By on November 16, 2012

On paper, there’s no contest. For the same price as the new Ford Escape, the even newer Hyundai Santa Fe Sport includes a longer warranty, more power, and a much roomier interior. But if such comparisons could be decided from the spec sheets alone, auto reviewers would have to find a new line of work.

You might have noticed some similarities between Hyundai’s and Ford’s most recent designs. Both follow a “more is more” philosophy in their rush to offer the look of 2025 today. With the Santa Fe Sport, oversized facial features and an undersized greenhouse collaborate to visually pump up overhangs already a half-foot longer than the Escape’s (on a nearly identical wheelbase). For those seeking less roided proportions (or two more seats), the Santa Fe Sport will soon be joined by a three-row Santa Fe (sans Sport).

Inside, the Santa Fe Sport has the cleaner, more restrained design of the two, such things being especially relative in this case. There’s plenty of visual sci fi in the center stack, but it doesn’t intrude as deeply into the passenger compartment. Nor is the instrument panel as deep are as tall, contributing to a more open view forward. Hyundai keeps upgrading its materials. The new Santa Fe Sport’s are better than those in the Sonata, if not quite a match for those in the Azera. If Ford has an edge here, it’s a slender one.

The Santa Fe Sport isn’t roomier than the Escape only through its interior design. It simply contains more space inside, about 3.5 more inches for both shoulders and legs. For a family of five people tall enough to see out of the Hyundai’s rear side windows, the choice between the two would be easy. Despite the Hyundai’s plumper posterior, the two are more evenly matched in terms of cargo volume (if the official specs are roughly comparable, which they often aren’t).

Hyundai is rightly proud of the over three hundred pounds the crossover lost with this redesign. The Santa Fe Sport might be considerably larger than the Ford Escape, but it’s no heavier. With 2.0T engines and all-wheel-drive, both weigh a little over 3,700 pounds. Drop the turbo and all-wheel-drive from the SFS, and the 190-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine has so little trouble motivating 3,459 pounds that the boosted uplevel engine seems unnecessary…until you drive it, then the 264-horsepower 2.0T’s much stouter (if less even) midrange becomes readily evident. Despite being down 24 horsepower and hitched to a less decisive six-speed automatic transmission, the Escape’s engine feels even more energetic and more responsive.

Turbocharged four-cylinder engines allegedly have a significant fuel economy advantage over V6s. If I had written this review a few weeks ago, I’d have relayed EPA ratings of 20 city and 27 highway for the Santa Fe Sport 2.0T AWD. But, as you might have heard, “procedural errors” in Hyundai’s testing led it to report inflated fuel economy figures. Because the miscalculation involved aerodynamic drag, the subsequent adjustment has had the largest impact on crossovers’ highway ratings. The SFS’s numbers have been shaved from 20/27 to a far less competitive 19/24. The antiquated, 350-pound-heavier, V6-powered 2012 Santa Fe managed 20/26. Suddenly the economy benefits of boost aren’t so apparent. The Escape 2.0T AWD checks in at 21/28.

Science experiment: which most affects handling, size or curb weight? This comparison between equally hefty vehicles suggests size. The Santa Fe Sport might weigh about the same as the Escape, but it feels much bulkier. Not that the Hyundai handles badly. Body motions over wavy pavement and roll in turns are both much better controlled than in the previous Santa Fe. As in the Escape (though here only with AWD), torque vectoring via selective application of the brakes limits understeer. You can even select from three different levels of steering assist. Unfortunately, the three levels are light, lighter, and lightest and all of them are equally numb. The more tightly and precisely suspended Escape has its own dynamic flaws (a crossover-high CoG tends to make some key tradeoffs insurmountable), but it does more than handle curves competently. It makes them fun. In comparison, the Santa Fe Sport isn’t sporty.

When I say the two crossovers are the same price, I’m not employing any procedural missteps to massage the numbers. Equip a 2013 Ford Escape SEL with the 2.0T engine, AWD, leather upholstery, panoramic sunroof, and nav, and the window sticker reads $35,625. Do the same with the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport and the sticker reads…$35,625. TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool gives the Ford a slight ($190) edge in content, so they remain very close even after adjusting for feature differences. Okay, maybe I’m eliding one minor matter. To get 19-inch rims on an Escape you must spend a few hundred more for the Titanium. But adjust for the extra features that attend the higher trim level and it actually ends up a slightly better value.

“Value” might seem out of place in a comparison between mainstream brand compact crossovers with window stickers in the mid-thirties. (I’m having a hard time coming to grips with this myself.) But the Ford provides much of the driving enjoyment of a BMW X3 for about $10,000 less. On paper, the Santa Fe Sport should perform at least as well, but subjectively it’s a different animal. That fierce face is only skin deep. In how it drives, the Santa Fe Sport aims for the heart of the market, more athletic than a Chevrolet, Honda, or Toyota but unlikely to elicit comparisons to BMWs. The Hyundai’s value appeal is similarly conventional: same price, more car. More fun or more inches, what’s your preference?

Both cars were provided with fuel and insurance by their manufacturers. Hyundai also provided lunch.

Michael Karesh operates, an online source of car reliability and pricing information.

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47 Comments on “Review: 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport...”

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Looks like the “Let’s make the blind spot bigger” engineering team made a stop at Hyundai too.

  • avatar

    No kidding. I’m just not a fan of the current styling trend that results in a “upkick” of the window beltline. Looking at the rear quarter view and focusing on the c-pillar area is just not easy on the eyes….in my opinion.

    • 0 avatar

      And from the inside it’s even worse. The one with three row seats, the place for the third row passengers is just a claustrophobic hell, with one extremely small, triangular porthole to see through. (I tried the third row seat at one in a car show).

    • 0 avatar

      More station wagon/minivan phobia. Those rear side windows just look like sh_t. When function is so awkwardly honked up by some misguided idea of styling, the end result just looks pathetic.

      The way the rear quarter visibility is impaired has to make this (and the slew of others with the same dorky styling) less safe than it could be.

  • avatar

    When is Hyundai gonna get rid of that awful mauve/olive interior color combo. Has looked horrible for the last 10 years

    And while $35K for one of these seems steep today, a top of the line Highlander had less power, less room, worse fuel economy (even after the correction) and less content for an equivalent of nearly $40K after inflation. And to add to that you had to deal with the V6 sludge. Its steep but is a much better value than what the same money would get you in “the good old days”.

    • 0 avatar

      Loading up a cheap car has always been the worst automotive deal going.

      But leaving $3,000 Nav packages to widows and morons, the cheapest AWD trim with a non poverty motor comes pre-loaded, all the way past $30,000.

      You can drive a Grand Cherokee for less than that. Case closed.

      • 0 avatar

        I almost purchased a new 2012 Grand Cherokee 4×4 X package 70th Anniversary that had a MSRP of 36k+ without tax/title (so that would have been 38,400 with TTL) for 31,346 OTD (I’m looking at the unsigned buy order that is in .pdf form that I still have saved on my PC).

        I struggle to fathom that there are people who really pay anything remotely close to MSRP for these compact CUVs.

      • 0 avatar

        How do people not see the GC option compared to this ugly POS?!

        Though, if I get a GC I sure as hell want the Overland badge on the back. That interior is slick.

    • 0 avatar

      I can understand calling the seats olive, but where the heck do you see mauve??

    • 0 avatar

      You sure about mauve? I don’t know if they DO offer such a color, but at least it’s not on the outside.

  • avatar

    The old V6 was rated at 20/26 … but wouldn’t that rating have been reduced as well, were it still for sale?

    • 0 avatar

      They’ve restated the ratings for some 2011s and 2012s, so I’m assuming not. Even if a model is no longer offered, they’d still owe compensation to owners if they bought the vehicle on the basis of inflated EPA numbers. I do wonder why they’ve restated some models/engines but not others. You’d think that the “procedural error” would affect them all.

  • avatar

    I can’t even imagine spending $35k on a CUV. To me that is almost as ridiculous as the $40k minivans. Thank God I am out of the family hauler stage.

    • 0 avatar

      Anyone who does so is a fool.

      MSRP is shocking, yet only fools (regardless as to whether they have “too much money” or not; I know truly wealthy people who are the most ferocious negotiators and won’t ever buy something unless they get a deep discount which is often a reason why they’re truly wealthy) pay anything close to it for any vehicle that’s not the “hottest thing” and “must have” vehicle on the markets (of which there may be precisely two at any given time, not including exotics that are made in truly limited numbers, such as a Ferrari 559).

      You can load these vehicles up with ejector seats and a spinning disco-glitter ball danging from the ceiling: 35k, MSRP or not, for a compact CUV bearing the badge Ford or Hyundai (or just about any other) is LAUGHABLE.

      I realize there are those who will accuse me of being out of touch, to which I would just say that I am in my mid 30s, built a successful business beginning in my mid-20s, am fairly well-off, could afford to pay MSRP in cash on nearly any production car, yet I haven’t paid anywhere near MSRP on any of the 8 new vehicles I’ve purchased for myself or my s/o, and in fact, have probably AVERAGED a negotiated price of 20%+ (as in more than 20%) off the MSRP of any of those 7 vehicles.

      The last two new vehicles I purchased (one for myself in 2006, and one for my significant other in 2012) were purchased for exactly 24.1% off sticker & 23.7% off sticker, respectively.

      With the economy and incomes trending the way that they are, there is now full cognitive dissonance on the part of auto manufacturers, from Ford to Hyundai and nearly all others, as well, on the critical issue of PRICE POINT.

      • 0 avatar

        It’s pretty off-topic, but a couple of weeks back I was watching one of those house flipping shows on HGTV. It consisted of a twentysomething couple flipping a ~4000 sq. ft. house using the money of a somewhat silent investor, in order to use a cut of the profit to buy their own starter home. I do not remember the name of the show.

        Anywho, the investor – who footed the bill for a $200k house and roughly $45k in improvements to it by the end, ~15k over budget – was continually shown driving up to check progress in a 2006 Mitsubishi Galant. It was a base ES with the factory wheelcovers, even. It seemed like a recently produced show, and the Galant looked like it was definitely 7 years old. I had mad respect for that 60-ish lady. Meanwhile, Mr. Flipper (who basically contracted all the work out) was rolling around in a loaded last-gen Explorer. Not exactly $600/mo lease territory, but clearly less fiscally responsible than his backer’s poverty spec Galant. It was shown repeatedly, on multiple different occasions, so definitely not a rental car of some sort.

      • 0 avatar

        @Kalpana… Well in today’s market anyone trying to flip a house with someone elses money is probably not that fiscally responsible anyways, but I cant completely fault the guy for his choice of cars. Last gen Explorers, even loaded ones, are a bargain in the used market, and even when new they were heavily discounted and subsidized. So chances are he bought it right either way. That’s how I ended up with one too, IIRC I payed $23k OTD for an Explorer stickered at $34k.

    • 0 avatar
      el scotto

      Told a friend of mine who is a 30 something divorced mom she needed an R55. Her response was “I’d be pimping”.

  • avatar

    I dislike the up kicked rear window on the Hyundai but like the Sante Fe Sport’s interior better than the Ford with colors that offering a variance on the dreadful all black and tan look that Ford is shoving down our throats.

  • avatar

    ‘On paper, there’s no contest. For the same price as the new Ford Escape, the even newer Hyundai Santa Fe Sport includes a longer warranty, more power, and a much roomier interior. ‘

    Yeah but you’re forgetting, its a Hyundai. I’ve yet to see one Korean car that has aged well in America.

  • avatar

    Why are we comparing the Santa Fe to the Escape. It is more comparable to the Edge or Murano. Compare msrp to those and the Santa Fe is dirt cheap.

    • 0 avatar


      Tucson:Escape is a more logical comparison IMO.

      • 0 avatar

        There are two (well, at least two) legitimate comparisons: by size or by price. Here I went by price. As noted in the review, they also weigh about the same, have similar cargo volumes, and are powered by similar powertrains (though you can get the 2.0T in the Kia Sportage). Hyundai/Kia essentially bracket the Escape. The Tucson/Sportage are a half-size smaller, while the SFS/Sorento are a half-size larger. In length, the SFS is about half way between the Escape and the Murano/Edge.

      • 0 avatar
        Off a Cliff

        The way you put it together here, the two do seem a good comparison. But with the base engine and holding back on the goodies, it compares better with the Edge, which is the big 5 seater for ford, just like this is for Hyundai. Makes it confusing when in the market for a vehicle like this, IMHO.

    • 0 avatar

      Dirt cheap is a relative term… IMO both the Edge and the Murano are ever more overpriced and unworthy. And I believe much larger than the Santa Fe too.

  • avatar

    “Science experiment: which most affects handling , size or curb weight? This comparison between equally hefty vehicles suggests size.”

    What about the suspension underneath? You’re assuming the Escape and the Santa Fe are also mechanically identical.

    As I’ve suggested before, Hyundai/Kia should buy Lotus just so they can learn to calibrate suspensions, whereas Ford (of Europe) has a reputation for developing good-handling vehicles.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    “The last two new vehicles I purchased (one for myself in 2006, and one for my significant other in 2012) were purchased for exactly 24.1% off sticker & 23.7% off sticker, respectively.”

    But those vehicles may not be for everyone. Over MSRP? No way. But a vehicle that’s going to serve you long and hard and may retain high resale should you total it? It may well be worth it’s list price.

    I keep my vehicles 10+ years and don’t start thinking of replacing them until 225k miles. It’s worth the piece of mind of buying a brand new vehicle (and knowing its complete history), and if I have to pay a little more (or receive less of a discount) to get exactly what I want, so be it.

    The SFS is a great looking vehicle; almost Audi-like. The materials are equal or superior to many in its price range. My biggest disappointments (well, besides the lowered mpg…) are the option packages. I want heated seats and a sunroof. I don’t want nav or leather. Sadly, Hyundai has chosen to package it all together in dependent option packages.


  • avatar

    So Michael, out of all these recent CUVs that you tested (Tiguan, CX-5, Escape, Santa Fe), your wife still would pick the VW? The reason I ask is that we guys can do all the research in the world and come up with what we think the best vehicle is, but our wives/girl friends/boy friends often have the final say based on a few often emotional responses. Ask me how I know…

    • 0 avatar
      Off a Cliff


      My GF is leaning CX-5 (which I won’t get unless it has the 2.5l skyactiv or Diesel…if it ever arrives). Though the 1.6T Escape and SFS are mighty compelling, and I can’t stand the center stack in the escape (non-MyFordTouch, this kept me from buying a Focus before I knocked her up), and the price of the SFS is too high.

      • 0 avatar

        I would take especially a CX-5 or Escape (assuming it’s negotiated at a reasonable price) over a Santa Fe just because Hyundai can only seem to get any suspension setup anywhere close to normal in the Elantra and Sonata.

        Hell, I’d take a CR-V over a Santa Fe.

        There are few things in life more persistently annoying- even maddening- as buying a vehicle only to learn that you’re stuck with a ass backwards suspension design with each minor imperfection in the road you roll over.

    • 0 avatar

      She hasn’t driven the SFS, I drove it at a one-day media event. It probably drives larger than she prefers. The one she REALLY likes is still the Infiniti EX.

      She strongly dislikes cars with unusual controls. It’s always fun to see how long it’ll take her to figure out how to start a current BMW or Mercedes and shift it into park.

      • 0 avatar

        BMW, not so long since the vehicle will tell you how, right on the iDrive screen. OTOH, I have had my dad call me to ask me how to put a Mercedes in gear after leaving it with him at a train station.

  • avatar

    Michael, any feedback on how (what looks like) “MyHyundai Touch” works compared to MyFord Touch in the recently tested Escape?

    • 0 avatar

      Alex tends to get more into the nitty-gritty of these system than I do. My impression is that it’s a much simpler system, more similar in design and operation to what’s been offered in Infinitis for years. Most things can be handled with the knobs and buttons rather than by touching the screen.

  • avatar

    As an owner of a Santa Fe (a 2012 V6 Limited AWD), let me add my two cents. We got it last year for my wife, to replace her trusty 16-year-old Outback.

    I know it’s a little old-fashioned, but there’s a lot to like here. It’s very comfortable, roomy, and well-equipped. It rides well and is quiet on the highway, particularly a nice place to listen to a first-class sound system. It’s safe and predictable to drive (although not a ton of fun – I’ll stick with my Miata, thank you very much). The V6 and 6-speed automatic are smooth and deliver all the power you could rationally need for this kind of car (and enough low-end torque to pull tree stumps). The good ergonomics and sight lines make it an easy and comfortable car to drive, which my wife appreciates. It was put together nicely, feels solid, and promises to last us a long time. And – it’s backed by a good long warranty and around here, at least (in the lower Hudson Valley)we have an excellent local dealer.

    As for fuel economy – I can’t quite make it to the sticker amount (26 highway) but it will reliably do 25, so I’m not too distressed.

    Nothing is perfect, I guess – but for our kind of use, it’s the right tool for the job.

  • avatar

    I think Michael was kind in his comments on steering and suspension. I drove one of these as part of a search for a CUV to replace my 1999 Honda Civic (my wife can no longer drive a stick after a knee replacement and wanted me to have a higher vehicle to make it easier for her to get in and out of). I wanted to like it (much nicer inside and out than an Escape) but I found the steering extremely numb and vague and the suspension seriously lacking compared to my Civic or my wife’s Sienna.

    • 0 avatar

      Sincerely and completely agree with you.

      M.K. is usually fair and complete is pointing out what is now an almost across the board deficiency in the fundamental design/build of Hyundai suspensions (the Elantra and Sonata may be the most refined Hyundai products from a suspension standpoint).

  • avatar

    I grew up with a Ford/Lincoln/Mercury family. When I was younger I’d have never looked at a Hyundai with any sort of desire. All the sudden, they are my favorite economy/faux-luxury brand.

  • avatar

    Good review Michael. I actually test drove this car and thought there are a few more points:

    1) Found it very hard to modulate the throttle without the turbo kicking you back. This might be fun when you’re driving by yourself but your significant other and/or family will hate you.

    2) The (heavy) panoramic moonroof wasn’t thought out very well. You cannot have a roof rack and the moonroof at the same time. That can be a big deal in a small(ish) SUV. You also can’t have navigation and the backup camera without the moonroof. That’s just silly.

    3) The color options are very limited. You essentially can only pick this car in black, white, or silver. The other colors range from garish to fugly.

    4) There is no power liftgate! I’m surprised you didn’t point this out, since Ford is so proud of their fancy gate.

    Any chance TTAC can offer an updated review of the Toyota Highlander?

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    “The color options are very limited. You essentially can only pick this car in black, white, or silver. The other colors range from garish to fugly.”

    The maroon is pretty astounding, as well as the brown. Not too shabby of a choice….

    I too am disappointed with the panoramic roof set-up. I need a luggage rack. Oddly, you can get one with the panoramic roof on the Kia twin. Style over substance.

    It’ll be interesting to see how the RAV-4 and Forester come to market, although they are a half-size smaller.

  • avatar

    I like the front & rear appearance of the SFS…even the side view…oh, wait…until the eye follows that radically-pinched greenhouse to the D-pillar, as in Murano, Rogue, Traverse. A belt line which follows the contour of the prominent body-side crease would have been an elegant & visually balanced solution. With this type of restricted visibility, it’s amazing that a backup camera isn’t standard equipment!

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