By on March 20, 2013

I can’t say I ever envisioned myself getting excited about reviewing a three-row crossover, but Hyundai’s latest tall wagon holds a special place in my heart. From 2007-2011, a Hyundai Santa Fe Limited was my main mode of transportation, and despite all miles it racked up on road trips, beer runs and even a couple of extralegal time trials on gravel roads (sorry, Mum and Dad), nobody bothered to take a single picture of it for me to include in this review. I guess it really was that boring.

Like the previous generation car, it will go about its business in quiet competence, faithfully ferrying young children to soccer practice and older children to the beer store, and then to the lake house and back before they have to work at 8:30 AM on Sunday morning (ask me how I know). The new Santa Fe will likely fade into the same sort of stoic anonymity, living out its days as a faithful servant to yet another middle-class family.  The big difference is, that family will be driving a much nicer car than I drove.

It’s difficult to fathom that my old Santa Fe and the new version have anything in common. The old Santa Fe was a utilitarian CUV with a few nice touches, like cup holders and gauges illuminated in blue, ala VW, and a bit of decent leather trim on the seats. The V6 engine thrashed and hummed at even moderate loads. The styling was attractive but generic. It was great value for the money – and that’s about it.

The new long wheelbase version of the Santa Fe has one thing in common with the old car – both employ V6 engines that displaces 3.3L. That’s it. Step inside the new car,and the dour black plastic is replaced by a wholly modern dashboard with all the modern trappings. Navigation, Bluetooth, a touch screen system that doesn’t take a UI specialist to discern. It’s hard to believe that a generation ago, there was a tinny sound system and yards of awful black faux-wood trim slathered wantonly over the IP. Now, there are clean lines, a dash of faux wood and a compact pod of buttons for those Luddites who think touch screens are the devil.

Hyundai’s drive route was better suited for a Genesis Coupe or an Elantra GT – a strange choice given that nobody will ever drive a three-row crossover in anger – but again, it was easy to notice improvements in the Santa Fe’s dynamics. The previous generation car had an atrocious ride, with non-existent damping and bump stops made of week-old English muffins. The new Santa Fe was unflappable. Even after going over a bump that required more braking on my part, there was no crashing or harshness. Everything was well controlled and suitably isolated. Even Hyundai’s trademark A-pillar wind noise at highway speeds has been banished, giving the car Lexus-like silence at speed.

Kudos to the powertrain engineers as well, for banishing the agricultural feel of the old 3.3 Lambda engine. The new direct-injection variant, pulled from the Azera, is an exponential improvement, and the 6-speed automatic gearbox makes the most out of the 290 horses and 252 lb-ft of torque. Not that the previous car was short on power – just some road manners.

It’s all well and good to talk about performance figures and weight savings, but what about the real life tasks that I used the Santa Fe for over those four years? For most auto journalists, the horsepower numbers are the amount of air miles they collect on a trip are what really matters. But I know first hand that the previous generation Santa Fe’s superiority in areas that made up the dull grind of daily existence were what ultimately sold my parents on buying one over some much more expensive options. It did everything that its more expensive competitors did for less money, though you had to put up with a few compromises in exchange. The newest generation banishes those trade-offs in refinement from a driving dynamics and refinement standpoint. But what about practicality?

If I want to go shopping at Costco, how many bags can fit behind the third row before I have to fold it down? How high is the cargo floor and what impact does that have on a buyer who has to load heavy groceries into the back of the car? Is it easy to parallel park? Can three adults comfortably fit across the third row? Is the turning circle tight enough for a quick U-Turn on a busy street?

The winding roads and daunting elevation changes on the Santa Fe’s drive route may have delighted the Piloti wearers on the various waves, but they provided little feedback on how the Santa Fe performed in everyday situations relevant to consumers. For more on that, you’ll have to wait until Alex or one of the other writers gets their hands on one. Maybe my Mom can make a guest appearance? When’s the last time you were privy to a review from someone who bought a brand new example of the previous generation car?

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34 Comments on “Capsule Review: 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe...”


  • avatar
    OldandSlow

    Good point about the typical auto review from a car and driver perspective.

    To have a Mom test this larger class of CUV and write up the vehicle from that real-world angle would be worth doing.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Feminists would have a field day.

      I will say this thing seems to have too peaky a powerband for its intended use. Here is a good potential application of diesel.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        @sportyaccordy
        We get the Santa Fe and its sibling Kia Sorento with the fantastic German designed 2.2 turbo diesel.

        Our base models come with the 3.3 V6 petrol.

        All of the reviews recommend the diesel for performance and fuel economy. The economy of the diesel is over 36mpg and that’s average not highway.

        The diesel is 140kw and 440nm of torque or about 188hp and 330ftlb of torque. It makes it an ideal tow vehicle for up to 5 000lbs.

        I just sold my old 2004 Kia Sorento which was based on a ladder frame and it had the Hyundai built 3.5 Mitsubishi V6. Very reliable engine but thirsty. On the highway I used to get 26mpg at 65mph.

  • avatar
    carguy

    Thanks for the review. I was beginning to wonder if TTAC was down to just one car reviewer. Alex’s stuff is good but diversity of opinion is always better.

  • avatar
    MrWhopee

    The reviewer mentioned the real stuff buyers of this SUV really want to know about it, yet that’s strangely absent from the review. I want to know all about the things you mentioned. How’s the third row, is it reasonable enough? Is it claustrophobic back there? How’s the ride? How easy is it to see out of? To park? If it’s possible at all, I would like to know how this compares with its main rival, the KIA Sorento. Too bad the version I really interested in, the 2.2l diesel, isn’t available in the States.

    • 0 avatar

      I want to know to. I mentioned why it was absent. Because all the driving happened on winding roads, rather than suburbia. This is the problem with press drives. They are tailored for a) the journalists who attend them, and fancy themselves as high performance drivers b) to show off the car’s best attributes and hide its flaws.

      As I said, when someone gets a loaner for a week, be it myself or Alex or another writer or even my Mom, we’ll investigate this matter.

  • avatar
    bryanska

    It’s quiet? Really? Thank God, because my 2010 Tucson is the loudest car I’ve ever ridden besides my Miata. It’s even louder than my 2007 Honda Fit.

  • avatar
    highdesertcat

    I wanted to add my 2-cents here because my wife and I recently helped a lady friend of ours decide her purchase of an SUV of this class, and that included considering the Santa Fe (which she looked at).

    From a personal perspective, I didn’t care for the new Santa Fe but that’s not the issue here. The issue is, if you compare all the SUVs in this class, all of them, diligently check each out, and then consider the whole package, more people are gravitating toward a Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo 4X4 for its price, value, capability and resale retention.

    I’m not selling Jeep here, but doing due diligence would clearly reveal that Jeep has the upper hand over any and all SUVs in this class AT THIS TIME IN AUTOMOTIVE HISTORY. And Jeep is not necessarily more expensive, unless you compare an Overland Summit to a Santa Fe stripper.

    Whatever a person buys is a personal choice but I was underwhelmed by the new Santa Fe when I saw it. A long time ago the Santa Fe was a great value and a bright and shining star in Hyundai’s universe. I believe even VW and Nissan are outdoing the Santa Fe now.

    • 0 avatar

      Funny, my parents almost replaced it with a JGC but the lack of leasing options (lots of tax benefits up here if you own your own business and lease a car) killed it. The JGC Diesel may be their next car, since diesel is still cheaper than gas here.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        Derek, my comment was not meant as criticism of your article. It just happened to coincide with the recent purchase made by a friend of ours.

        I understand about Leasing being a big thing for many. Several of my personal friends who own businesses are fans of Leasing. Well, except at EOL turn-in time. It’s amazing what ancillary charges the leasing companies can dream up and charge.

        The Hyundai warranty is the best in the business, better than Jeep’s 3yr/36k and 5yr/100k powertrain. After having seen the new Santa Fe I was disappointed.

        Maybe I expected too much before I saw one and it certainly was not priced the way the old Santa Fe was.

    • 0 avatar
      clivesl

      As someone who would be shopping for this type vehicle I can tell you that for me the JGC wouldn’t enter the equation. Occasionally my family and another couple like to go on trips together and there is no way to get two car seats and three adults into a JGC. You have to have that third row for the kids. Of course that is why I drive 2004 Sienna, because none of these vehicles can touch it for utility.

      • 0 avatar
        Maymar

        Technically, you can get a 7-seater JGC, as long as you don’t mind the Durango badges.

        • 0 avatar
          corntrollio

          Or if you get a Mercedes GL.

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          Thank you Maymar. My thoughts exactly.

          The Durango is a platform mate of the GC with one small difference – the pricing structure.

          Dressing up a Durango with the same exact trim and options as what comes standard in a GC, would actually cost you more in the Durango.

          The Durango Crew trim will fit most people’s needs while the GC Laredo trim is the better between the two, marketed as a luxury SUV.

          I bought my wife an 2012 Overland Summit in Nov 2011 because she liked the color and styling. It’s just over the top, and we haven’t used any of the options that came standard with it. A Laredo trim would have been just as good for us, and about $16K cheaper.

          Still, if you need that third seat, a Durango would light your fire, plus you have a choice of 3.6 V6, 5.7 V8 or MONSTER V8 in the SRT8.

    • 0 avatar
      MrWhopee

      What if the said Jeep costs over twice as much as the Hyundai in question? That’s the case in Indonesia anyway.

      And Clivesl is right too, the only reason the Santa Fe (and the Sorento) qualifies in my case is the presence of that third row seats.

  • avatar
    waltercat

    I have to disagree with the assessment of the previous-generation Santa Fe. My wife has a 2012 Limited (V6, AWD) and it’s reasonably quiet, very comfortable, nicely equipped, and the engine/trans combination shows no unusual peakiness. Maybe I’d feel differently if it was intended to be a Porsche, or a Camaro, or whatever – but for what it was designed to do – to be a nice suburban/highway cruiser – it fills the bill very well. With a great warranty, decent MPG, and good local dealer support – we have no complaints.

    • 0 avatar
      don1967

      Ditto. I had a 3.3, and found the engine buttery-smooth as well as reasonably muscular. So did pretty much every reviewer who ever drove it.

      Derek, is it possible that your parents had a 2.7? That engine was sold up to 2010, and was a full generation behind the Lambda 3.3. It was also hobbled by a four-speed slushbox.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        2.7? *shudders*

        I realize you’re talking Hyundai and not Chrysler, but in the words of the Sea Captain “That’s going to replace the whale in my nightmares”

  • avatar
    Easton

    I almost considered buying a previous generation Sante Fe merely for the novelty of having a manual transmission in a large crossover vehicle (and the obvious benefits of negotiating a low price on a vehicle few people can drive and even fewer want). I have this strange fascination with finding manual transmissions where one least expects. (I currently own a Pontiac G6 with a 6-speed.)

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    “The issue is, if you compare all the SUVs in this class, all of them, diligently check each out, and then consider the whole package, more people are gravitating toward a Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo 4X4 for its price, value, capability and resale retention.”

    Except that for many of these segment shoppers, 9 times out of 10 they’ll choose reliability over anything else, if just to keep their families safe and not broken down. This is where Jeep can’t compete. Check CR or TrueDelta…Jeep’s longterm reliability is below average to horrific.

    I think the Santa Fe is one sharp vehicle…unfortunately, they’re also getting a little uppity with their options….having to spend $5000 for a sunroof because of packaging required to get there. Nonsense. Hyundai – you’re not Honda….yet. Keep a little humility….

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      Hyundai can afford to be “uppity” since they sell every car they make due to capacity limitations (Hyundai could probably sell double the amount of Santa Fe Sports but is limited to around 6-6.5k a month due to limited supply).

      That, along with having more desirable vehicles is why ALG has Hyundai 2nd (after Honda) for retaining residual value (for 2013MY).

    • 0 avatar
      CelticPete

      It’s weird. Jeeps seem reliable enough for East Coaster. They are seling like gangbusters around NYC and NE near as I can tell. But here in the Bay Area its all Japanese. Most cars you see a Prius..most SUVs seem to be Acura MDX or Toyota 4 Runner..

      Personally I’d buy a Jeep without a second thought. Sure not as reliable by the numbers. But people still love them – AND as a domestic they have really cheap parts to fix when they break. Finally the LX platform they are on is widely used and proving reliable for the less complicated versions (namely the Challenger and Charger).

      As long as the problems are associated with the drivetrain – I don’t think people will care that much. Older JGC for example always have the window regulators fail. Kind of a pain but its not like not starting or being stuck..

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        Which Jeeps are built on the LX platform? None that I can think of. My friend’s Magnum R/T is brick at the moment. The battery died yesterday. We jump started it only to find that it is stuck in park. A bit of internet research revealed that it is anything but an uncommon problem. There is an aftermarket aluminum casting to replace the flimsy piece of pink plastic that gives up the ghost deep in the center console. It seems that the pink plastic piece is actually a secondary failure point, as it is the lever that is supposed to override a primary failure of the park release mechanism so the…Chrysler product can be moved. To each their own. I’d rather have something that doesn’t need to be hoisted onto a dolly and towed from time to time.

        http://www.custombilletstore.com/Genuine_Billet_Tech_Pink_Thingy_Replacement_p/1028.htm

  • avatar
    jco

    “If I want to go shopping at Costco, how many bags can fit behind the third row before I have to fold it down?”

    trick question! one of the things I love about Costco is that plastic shopping bags don’t exist there! not that you could fit a typical costco purchase in one anyways.

    I always thought my 1987 Civic hatch was a great car for Costco runs, heh.

    I remember about 10 years ago, convincing my parents to spend an extra $5,000 on a Highlander over a Santa Fe. since we put around 100k miles on it and were still able to trade it in for close to $10k, I think that choice worked out well. the Santa Fe of that era just seemed so cheap and rough compared to the bargain Lexus RX (highlander).

  • avatar
    akitadog

    “The new direct-injection variant, pulled from the Azera, is an exponential improvement, and the car’s relatively light weight (just under 3,400 lbs) and 6-speed automatic gearbox make the most out of the 290 horses and 252 lb-ft of torque.”

    That’s a bit misleading. If you’re talking about the variant with the 3.3L V6, then we’re looking at around 4000 lbs. I’m seeing a bit OVER 3400 lbs for the 5-passenger base model.

  • avatar
    Liger

    This is the replacement of the veracruz, not the sant fe. This site is becoming more and more like the cars dot com website….

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      That Veracruz was absolutely hideous and underpowered, and Mom skipped it and its minuscule third-row seats for a Murano SL, which so far has proven to be an excellent decision.

      • 0 avatar
        don1967

        Which Veracruz did you drive? Mine has 260hp, and if it can’t outrun Mom’s moaning Murano it sure as hell feels like it can.

        As for hideous, yeah, it’s not the prettiest face on the dance floor. And the body control is typical Hyundai-spongy. But it’s quieter than a Lexus, reliable as a bank vault, and it came with a big suitcase full of money.

  • avatar
    jco

    the sante Fe is the replacement for the Veracruz. which was just a larger sante fe. so they made the sante fe larger. and then Derek drove it.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    Indeed, this is an oft-unappreciated class of vehicles. I would like to see how this pits against other three-row crossovers, like the Ford Explorer, Ford Flex, Dodge Durango, Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, GM Lambda-platformers, and whichever US-Passat-based crossover Volkswagen eventually decides to throw into the ring. Just on appearance and economics, it looks like the new Santa Fe has every chance of coming out on top, but first appearances aren’t everything. Just off of reputation and thoughtful touches like one-touch fold-flat seats, the Honda CR-V is still the compact CUV of choice, despite its rather plain (almost ungainly) styling and decided lack of toys. So it will be with the large crossover set.

    May the best seven-seater win.

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    1. Mrs. Panhard saw the new Santa Fe at last year’s New York Auto Show. She doesn’t like SUVs (except Series Land Rovers and Willy Jeeps), despises minivans, and prefers fun-to-drive cars. She is very design focused though and was quite taken with the Santa Fe. This bowled me over.

    2. Did you see the Soup Or Bowl ads for this vehicle? One of them featured The Flaming Lips. Now, if I was selling a car that’s supposed to be a mom-mobile, that’s not quite the last band I’d hire for a minivan commercial (that would be Gwar) but they would not be on the top of my list, unless I was trying to reach 30-something year old dads who have given up their stoner ways.

    By the way, the Flaming Lips are on tour this spring. You should go see them. I’m pulling the trigger today on tix to see them at the Wellmont in Montclair NJ with lesser Panhard.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Derek, how was the AWD system in your old Santa Fe? The company tried to make a big deal out of having a Haladex (SP?) AWD system when the old Santa Fe debuted. I was wondering how it held up to teenage imitations of the World Rally Championship.

    • 0 avatar
      don1967

      We had a last-gen (2008) Santa Fe. It used the Borg-Warner system. It worked fine, but I found the auto mode a bit slow to react… you’d get a noticeable amount of front wheelspin followed by a big push from behind. I used “AWD Lock” every time it snowed. And of course there was no torque vectoring.


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