2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport - My How Fancy Pants We've Become - Review

It's becoming harder to justify luxury crossover utility vehicles when they approach nearly half-the-price-of a modest-home. The day has arrived when many premium and some standard-line crossovers have blurred the lines.

Enter the new-for-2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, which recently arrived at  "Drive...He Said."

Old Skin Molted:

Chiseled with acute creases and having lifted a D-pillar from the Veloster, the Santa Fe Sport verges on coupe status. Raked head lights and wrap around rear lenses would look at home on any luxury Asian X-over.  The shape dismisses both bulbous cute and cubic industrial in the same stroke. Contrasting matte-finish body cladding shouts "aftermarket."

Former Interior Shed:

It shows that the artiste responsible for the new Santa Fe interior has ridden around in some of the industry's more esoteric cabins.

The swoosh theme from out extends inside to appliques of pseudo-chrome and simulated wood. Grained soft-touch plastics are abundant at or above eye-level.  From knees and below trim can get natty. Doors close firmly in the way of old Swabian exports. This "import" (with 53% Korean content) is assembled at the Kia Plant in West Point, Georgia. A cabin stuffed with more sound absorption stuffing than a Thanksgiving gobbler is remarkably indifferent to wind and road noise. The 550-watt Infiniti Logic-7 sound system, replete with sometimes irascible bass and a dilly-dallying volume button, is all the more listenable.

Pleasantly tactile with organic shapes and positive action is how we rate Santa Fe Sport switchgear, extending to the handsome steering-wheel boss. The properly-sized heated helm tilts and telescopes, is kid-skin delectable-to-touch, though treacherously slippery in switchbacks.

"Driver to Vehicle, Driver to Vehicle!":

Each successive tweaking of Hyundai's hour-glass center stack relieves button-switch congestion. In contrast, the agglomeration of icons nestled in the menus of the Santa Fe's 8"-inch touch infotainment/ HDD navigation screen begs for a rotary dial / joystick type controller. At least a decidedly broader voice-command repertoire. Finger-tapping on the move will eventually buy you a traffic citation for distracted driving.  Hyundai Blue telemetry apps makes for streamlined bragging on fuel economy to other Santa Fe owners. Bathe in indigo back-lighting.

Colossus of Rhodes meet the Colossus of Mid-Size Crossover-Utes:

Front seats have heaps of padding in the cushion. Satin-finished leather upholstery enhances grip. The Santa Fe driver benefits from full power adjustments, lumbar inflation included, with a two position memory for seat and wing mirror positions, heating and cooling. A veritable "Drive Number" seat. With 39" of vaulted-ceiling not even six+ footers feel stifled. The seats of our pants told us to set the "bun-warmers" at their lowest position else become introduced to the realm of solar plasma.

In preparation for the upcoming seven-passenger Santa Fe, the Sport's second row bench splits into two sliding segments maximizing either occupant comfort or cargo capacity. Legroom stretches to a BMW 740i besting 39.4 inches. Behind-second row storage is a cetacean 35.4-cubic-feet, splitting the difference between a Ford Edge and full-size Ford Explorer. Fold the 40/20/40% split seatback to double the load. Some 5" shorter in wheelbase than the Nissan Murano, the Santa Fe Sport shortens turns by 2"-inches.

Along for the Ride:

There's the transverse Hyundai twin-scroll-turbocharged, direct-injected 2.0-liter twin-cam gas inline-4 hooked up to the company 6-speed manumatic front-drive slushbox. We've seen this duo before. In the Kia Optima sedan. Where throttle tip-in resembled "turbo-lag" and a flat sound bordered on buzzy. Transplanted to the Santa Fe, power drops 4% to 264. Torque stays put: 269-pound-feet @ 1750 rpm. Couldn't tell if  "buzzy" was eliminated because cold weather precluded opening windows. Final drive has been shortened. An upshift happy gearbox couldn't prevent high-7 second 0-60 mph times. Combined fuel economy of 20 miles per gallon in the Santa Fe Sport is a real improvement over the six-cylinder competition.

Ripe for a "Biggest Loser" nomination is the Santa Fe Sport's 260-pound weight loss. The 3570-pound crossover tips  scales at barely 140 more than the mid-size Hyundai Sonata sedan. Body motions are damped for reduced rebound inviting some tail twitchiness. Our tester, riding on 19" alloys bound in 235/55 Continental Crosscontacts, was resilient in the face of all but the worst road chasms. Three levels of electric power steering assist are democratically available. Skip two steps ahead of  yo-yo resistance and head straight for "Sport," a land of meaningful heft and less slop.

Standard stability and traction control unobtrusively went about their business during a few less-than-major snow events in our time with the Santa Fe Sport. Traditionally a chink in the Hyundai interpretation of "Halt," an ABS and brake force distribution fortified four-wheel disc brake arrangement generates firm levels of pedal feedback.

It's Not $5 Grand Pricier?

Look at the Monroneys affixed to premium five passenger mid-size crossovers  like the Ford Edge, Nissan Murano and GMC Terrain Denali. You notice that the fully-optioned front-drive 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport's $34,000 MSRP is at least a couple thou lower than where the competition starts. Despite the lack of a smooth six-cylinder engine [and 20% poorer gas mileage] in the Santa Fe Sport, Hyundai, master of value, affirms that it's O.K. to "live a little."


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