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First Drive: 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Rolls 3 Rows Deep




The redesign of Hyundai’s Santa Fe line is complete. Following the incredibly successful launch of the 2013 Santa Fe Sport, they’ve just released the 2013 Santa Fe.

Confused? Sure you are. I was too. So let me explain: There are now 2 versions of the Santa Fe, and they are treated not as trim lines, but as individual vehicles. There’s the Santa Fe Sport, which has 2 rows and seats 5, and the Santa Fe (just “Santa Fe”), which replaces the outgoing Veracruz, and is a 3 row CUV that’ll seat 6 or 7 passengers, depending on the configuration. (More on that later.)

I was invited out to Coronado, CA to spend a little time behind the wheel and put the all new Santa Fe through its paces. Besides watching the Navy SEALs train on the beach and encountering a Harris Hawk with a penchant for sunroof sitting, here’s what I found:

The updated design of the two new Santas Fe is a welcome improvement over the softer, rounder outgoing model. The more dynamic look better fits its capabilities, gives it the feeling of a much higher priced vehicle, and you’ll look better driving it.


The three row Santa Fe gets the same bold, sharp lines, the same aggressive facia and grille, and the same fog lamps and wrap around headlamps as its shorter sibling—with an extra 8.5-inches of length sitting on 18-inch wheels. There’s dual exhaust, a power liftgate, and available integrated side roof rails for hauling extra long gear. And speaking of hauling gear, the Santa Fe will tow up to 5,000 lbs. right out of the box. So that boat you’ve been thinking about? It’s time.

The new cockpit is set up to be both comfortable and informational. I spent about 7 hours either behind the wheel or riding bitch, and I can say the power driver’s seat (optional on the GLS trim, standard on the Limited), was well padded, adjusted where I needed it, and held me firm in the turns. Not that taking turns at a high speed is what CUVs are made for, but I like when a seat keeps me from banging around like a flounder on a fishing boat when my driving gets a little more aggressive.


The GLS comes with YES Essentials stain resistant cloth seats, which you’ll love if you’ve got kids or buddies who treat your car like a booth at In-N-Out Burger. The Limited steps you up to leather.

Other interior touches include contrasting dash with soft touch surfaces and inlaid wood trim, hand stitching on the available leather and premium kick plates. Not bad on a sub-$40k car. (A fully loaded, top of the line, everything-they’ve-got AWD Limited with the Tech Package tops you out at $37,750 before $845 freight.)

The tech in the Santa Fe shines too. The dash provides enough info to fill a bookshelf, without overwhelming. And using the steering wheel controls to access what you need doesn’t require an engineering degree. I did have to search for a couple of things before I found them, the outside temp is in the middle of the fuel gauge, and I thought the brightness of some of the indicators were too low, even at the highest level. But not so low that they couldn’t be seen in the bright southern California sun.

The center stack is home to the 4.3-inch color display with rearview cam that comes standard on the Limited. Opt for the Tech Package on either trim, and you’re treated to a big, 8-inch touchscreen for the navigation and a 12-speaker, 550-watt, Infinity Logic 7 surround sound audio system.

I tested the navi through the crowded freeways around San Diego, and it got me back to my Coronado hotel easily. And the sound system? It’ll push some db’s without distorting.

There’s also a huge panoramic sunroof that lets driver and rear passengers alike enjoy the scenery. Speaking of passengers, you can choose how many you want to bring along in the Santa Fe. You can opt for the second row to be bench seats, allowing 7 passengers to ride comfortably, or you can go with captains chairs instead, dropping you to 6 passengers, but adding more room for each. Both the second and third rows fold down quickly to increase your cargo capability.

The Drive:
The Santa Fe comes with one engine choice: a 3.3-liter, 6-cylinder engine that pushes 290 horses and 252 lb-ft of torque at 5,200 RPM. (And it takes regular unleaded fuel, so you can add in the savings there.) I found the engine to be plenty powerful enough to move the 3,933 lb. Santa Fe without too much lag. There was some minor lag getting up to speed on the freeways, but I never felt it was going to let me down when I dropped the throttle to pass a sightseer meandering along the mountain roads.


A great feature on the 2013 is the steering selection. With the push of a button you can choose between Normal, Comfort and Sport. Sport was my selection of choice, giving a stiffer feel and more control, but you can amp up the power of the power steering and go with comfort if you like your steering soft and loose, like you’re piloting a boat down a canal.

The Santa Fe did well in the corners and more than handled itself in the twisties, with lots of grip and minimal lean. Again, you’re not buying a 3 row CUV to pull Gs in turns, but it’s nice to be able to drive a winding road without rocking back and forth like you’re trapped in a lifeboat in a storm.

I’m also surprised and impressed with a couple of other features the Santa Fe has included: Hillstart Assist and Downhill Brake Control. Usually found on much pricier vehicles, the Hillstart Assist keeps you from rolling backward when starting from a dead stop on steep inclines, while the Downhill Brake Control takes over the brake and gas from you, using computer computations to find the optimal brake pressure to get you down the incline safely… without burning out your brakes.

The 2013 Santa Fe GLS starts at $28,350 for FWD and $30,100 if you want AWD. Jump to the Popular Package—which adds the roof side rails, heated exterior mirrors, fog lights, power driver seat, heated front seats, leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and more—and it will only pull an extra $950 out of your pocket. (Guess that’s how it got to be Popular.)

The Limited edition starts at $33,100 for the FWD and $34,850 for AWD. For the extra $4,700 you add 19-inch silver alloy wheels, power liftgate, push button start, leather seats, power front passenger seat, backup camera, dual zone temp control, 115-volt power outlet in the cargo area, and more. Add the Tech Package I mentioned earlier, and you can tack on about $2,900, bringing your total to $36,000 for a fully loaded FWD and $37,750 for AWD.

The Hyundai Santa Fe delivers an impressive amount of bells and whistles for a vehicle that hugs the $30,000 line and barely flirts with $40k at the top end. The new styling works whether you’re heading to the home improvement store, spending the weekend at the lake house (with the boat), or taking your girl to dinner in the city, and the ride won’t make you dread sliding behind the wheel. I was surprised all around with the Santa Fe, in a good way. If you’re looking for a three row CUV for the family, or for fishing weekends with the guys, you’ll get a lot of bang for your buck with the Santa Fe.

Photos courtesy of Eric Rogell / Hyundai

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Jim Trainor

    March 21, 2013 at 9:19 pm


    Thanks for the thoughtful and thorough review and for spending time with us in Coronado. Hope to see you soon.


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