generation) CR-V. Although it is underpowered for my taste, it handles surprisingly well for a tall vehicle. The important thing though, is that it does what I need it to do with a minimum of fuss — haul loads of stuff reliably without sucking down lots of gas and give me a bit more traction on those snowy New England roads. The beastie has been trouble-free for 171,000 miles, needing only brakes and tires.

    I thought the 3rd generation looked too much like a minivan, but the new one looks at least semi-masculine. Or at least a bit sporting. The grille is a bit cartoony but I think the c-pillar / taillight workout is actually pretty sweet. It saves the car from being just a bland box.

    If I had my druthers I’d like my next car to be something more fun like a Mazda3. But if they’ve made the CR-V less of a slug I could see myself in one again, based on this experience.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    It’s a new era Hyundai, that means crap in a nice wrapper. In 15 years a CRV will still be on the road and a Sante Fe will not.

  • avatar
    don1967

    Who shops a turbocharged 3500-pound-towing utility vehicle against a Honda CRV? Isn’t that a bit like comparing hiking boots to ballet slippers?

    • 0 avatar
      mkirk

      The Santa Fe will pull 3500 pounds? I am impressed. Perhaps one of these will one day replace the wife’s Tucson and my fuell swilling Land Cruiser can retire from pulling the trailer and ger the 5.29 diffs it deserves!!

  • avatar
    mkirk

    Isn’t the CRV more in line size wise with the Tucson? I got the wife a Tucson in 07 and remember cross shopping them.

  • avatar
    chiefmonkey

    Looks like the Ford, which looks like that car, which looks like this car, which looks like that car…


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