2013 Hyundai Sante Fe

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If GM’s board had simply hired away the entire management team at Hyundai back in ’08 – and fired everyone at the Renaissance Center in Detroit – it would saved taxpayers a lot of money.Hyundai Santa Fe Elite

Those guys – the Hyundai guys – know what they’re doing. One brilliant design after the next. It’s almost boring – like watching the ’70s-era Steelers win another game.

But hey, better that – and cars like the new Sante Fe – than cars like the Aztek and Volt.



The Sante Fe is Hyundai’s entrant in the compact and mid-sized crossover wars. Unlike the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape and Chevy Equinox – unlike all the others – the Sante Fe comes two ways:

It’s available in compact-sized Sport trim – with two rows of seats and room for five and an available high-performance turbocharged four cylinder engine. Or, you can buy a larger wheelbase GLS/Limited – with three rows and seating for seven and a standard 290 hp V-6 under the hood.SF wide view inside

It’s thus got two bases covered instead of just the one – something none of the others can brag about.

Prices start at $24,700 for the base five passenger, FWD Sport with 2.4 liter (non turbo) engine. You can upgrade to the turbo 2.0 engine – which boosts the MSRP to $27,950.

The seven passenger GLS with V-6 starts at $28,350 and tops out at $33,100 for the Limited with all-wheel-drive.

Main cross-shops are models like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, but probably the closest-in-kind is the just redesigned Ford Escape. It does not offer seven passenger seating, but it does offer a turbo four that’s comparably powerful – and even more fuel efficient (up to 33 MPG on the highway vs. the turbo Hyundai’s 27 MPG best-case).

WHAT’S NEWSF headlight

The Sante Fe is all new for 2013. The new model not only replaces the old SF, it also replaces the Veracruz – which Hyundai no longer sells. Rather than have two separate models – one smaller, one larger – Hyundai now has one model that’s available in smaller – and larger – sizes.


Pick your size – and your engines.

Peppy – or practical. And both at the same time.

Much more available engine than 185 hp-only CR-V and 176 hp only RAV4.

Available turbo 2.0 engine (264 hp) delivers almost the same (very good) gas mileage as weak-sister competitor engines.


All Sante Fes are automatic-only, including turbo 2.0 Sport model.

Not as fuel efficient as Ford Escape, which also offers a high-performance turbo four.

Priced about $2,230 more to start than the new Ford Escape ($22,470), $1,900 higher than CR-V ( $22,795) and $1,400 more than RAV4.

UNDER THE HOODSF turbo engine

Many automakers are paring down their engine lineups. For example, the Toyota RAV4 no longer offers anything but a small four (it used to offer an optional V-6). And of course, the Honda CR-V is still four-cylinder-only.

The Sante Fe, in contrast, offers three engines. Standard in the regular wheelbase/five passenger Sport is a a 2.4 liter non-turbo four that produces 190 hp – already, more power than the CR-V’s take-it-or-leave it 185 hp 2.4 liter engine and the RAV4’s that’s-all-there-is 176 hp 2.5 liter engine. It’s also more than you get in the base trim Ford Escape, which comes with a 168 hp 2.5 liter engine.

Next up is a turbo 2.0 four – and it makes 264 hp. This completely outclasses the CRV and RAV4 – and also beats the Escape with its standard engine and its next-up and its top-of-the-line engines, a 178 hp turbo 1.6 and a 240 hp turbo 2.0 respectively.SF turbo 2

But wait, there’s more.

The long wheelbase/seven-passenger Sante Fe comes standard with a 290 hp 3.3 liter V-6.

Now, you can get a comparably powerful V-6 in something like the Chevy Equinox – which is available with a 301 hp, 3.6 liter V-6. But the Equinox – which is larger than the regular wheelbase Sport Sante Fe but not quite as large as the long-wheelbase Sante Fe – does not offer seven passenger seating. To get that, you’ve got to up-size to something like a Traverse (or  a Mazda CX-9).

See what I mean about Hyundai having all the bases covered?

Fuel economy with both fours is very good:

The base 2.4 (non-turbo) engine rates 21 city, 29 highway and 20 city, 26 highway if you buy the optional AWD set-up. This compares favorably with the less powerful CR-V (23 city, 31 highway w/FWD; 22 city, 30 with AWD) and the RAV4 (24 city, 31 highway with FWD; 22 city, 29 highway with AWD) and the base-engined (2.5 liter) Escape (22 city, 31 highway w/FWD – which is the only way this engine is offered).SF V-6

What compares even more favorably, though, is the Sante Fe’s optional (in regular wheelbase versions) 2.0 turbo engine. Despite the 74 hp uptick, gas mileage with this engine is almost the same: 20 city, 27 highway with FWD. The AWD version droops to 19 city, 24 highway – but that’s still solid given the power – and the performance.

The turbo Sante Fe can scoot to 60 in about 7.9 seconds (FWD; AWD versions take a tenth or two longer). Stack that up against the CRV and RAV4, both of which take well over nine seconds to reach the same speed. Ditto the four-cylinder-powered Equinox, which is even slower (9.3 seconds). The V-6 Equinox is speedier: 0-60 in about 8.7 seconds (FWD) but it’s also thirstier: 17 city, 24 highway with FWD – and 16 city, 23 highway with AWD.

Only one same-sized competitor runs quicker and gets better gas mileage – the 2.0 turbo’d “Ecoboost” version of the 2013 Ford Ecape. It can hustle to 60 in the mid-high sixxes and delivers 22 city, 30 highway (FWD versions) as the icing on the cake.

But, you can’t have that great performance – and economy – and seven seats, too. Because like all the others in this class, there’s no third row, chico.


I test-drove a Sport model with the 2.0 turbo engine – which is (slight tuning differences aside) the same excellent engine found in other current Hyundais like the Sonata (and its corporate cousin, the Kia Optima) where it makes an advertised 274 hp vs. 264 in the SF.

But the key number is torque – 269 lbs.-ft., peaking at 1,750 RPM. This is almost 100 lbs.-ft more torque than the four-cylinder (non-turbo) RAV4 and more than 100 lbs.-ft stronger than the CRV. Plus, both the Toyota’s and the Honda’s torque peaks don’t arrive until 4,100 and 4,400 RPM (respectively).

Blessed be the turbo.

Again, the only thing that’s competitive is the also-turbo’d Escape (270 lbs.-ft of torque) but, alas, just the one wheelbase – and no third row.SF road 3

The only area where I’d say Hyundai hit a triple instead of a home-run is transmission-wise. There is nothing objectionable about the standard – and only – six-speed automatic that comes with every SF engine. It shifts smartly and quietly, working well with the turbo engine’s strong bottom end torque and its high-RPM horsepower. It doesn’t shift too soon – or too late. I hardly used the driver-selectable manual gear change mode because there’s no real point. The transmission didn’t need any help from me. It knew when to drop down a gear – and when to hold a gear. I never felt the need to over-ride its decisions.

However… it’s still an automatic. And no matter how perfectly timed it shifts, how quiet it is – or how fuel efficient – it is not as much fun as working a clutch and rowing through the gates. If you prefer to row your own, you’ve got two possible choices: The VW Tiguan and the Subaru Forester. The Tiguan’s appealing because it comes standard with a 2.0 turbo engine (200 hp) and a six-speed manual. The Soobie is less so because its standard engine is not turbo’d (and makes only 170 hp) and the manual is only a five-speed manual. A stronger 2.5 turbo engine is available but – egads – it is teamed with not merely a mandatory automatic, but a mandatory four-speed automatic.SF back view Holy 1986!

And of course, neither the Tiggy nor the Soobie offer more than seats for five.

Speaking of which: I haven’t yet test-driven the seven passenger SF, so I can’t say whether its longer wheelbase (110.2 inches vs. the Sport’s 106.3 inch wheelbase) or its beefier curb weight (3,964 lbs. vs. 3,459 lbs.) mucks up the handling. I can tell you the short-wheelbase (and lighter weight) Sport handles crisply for what it is – and relative to other CUVs I’ve driven recently. It goes where it’s pointed and it doesn’t lurch or heave or bounce excessively. It reacts like a typical sporty-ish FWD/AWD car that rides a bit higher off the ground.

The wild card here is the new Escape, which I haven’t gotten my hands on yet. I definitely recommend checking that one out before you commit to anything.


For years now, you could buy extended wheelbase versions of several sedans – and SUVs. This made it feasible for people who liked a given model but had to have a bit more passenger or cargo space to stay with that model. It’s amazing it took this long for someone to extend the same idea to CUVs – which up to now presented you with the proverbial take it or leave it choice: You want seven seats? Sorry, this model is a five-seater only. Let me show you .  . . cue sales pitch for that manufacturer’s next-biggest (and usually, much more expensive) model.

With the Sante Fe, you can upgrade to seven-passenger status for $3,650 – the difference in price between the base five-passenger Sport ($24,700) and the base seven passenger GLS ($28,350). Not only this a way to way to save a chunk of change on a three-row CUV (for some perspective, a three-row ride like the Chevy Traverse starts at $30,510; the  Mazda CX-9 at $29,785 and the Ford Flex at $30,900) you can still buy the SF – not a different – and physically much bigger – vehicle.SF second row

The seven-passenger SF isn’t quite as big as models like the Traverse, CX-9 and Flex. It’s 193.1 inches long overall and rides on a 110.2 inch wheelbase – vs. over 200 inches long for these others, all of which also have several inches more wheelbase (118.9 for the Traverse, 117.9 for the Flex, 113.2 for the CX-9).

But – and here’s a surprise – it turns out the physically smaller on the outside SF actually has more second row legroom (41.3 inches) than the much larger Traverse (36.8 inches) and the CX-9 (39.8) and its cargo capacity (80 cubes) is only slightly less than the Ford Flex ‘s (83 cubes).

Now, the Flex has really generous second row legroom (44.3 inches) and the Traverse and CX-9 much more cargo space (116.3 cubes and 100.7 cubes, respectively) but the SF splits the difference pretty nicely and may be just roomy enough – without being too big – for your needs and wants.SF cargo

And for those who don’t need that third row, there’s the regular wheelbase SF. The second row’s a little tighter (39.4 inches) and there’s a bit less cargo capacity (71.5 cubes) but these stats still stack up well when compared with the stats of other two-row-only, compact CUVs. In fact, the two-row SF has considerably more second row spreadin’ out space than its most direct rival, the new Ford Escape – which has just 36.8 inches of second row legroom. That’s 2.6 inches of difference – which is a big difference. The SF also outclasses the CR-V (38.3 inches) and the RAV4 (37.2 inches) and absolutely mauls the VW Tiguan – which has a crumple-you-up 35.8 inches of second row legroom. That’s 3.6 inches of difference – a huge difference. Ditto the cargo capacity count. The tiny Tiggy has only 56.1 cubes of cargo space.

Of course, utilitarian considerations aren’t most people’s only consideration. Style – and features – matter, too.

On style, I’m reminded of the refrain from that little ditty that plays during the opening credits of the HBO TV series, Weeds:

And they all look just the sameSF rearview

Which, they pretty much do. It is getting really hard to tell one brand’s CUV from another brand’s CUV. None are ugly or anything like that. Just . . . derivative. I’d be willing to bet that  the up-canted rear quarter glass from a new RAV4 would fit a new Escape, which would fit a CR-V . . .  which would fit the new SF.

Ok, that’s a bit of an exaggeration – but not all that much. A coalescing sameness is spreading across the land. You have to look really hard to discern aesthetic differences – and identify one brand vs. another brand. Thank the motor gods for those helpful badges they glue to the tailgate, eh?

Overall, the meme is more sportwagony than SUV-ish, if that makes any sense. The SF and its rivals are less box-on-box-like, with swept-back rooflines and asses raised high in the air, a visual trick to make them look like they’re about to pounce. (We did the same thing to muscle cars back in the ’70s with a set of Gabriel Hi-Jacker air shocks.)SF dash

But I have no real objection – other than the distorted (and limited) view to the rear – a consequence of the “fast” roofline and truncated (and also steeply slanted) back glass. The SF has this issue; they all have this issue.

Inside, it’s modern and slick-looking (as is the case with Escape and the others, too). But there are some individualized coolnesses, such as the available rear seat heaters  – and the beautiful panorama glass roof. I also like the side bolsters on either side of the center console – with a semi-hidden storage cubby in between. That’s not a new concept (Volvo had it first, several years ago) but it’s new enough that it’s still kind of neat.SF panorama

Also, you can replace the second row bench with a set of captain’s chairs in the Limited. A heated steering wheel is available, too  – and on all trims, including the base Sport (typically, you’re forced to buy a more expensive higher trim to get features like that).


Really, what’s not to like? If you are in the market for a versatile CUV that’s also a sporty CUV that’s also a pretty reasonably priced CUV, the SF will very likely meet the must-haves on your list – along with the I-likes.

The only thing I didn’t like about it is more a matter of wishing it offered the one thing it doesn’t – a manual transmission to go with that bright-eyed and bushy-tailed 2.0 turbo engine. I know, I know. Hyundai – like most everyone else – is moving away from manuals because most buyers prefer automatics (and also because automatics are now so efficient, they confer a gas mileage advantage relative to a manual – which is a huge big deal in this era of ever-upticking federal fuel economy mandates).SF shifter

Still, it would be nice to find a clutch down there. The SF is not a CR-V or a RAV. That is, it’s more than merely an appliance. It wants to have fun. Hell, it is fun.

But it would be more fun with a six-speed stick.

That’s all I’ve got.


Hyundai’s riding a wave – and there’s no telling when it will crest.

Throw it in the Woods?



  1. The biggest gripe we have in Korea about domestic cars is that Kia and Hyundai discount exports by about 10-20% to make them more attractive to Americans. I’d love to get a Sante Fe, but it will run me about $30,000 instead of the U.S. base price $25,000. Same goes for every other car. I wish that I had brought my Kia Spectra 5 with me instead of selling it. I can’t afford a replacement, but at the time it seemed too absurd to re-import a car that had already been exported.

    • That’s interesting, Matt – I had no idea.

      If anything, the price ought to be less in Korea given the cars are made there – hence, no cost to ship them overseas.

      • In the old days there was an R&D tax on domestically produced electronics. That way funds were gathered by the government and then passed out to companies based on political favor. I wonder if the same thing is going on with cars. I’ll ask around. It’s hard to get a straight answer about this kind of thing, though.

        I just remembered the other gripe. Koreans are convinced that the Korean cars that are manufactured in the USA are of higher quality than native-manufactured cars. Not only do they think American auto workers are harder working and more conscientious than Korean auto workers (where they get that idea I have NO idea other than unions here are worse than in the US), but they are convinced that the raw materials used are of higher quality. Again, I’m not sure where the Koreans get these ideas, but I suspect that North Korea has something to do with it. Agent provoceteurs are still here to stir up discontent against the free market, and car companies are a good target. I live near ship yards, and there are constant near-riots fomented by socialist agitators in the labor unions.

        Clover would sympathize with the unions. Because clover wants to pay top dollar for a car.

        • I’ve never lived in Asia, but I have as a result of my profession developing product come to a good understanding of how things work from a manufacturing pov.

          I don’t know much about Korea specifically but I don’t find those beliefs to be unfounded.

          In China and much of Asia material subsitutions happen. The materials just aren’t what they are claimed to be. In the USA it is rare to just doesn’t happen. Same in Germany and Japan. If the Korean automakers are locally sourcing parts in the USA there is a much better chance they are to spec. Now I would think an auto manufacturer would have systems in place to prevent vendor cheating regardless of source, but the people have probably seen the cheating domestically in other industries. Another problem with asia sourcing outside Japan is process. A decade ago the group I was working in had to send people to China every three weeks or so to get the processing for the plastic parts back under control. The molders would just start changing parameters to run faster. The problem was then the parts would crack in use. Never had this happen in Japan, Germany, UK, or US. Only in China. It too may be something Koreans have experienced domestically.

          So I see where there beliefs are coming from. Are they applicable to Korean auto manufacturers after a three decades of learning? I don’t know. I would hope not.

          • God info, Brent. I find your explanation very plausible. They do love to cut corners here. I have a American friend who works in aircraft manufacturing here. The tolerance is 0.005 inches, but his Korean employees will often fudge it and then try to putty over the out-of-spec gap. No problem in a car, but in an F-16 it’s a big problem. He has a hell of a time getting the point across and the Korean think he’s just a pain in the ass. There’s a lot of “OK OK no problem” over here. What it means is, “You’re my boss and you’ve told me the right way, but I’m going to cut corners as soon as you turn around.” I can’t believe that I never considered that it would extend to car manufacturing. Perhaps it is true that the export models as US made models really are better. That makes the domestic premium we pay doubly-bitter.
            I’m still driving my 1998 Sonata, so what the heck.

            This reminds me: Eric, I just had the spark plugs and coil replaced, along with a new main gasket. My fuel efficiency dropped to about 3/4 of what it was before. I’m getting a crumby 6-7 km/l (mpg anyone?). Originally it got about 12, but starting last year I was down to 9. Is this a sign that I should throw it in the woods or should I get it checked out and possibly dump a few hundred bucks into it? Thanks.

            • Hi Matt,

              If your mileage dropped to that extent immediately after the “tune up” – then I strongly suspect the problem is the “tune up” – not the car.

              A variety of possible problems comes to mind:

              * Wrong plug type (or gap).
              * Plug wire damaged during the spark plug change; engine misfiring as a result.
              * Defective coil.
              * Vacuum leak (something got pulled loose/was removed during the tune-up and wasn’t noticed – or was forgotten.)

              Bottom line, the car’s mileage should have improved after the “tune up.” That it went south after the tune-up is what we call in law enforcement a clue….

  2. They’ve done it again. It’s really depressing to see your old American “marques” pulling one boner after another and here come the Koreans and they’re literally kicking ass and taking names. I for one am glad they are.

    • I can’t fault Hyundai for building desirable cars – that would be Cloveritic! American or not, they get the job done. And without digging into my pockets to do it, too!

      • Just the pockets of some fellow tax-slave in Korea instead.

        I don’t think there is a major automaker on the planet that does not get the people’s wealth through government. If there is one it probably only now exists by virtue of some government interference in the past.

  3. I bet that glass roof would be welcome in tropical areas of Oz. Let in enough heat to blow the car apart, and take forever to air con.

  4. Wow. I thought he Sonata had more power than that. I think it had 201 HP in 2011.

    We are entering the horsepower drop again.

    • Hi Swamp,

      In re hp drop: Yup.

      V-6s (and on-line sixxes) are disappearing like dinosaurs after the asteroid hit. One doesn’t need to be a prophet to see that five years, only higher-end/expensive cars will be powered by more than a four.

  5. I love the Santa Fe. My favorite new crossover.

    Question regarding the 2.4, as far as I know this engine is the same as in the Sonata and Optima.

    In the Sonata it makes: 198hp @ 6,300 rpm and 184tq @ 4,250 rpm.
    In the Santa Fe, it makes: 190hp @ 6,300 rpm and 181 @ 4,250 rpm.

    These things drive me up a wall. WHY, would you make an engine capable of at least 198hp, weaker?? Especially in a heavier, less aerodynamic vehicle?? Does choking the engine of 8hp improve fuel economy by even a MPG? An explanation would be greatly appreciated.

    • Hi Brandon,

      Sometimes, a slight hp disparity like that can be explained as the result of differences in the exhaust system (more or less efficient) from one bodystyle to another. Or, it could be calibration. Or, it could be nothing more than marketing. For example, back in the day (’80s) Chevy rated the L69 305 “HO” V-8 in the Camaro Z28 at 190 hp. But the identical engine in the Monte SS only rated 180 hp. It was all about making sure the Z28 coud tout the most hp – well, except for the Corvette!

      • Point one makes the most sense to me. Three makes sense, though I didn’t think midsize SUVs and Sedans competed with each other.

        I like the title of your next article Eric. 😉

  6. A few points/questions:

    1. I thought the Hyundai Tuscon was their compact CUV targeted at the Honda CR-V and RAV4 market. The Santa Fe was always their mid-size (ish) step up model. They nixed the Veracruz apparently because of poor sales but the Santa Fe has been a hit since the first gen model and they simply rolled the two together under one model name. It’s marketing as much as anything else.

    2. Taking into account marketing speak, this one model flexibility in SUVs is nothing new. It dates at least back to the 80s if not the 70s. For example, there used to be two-door and four-door Chevy Blazers and Tahoes in the 80s and 90s, and there’s almost always been the old Blazer-Suburban duality (2-row vs 3-row seating) at least since the 60s with a stretched chassis but otherwise same architecture and engines. Even the Jeep Wrangler has had 2-door and 4-door options available for a while. Some of these examples actually offer an extra row of seats, some just offer more room. Not really a new thing in SUV-land. New for CUVs, but only if you separate the. From SUVs (which the others are).

    3. The sameness in styling is probably a function of aerodynamics as everyone tries to make the slipperiest shape to punch a hole through the atmosphere in an attempt to improve fuel efficiency. The most aerodynamic shape is a teardrop shape. Thus, in a sense, all SUVs are approaching this common denominator. Unfortunately, they are probably more aerodynamic driving in reverse.

    • Hi SJ,

      It’s what they call a “category buster” inside the biz. The idea being to straddle the middle between small and large. They do run some risk of the SF cannibalizing sales from the Tucson, but it’s all in-house I guess so no major problem for them. I do think Honda, Toyota (and others) have a problem, though – because their entrants in this segment don’t offer the third row option or the plurality of drivetrain options.

      Yes, there have been two and four door versions of various SUVs. But that’s not the same as two – and three – rows of seats. Only a handful of really big SUVs (Cadillac Escalade, etc.) offer this – until now.

      This is just subjective, but: I find the third rows in all but the largest SUVs/crossovers to be mostly for looks (and grocery bags) only. Even when head/legroom is adequate (and it’s usually not) getting in and out of the third row is a PITAS. This is the one area where minivans – with their sliding doors – are unbeatable.

  7. Yes, like Terry, I wanted to clarify that Subaru’s Forester is no longer burdened with 4 or 5 speed transmissions. In fact, according to this link http://www.autoblog.com/2013/05/14/2014-subaru-forester-xt-review/#continued the Forester’s CVT offers between 6 and 8 “virtual” forward gears, depending on the drive mode selected.

    Interesting how, as you note, Toyota and Honda have walked away from a potion of this market by imposing one size fits all, “take it or leave it” drivetrains. I’d definitely “leave it.”

    Hyundai has become more than competitive with almost every model they offer. About the only thing holding them back now is the slight “prestige deficit” of a Korean product vs Japanese, American or European. Best analogy I can offer is to compare a Ruger 357 Magnum to a Smith and Wesson 686. They are both fine guns, and American made. The qualitative differences are minimal. And some buyers would actually prefer the Ruger. But most folks, if they can handle the slight price premium, would rather have the S&W. 🙂

      • No more 4EAT…This is just too traumatic…SniffSniff.
        You can only get a CVT in you want the 2.0L turbo.

        The naming is kinda stupid…Sante Fe Sport and Santa Fe. This is what happens when you put American MBAs in charge of companies. How about Santa Fe and Santa Fe Super Size Big Gulp? (Not available in NYC).


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