First Drive: All-New 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe

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The all-new 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport (Photos: Hyundai USA)

The designers at Hyundai who turned the Sonata into a Top 10 List staple and created a Genesis coupe that’s been turning heads and snapping necks from coast to coast, have finally gotten their hands on the Santa Fe. And the result is a crossover that’s bolder, sleeker and more dynamic than the two generations before.

With a ground-up redesign, the all-new Santa Fe for 2013 is being offered in two wheelbase flavors depending on your crossover needs: the Santa Fe Sport, a 5-passenger model similar in size to the 2012 model, and a longer wheelbase, 3 row model dubbed just “Santa Fe” that’ll haul 7-passengers.

The Santa Fe Sport seats 5, while the 3 row Santa Fe seats 7

Hyundai brought me out to Deer Valley, Utah to test drive the Sport (the longer wheelbase model won’t available until January), on the mountain trails and winding roads, to see how the new architecture stands up to the challenge of 1,000-foot climbs and the thin air at elevation. And if the Santa Fe Sport performs as well at sea level as it did at 8,300 ft, Hyundai can add another checkmark in the win column.

First there’s the new styling. If you’ve seen the evolution of the Sonata from the original to the current model, you’ll get an idea of how extensive the styling change has been for the Santa Fe. Gone are the round edges and soft, comfortable look, replaced by the sharp lines of what Hyundai calls their “Fluidic Sculpture.” It’s like they took that nice high school science teacher and turned them into a into a CrossFit instructor.

The new 2013 Santa Fe has a bolder more aggressive look than the outgoing model

According to Hyundai, the exterior “invokes the impression of irrepressible motion through a new design concept called Storm Edge, which captures the strong and dynamic images created by nature during the formation of a storm.” To do this, they gave the Sport a lower stance, rising belt line, LED headlamps and wraparound taillights. They also gave it a generous helping of chrome (yes, chrome is back), adding it to the new 3-bar hex grille, door handles and the twin-tip exhaust you’ll get on the turbo model.

Personally, I’m a fan of the redesign. Unlike the direction some crossovers have taken – more of a  “bubble” route to appeal to those who would normally haul the kids in a mini van – the Sport has an aggressive facia and stance that lives up to it’s “sport” moniker. And if I’m going to haul gear to the trailhead, I want a vehicle that looks like it belongs there.

Got it? Take it with you

For the powerplant, Hyundai is giving us three choices, two for the Sport and one for the 3-row model. The Sport is offered in the base 2.4-liter, 4 that makes 190 horsepower and will get you a class leading 33mpg (est) highway – more than enough to get you around town and up to highway speeds fast – and a high-output Theta II 2.0-liter turbocharged GDI (gas direct injection) that packs 264 horses and will still get you an estimated 31 mpg on the highway. The 3-row model gets a 3.3-liter V6 with the 290 horsepower you’ll need to haul 7 people and their stuff.

For the test drive I was behind the wheel of the Turbo. And since I didn’t get to compare it to the 2.4-L, I can’t say whether it’s worth the extra $3,250. But I can say that if you like extra power when you put your foot in it and scream up the side of a mountain, then go for it. Personally, I’m a guy who appreciates the extra power, especially when I’m not sacrificing significant fuel economy to enjoy it.

My test drive Santa Fe Sport Turbo performed well at altitude (Photo: Eric Rogell)

One of the features I liked on the new Santa Fe is the Driver Selectable Steering. It lets you choose from three modes, Comfort, Normal and Sport, each one giving you a different steering effort. I liked Sport, because I like a stiffer feeling wheel, and to me, Comfort felt too loose. But, hey, if you miss that light touch of your dad’s ’74 Caddy, go for Comfort.

Inside, the Sport gets a totally redesigned cockpit, and takes today’s technology addiction into consideration. There’s pushbutton start, the third gen navi with available 8-inch multimedia touchscreen (4.3-inch touchscreen is standard), and an available 550-watt, 12-speaker surround-sound audio system from Infinity to make you feel like you’re riding in your living room, and the expected blue tooth connectivity, power ports and other necessities of the new digital age.

The new Santa Fe gets a completely redesigned cockpit

There are some great convenience touches too, like the cooled glove box (for keeping your snacks from melting), heated steering wheel and leather seats (even in the rear), for comfort during ski trips, and a reclining and sliding second row for optimal leg room.

The optional panoramic roof lets everyone enjoy the view

An available panoramic sunroof lets everyone, front and rear, take in the scenery. And if you’ve got kids (or a sloppy spouse), you’ll appreciate the YES Essentials treatment on the cloth seats that is stain and odor resistant. In the demo we saw, liquid dropped on the cloth beaded up, making cleanup easy. For taking the gear with you, there’s an ample cargo space that gets even more ample when you drop the split folding rear seats. And for toting the small stuff, there are storage bins hidden under the cargo cover. The only disappointment I had was there is no auto open/close button on the hatch. This is a convenience we’ve come to rely on (and love), and I would have liked to see it included on the Sport.

YES fabric treatment keeps liquids from penetrating (left) so stains dont form (right)

For safety, the Santa Fe comes with a host of safety features, like 7 standard airbags, including a driver’s knee bag, hill start assist, downhill brake control, brake assist and traction control. All designed to keep you under control no matter what the road throws at you.

Overall, Hyundai has created a highly drivable crossover with enough bells and whistles to keep a toy lover happy. And at a starting price of $24,450 for the base Sport, and $27,700 for the starting Turbo, you can have a vehicle that’ll get you to the fun, and still let you afford to pay for the fun.

The Santa Fe Sport's new instrument panel
There's ample cargo room for a weekend's worth of gear

For more, follow me @ericrogell.