Pros: Standout styling and interior craftsmanship; excellent value for the money; available heated second row seats; room for six or seven passengers

Cons: Small third row seat; not much storage behind the third row seat; tire noise in cabin; no rear seat DVD entertainment system

What's New: The 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe is all new, using the same platform as the newly introduced Santa Fe Sport but with an additional four inches added to the wheelbase, a third row seat and a standard V6 engine.

The 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe gives consumers a new choice in the burgeoning midsize crossover SUV (CUV) market, with tantalizing styling, an impressive roster of standard and available equipment and one of the best warranties in the business. Available in 7-passenger (GLS trim) or 6-passenger (Limited) models, the Santa Fe offers more second and third row seat legroom than a Toyota Highlander and even rivals larger SUVs such as the Honda Pilot. The Santa Fe can tow up to 5,000 pounds, yet can still deliver highway fuel economy in the mid 20s. But the Santa Fe's trump card is its price, which starts just under $30,000. Even with such options as a heated steering wheel and panoramic sunroof, the Santa Fe remains well below the $40K mark. The Santa Fe also comes standard with Hyundai's 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty and 5-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper coverage.

Comfort & Utility

A family of five, six or seven will find much to like inside the new Santa Fe. That's because the Santa Fe excels not only in making room for adults and kids, but in making sure their trip is as smooth and comfortable as possible. The front seats are very supportive and provide excellent headroom and legroom for taller passengers. The 40/20/40 sliding center row seats can move fore and aft to improve legroom for the third row occupants, although with the center seat at its rearmost position, only small children can comfortably occupy the third row seat. With the third row seat in place, cargo space is reduced to little more than 13.5 cu ft, but when folded into the floor, the cargo hold increases to a respectable 40.9 cu ft.

Even the base GLS with no options strikes us as a pretty nicely equipped family vehicle that includes a tilt/telescopic steering wheel, third row seat climate controls, steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise control, YES Essential stain resistant seat fabric, Bluelink telematics including Bluetooth, USB and iPod integration and 18-in alloy wheels. The Limited adds even more features, including leather seating, heated outside mirrors, second row Captain's chair seating, automatic climate control, 19-in wheels, proximity key entry with push-button start, heated front and second row seats and a rear backup camera.

Options for the GLS are bundled into the Leather and Popular Equipment Packages and include leather seating surfaces, a heated second row seat, a heated steering wheel, dual-zone auto climate controls, front wiper de-icer, navigation radio with rear back up camera, power passenger seat and Dimension's premium audio. The Limited can be equipped with the Technology Package, adding a 12-speaker 550-watt Infinity Logic 7 sound system, panoramic glass moonroof, a heated steering wheel, rear window manual sunshades and a navigation radio with an 8-in touchscreen.

All-wheel drive is optional on both trims.

Technology

Among the Santa Fe's technology highlights is the Driver Selectable Steering Mode that allows the driver to choose between three settings: Comfort, Normal and Sport. In Comfort mode the steering wheel feels light to the touch, the perfect setting for city driving where minimal effort is preferred, such as when parallel parking. Normal mode firms up steering effort by about 10 percent and Sport mode another 10 percent beyond Normal. The Sport setting creates a much heavier steering feel ideal for long highway drives and when negotiating narrow, twisting roads.

If you select the AWD system, you'll also receive Hyundai's Active Cornering Control (ACC) technology that cooperatively controls both braking and torque distribution in conjunction with the vehicle's electronic stability control system. ACC improves lateral stability while cornering, helps reduces instances of under and over steer, and reduces the possibility of overheating while climbing hills or towing heavy loads.

While almost all SUVs offer some form of navigation and Bluetooth integration, we think Hyundai's interface is one of best. Bluelink is Hyundai's telematics system and is standard on every Santa Fe with a 1-year free trial. Among the more notable features are voice text messaging, point-of-interest web search downloads, turn-by-turn navigation and monthly vehicle reports. Hyundai's navigation system features a large 8-in display that is easy to use, with clear 3-D graphics, speed limit displays for most roads and casual voice control for most functions.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The 2013 Santa Fe is powered by a 3.3-liter Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI) V6 engine producing 290 horsepower and 252 lb-ft of torque. A 6-speed automatic with manual shift control and ECO mode is standard. Fuel economy for the FWD Santa Fe is rated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at 18 miles per gallon city and 25 mpg highway; AWD models get slightly lower figures of 18 mpg city/24 mpg hwy. Unlike the Santa Fe Sport, the long-wheelbase Santa Fe does not offer the option of a turbocharged engine.

While we found the V6 to be more than up to the task of pulling a loaded Santa Fe, it seems to lack the off-the-line punch we would expect from an engine with nearly 300 hp. Still, passing maneuvers were accomplished with ease, and the engine's overall smoothness and response to throttle input are more than satisfactory.

Safety

Standard on every Santa Fe are Hillstart Assist Control and Downward Brake Control, both of which assist the driver in keeping control of the vehicle on steep upward and downward slopes. The Santa Fe also features a full complement of airbags, including third row side curtain airbags and a driver's knee airbag. New construction techniques allow Hyundai to make the Santa Fe lighter and stronger, with improved body rigidity and greater roof strength. The Santa Fe for 2013 is an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Safety Pick.

Driving Impressions

Our drive route took us from sea level along the San Diego coast up to about 6,000 feet to the mountain town of Julian, home of the best apple pie this side of the Continental Divide. Along the way, the Santa Fe displayed its ability to isolate us from harsh pavement, pass slower moving traffic with ease and round corners with confidence. However, when pushed too fast, the Santa Fe also displayed a tendency to lean in the curves although its multimode power steering delivered good feel and feedback, which helped us keep confident control even in the tightest turns. Wind and road noise levels seem about average for this class, although we did find that the big 19-in tires on the Limited seemed to created a bit more noise than their 18-in counterparts found on the GLS.

Other Cars to Consider

Toyota Highlander - The Highlander holds its value better than the Santa Fe, but it doesn't offer nearly the same level of features, not to mention having a much shorter warranty. However, the Highlander does offer a hybrid powertrain option not available with the Santa Fe.

Nissan Pathfinder - Although the Pathfinder has less horsepower and torque than the Santa Fe, it has better fuel economy ratings. And, while the Pathfinder provides about an inch more front seat legroom, the Santa Fe offers an added inch in the third row seat. The Pathfinder also offers a rear seat DVD entertainment system not available on the Santa Fe.

Honda Pilot - The Pilot has less horsepower, a shorter warranty and less towing ability than the Santa Fe. It also doesn't offer features like a heated second row seat or heated steering wheel. But, the Pilot offers considerably more headroom and hip-room for third row occupants.

AutoTrader Recommends

Unless you're a nut for things like heated second row seats and a panoramic moonroof, the GLS seems to make the most sense to us. 7-passenger seating is always better than six, although the Limited's Captain's chair pass-through does make it easier for those in the third row to stretch their legs out. The GLS can be equipped with leather, navigation and a Dimensions audio sound system, making it as luxurious as most competitors' top-of-the-line models without the lofty price tag.

Read more about the Hyundai Santa Fe in our Long-Term Review.

author photo

Joe Tralongo started in the industry writing competitive comparison books for a number of manufacturers, before moving on in 2000 to become a freelance automotive journalist. He's well regarded for his keen eye for detail, as well as his ability to communicate complex mechanical terminology into user-friendly explanations.

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