It’s no secret that Hyundai has been riding high the past few years, with August marking 44 consecutive months of year-over-year sales gains.
Such success is reflected in a 3.4 per cent market share increase since 2008, putting the Korean manufacturer in number five spot, behind Toyota.
Hyundai didn’t get there on price alone, although after putting clunkers like the Pony and Stellar behind them, they were still recognized for a lineup that was largely ‘cheap and cheerful.’
But that was then and this is now, and after winning Canadian and North American Car of the Year (COTY) in 2009 with the luxury Genesis Sedan, and more recently scooping three 2012 Canadian COTY category wins for the Accent, Veloster and Elantra, the company has surged up the pecking order.
And so has the Santa Fe within its segment, as the all-new 2013 model has improved in nearly every way.
It also now comes in two body styles. The five-passenger ‘Sport’ is on sale now with FWD or AWD, and is available with two engines: a 2.4-litre four cylinder with gasoline direct injection (GDI), and a 2.0-litre turbocharged four, also with GDI.
All Sport models get a six-speed automatic with Shiftronic manual shift.
The seven-passenger, long-wheelbase version is simply named the Santa Fe, and will replace the Veracruz sometime during in early 2013.
Last week, our group of journalists had an opportunity to drive the Sport, and I’ll admit that although having seen the photos, I didn’t expect something quite so refined.
This starts with the exterior. At first it doesn’t seem a huge leap from the outgoing model, but incremental changes in the grille, headlights, taillights, roofline, belt line, character lines and other areas combine for an effect that is significantly more upscale.
Like the Tucson, it employs Hyundai’s Fluidic Sculpture styling, but in a way that appears more purposeful.
Along the sides are character lines that pierce each door handle, along with sculpting that provides dimension and depth. This seamlessly flows into the protruding wheel arches, which house standard-equipped 17-inch Euroflange alloy wheels.
The bold front end with hexagonal front grille is flanked by modern swept-back projector headlamps and black-accented fog lamps. The two-tone lower fascia projects a rugged, SUV appearance.
For 2013, the Santa Fe is longer and lower, and has more interior space—besting pretty much all the competition except for the Toyota RAV4.
Along with an increase in capacity is a cut in weight. This new model is 120 kg lighter than the 2012 (and 16 per cent stiffer), much of this due to a greater use of high-tensile steel from Hyundai’s own steel plant.
A more rigid body, better aerodynamics, improvements in damping and bushings, a double-layered windshield, and more insulation in the dash and floor, add up to a cabin that’s surprisingly hushed. Nearly what you’d expect from Infiniti or Lexus.
I’m not saying fit and finish are quite at that level, but the lighting, instruments, controls and seating wouldn’t look out of place in a more expensive vehicle.
The boomer buyers that Hyundai is targeting want more than utility, and the company has responded with a pile of premium features for those wanting to upfit their Santa Fe: dual zone climate control, heated rear seats, ventilated front seats, rear door sunshades, heated steering wheel, rear park assist, rear camera, push button start, navigation, panoramic sunroof and 19-inch alloy wheels.
Of course, these are higher trim options, but even the base, at $26,499, offers a healthy list of standard amenities.
The Santa Fe 2.4-litre FWD includes air conditioning, heated front seats, power windows with driver’s auto up/down and pinch protection, tilt/telescopic steering with audio and cruise controls, power lumbar support, Bluetooth and six-speaker AM/FM/XM/CD/MP3 audio system with iPod/USB/aux inputs.
Also standard are second-row 40/20/40 split fold reclineable seats that drop to double the 1,002 rear cargo hold to 2,025 litres. And there’s ample under-floor storage.
This entry model also gets a rear spoiler, roof-rack side rails and the previously mentioned 17-inch alloys.
Next in line, with the 2.4-litre engine, is the Premium FWD ($28,299), followed by Premium AWD ($30,299) and Luxury AWD ($33,899).
The base turbo model comes in Premium trim, which will set you back $30,499 for FWD or $32,499 for AWD. However Hyundai expects the SE AWD, to be their overall volume seller, which at $35,299 includes pretty much everything but navigation, power passenger seat and upgraded audio system. If you want these, opt for the Limited AWD at $38,499.
Indeed, there’s a hefty premium for going with the turbo ($2,200) and AWD ($2,000), but Hyundai expects roughly two-thirds of their sales to be turbocharged models, and more than 70 per cent to be AWD.
The turbo may be top dog, but the 2.4-litre is no wimp, producing 190 hp and 181 lb/ft of torque—15 hp and 12 lb/ft more than the 2.4-litre engine it replaces. And with 12 percent better fuel economy.
Acceleration is smooth, and the engine doesn’t drone noticeably, but there isn’t much kick when you plant the pedal. Which is to be expected, as the Santa Fe still tips the scales at 1,569 kg (FWD) and 1,640 kg (AWD).
The 2.0T, on the other hand is considerably more robust.
Replacing last year’s V6, it gives up a few horses (four percent), but delivers eight percent more torque and the same percentage in added fuel economy.
Numbers are 264 hp and 269 lb/ft, with torque coming in at a low 1,750 rpm. As a result, it’s significantly quicker off the line than the 2.4-litre, and far better at highway passing.
With the MacPherson strut/multilink front/rear suspension setup, ride is smooth, and as you’d expect in a tall vehicle, there’s a bit of lean in hard cornering.
Steering, however, is taut and precise. Mind you, I had the Santa Fe’s driver selectable steering mode (DSSM) set to ‘Sport’ most of the time. This dials back the power assist, which increases accordingly with ‘normal’ or ‘comfort’ settings.
There’s much more to be said about the all-new Santa Fe, and I hope to do a longer test—probably once the snow flies.
Hyundai believes this is their most important new vehicle launch since the Elantra, and I would agree.
Demand for this kind of vehicle shows no sign of slowing down, and the company points out that 21 per cent of new vehicle buyers are intending to purchase a compact or intermediate CUV.
And I’ll bet a lot of them will be putting the 2013 Santa Fe on their shopping list.
2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport
Body Style: mid-size crossover SUV
Drive Method: front-engine, front- or all-wheel-drive
Engine: 2.4-litre four-cylinder with gasoline direct injection (190 hp and 181 lb/ft of torque); 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder with GDI (264 hp and 269 lb/ft)
Cargo: 1,002 litres behind rear seats, 2,025 litres with 40/20/40 second row folded
Towing Capacity: (with trailer brake) 2.4 litre—907 kg, 2.0T—1,590 kg
Fuel Economy: 2.4 litre FWD 10.1/6.7 litres/100 km (city/hwy); AWD 10.5/7.7 litres/100 km (city/hwy); 2.0 litre turbo FWD: 10.4/7.4 litres/100 km (city/hwy), AWD 11.0/8.4 litres/100 km (city/hwy)
Price: 2.4L FWD $26,499, 2.4L Premium FWD $28,299, 2.4L Premium AWD $30,299, 2.4L Luxury AWD $33,899, 2.0T Premium FWD $30,499, 2.0T Premium AWD $32,499, 2.0T SE AWD $35,299, 2.0T Limited $38,499