In the car business, part of what makes you successful is good product. The other part is good marketing.
In Hyundai's case, they seem to be doing both well. The 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe is a major update of an important model, in a significant segment. But their marketing is what will help move more metal.
There are now two Santa Fe's. The midsize crossover SUV is now called the Santa Fe Sport. It has two rows of seats and offers only four-cylinder engines. The longer model, with three-row seating, is now just plain "Santa Fe." It used to be called the Veracruz - remember it? Didn't think so. Hyundai is leveraging brand recognition for its more popular model.
The Santa Fe is handsome, wearing the Fluidic Sculpture design that has proliferated throughout the lineup. It has a prominent, chrome grille up front, and the lines and folds along the side give the body a solid yet also dynamic look. Nineteen-inch alloy wheels add road presence.
When they first arrived in the U.S., Hyundais were obviously below the level of Toyotas and Hondas. Today, many models are built in the U.S. (although this Santa Fe was imported from Korea) and have a look and feel that equals, or even surpasses, those brands. Appealing materials, high build quality and sophisticated design are part of every Hyundai vehicle. Even the subcompact Accent is well turned out.
The Santa Fe is a crossover, built on a car platform. It boasts a long, slanting windshield and rides smoothly, so the driving experience is more like a tall car than a pickup truck with room for seven.
My Circuit Gray tester was the upper-level Limited. The GLS is the regular grade. My car was front-wheel-drive, but you can order Hyundai’s all-wheel-drive system, called Active Cornering AWD, if you need it. It distributes torque through a computer program to keep you safely on the road.
Hyundais have offered lots of features for the money for years, and items like Driver-Selectable Steering Mode give a nod to Mercedes-Benz and Land Rover. A button on the steering wheel lets you select Comfort, Normal or Sport mode. It changes your driving experience. Comfort is handy when you’re driving around in town or parking. Normal is OK in all cases, especially on the highway. Sport tightens up everything for more fun on country roads.
While the lighter Santa Fe Sport does just fine with a 2.4-liter or 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder engine, the Santa Fe gets a 3.3-liter V6, which puts out a generous 290 horsepower and 252 lb.-ft. of torque through a six-speed automatic. That's comparable horsepower with other midsize crossovers, which tend to offer slightly larger displacement, such as 3.5-liters. The Santa Fe is a little bit lighter than its rivals, and this helps to get it EPA ratings of 18 City, 25 Highway (21 Combined). My actual mileage was 22.7 mpg. The EPA's green scores are a 5 for Smog and Greenhouse Gas - dead center.
The two-ton Santa Fe, more than 300 pounds lighter than its Veracruz predecessor, moves with alacrity on the highway and gets around town just fine. There's a place in my neighborhood where you have to turn onto a street that immediately climbs up sharply, with a quick right and left turn, and the Santa Fe felt happy and stable while ascending, with plenty of energy to make the climb without downshifting. Perhaps its Vehicle Stability Management helps in giving that feeling of control in those circumstances.
My tester sweetened the deal with the Technology Package ($2,900). That added an enormous panoramic sunroof, with glass covering nearly the entire roof; the front half slides open. The package also included a navigation system - almost a necessity these days. It also provided me with an Infinity Logic 7 Surround Sound audio system that put out 550 watts of commute relief. A heated steering wheel was there, too, but it being September at the time of my test, it went unused.
Choices are simple - GLS or Limited and front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Or, opt for the Santa Fe Sport for lower cost and better fuel economy. It’s perfect if you don't need a third row seat, massive cargo capacity, or the Santa Fe's 5,000 pound towing ability (it's 3,500 lb. with the Sport - and both require trailer brakes).
The GLS starts at $29,455 and the Limited at $34,205 (both include shipping). My tester, with the Technology Package, came to $36,980. So don't think "Hyundai" and "cheap" in the same sentence any more. That's competitive pricing now, no longer lower than rival vehicles. Today, Hyundai competes as an equal, so you have to decide to buy it based on the look, feel, performance, features, and, that great warranty.