Hyundai Canada is going to sell many thousands of 2013 Santa Fe crossover wagons. History tells us so. Through the first nine months of this year, Hyundai had sold more than 14,000, in fact – and that was for an aging model facing some fierce competition.
The latest, third-generation Santa Fe has the family look of the latest Hyundais. The company calls the exterior theme "Fluidic Precision" and the cabin is "Art Meets Technology." What I'll say is that the outside sheet metal has plenty of lines and creases and shapes, all adding up to something that looks as good as any of the many compact crossovers out there. Meanwhile, the interior is sensible and clean, with controls that do not stump your intuition, not to mention two-tone colour schemes that liven up what could easily be a dreary, all-black cocoon.
More importantly, the Santa Fe Sport – the five-passenger Santa Fe going on sale right now – has room inside. The cabin volume, says Hyundai, comes in at 4,060 litres, more than the 2012 version (4,034) and more than Honda's CR-V (4,003), Ford's Escape (3,749) and Edge (3,982) and Chevrolet's Equinox (3,712). In the flesh, this Santa Fe feels roomy and the cargo area has space for four sets of golf clubs. Bigger though it is, this latest Hyundai crossover is 120 kg lighter.
The weight loss helps explain why the Santa Fe uses less fuel, despite better overall performance. The base engine, a 2.4-litre four-cylinder, is rated at 190 horsepower – 9 per cent better than before – yet fuel economy comes in at 9.5 litres/100 km city and 6.0 highway with front-wheel drive, 10.1 city/7.0 highway with all-wheel drive. Using regular gas.
Hyundai's four-banger here is more powerful than the 2.5-litre four in the Toyota RAV4 (179 hp), as well as those in the CR-V (185 hp), Escape (168 hp), and Equinox (182 hp). That said, both the CR-V and the Equinox have a better combined fuel economy rating, though not by much. In truth, the power story for the base engine right across all these models is a tale of comparable performance.
The Santa Fe's 2.0-litre four, however, is more interesting. It's rated at 264 horsepower and a strong 269 lb-ft of torque, yet fuel economy – using regular gas – comes in at 9.8 city/6.4 highway for front-drive, 10.4 city/7.4 highway for AWD. The Santa Fe has equal or better torque versus its main rivals (V-6 or turbo), yet bests the RAV, Escape, Edge and Equinox on fuel economy.
Make no mistake, while the 2.4-litre is powerful enough for most of us, the turbo is loads more fun to drive and the obvious choice if you plan to take advantage of the Santa Fe's maximum tow rating of 3,500 pounds and haul around a trailer. The turbo is quick to respond, but not jumpy. The power comes on fast, but without any startling lag.
Hyundai also revised the AWD system, and while it's still a slip-and-grip unit – power goes to the rears if the fronts start to lose traction – the electronically controlled AWD coupling promises to cut response times to fractions of a second. That's good. So is the so-called Active Cornering part of the AWD unit. It uses the brakes to help drivers stay between the lines when going too quickly in a corner.
Hyundai has also added a gimmicky feature that allows drivers to dial in steering feel – Comfort, Sport and Normal. Comfort steering is bit softer, Sport firmer with less power assist. Yes, there is some difference in steering feel, but not as much as you might be led to believe.
Most important of all, this lighter Santa Fe is an improvement over the outgoing model by quite a bit. The steering and overall road manners are still less precise than the best, but not bad at all. And this Santa Fe Sport is loaded with nifty features aimed at making family buyers happy: 40/20/40-split folding rear seats that allow you to load up skis and such in the middle, while leaving two individual rear seats; under-floor cargo storage; an optional panoramic sunroof; rear window side shades; sliding and reclining back seats; standard Bluetooth; stain-resistant fabrics; and, even the blue-hued electroluminescent gauge cluster.
Yes, Hyundai will sell plenty of Santa Fes because this is a well-conceived update to an established and highly popular crossover.