Sunday, September 15, 2013

Hyundai Santa Fe - New, and Now, Two

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 well at both. 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 seating and uses four-cylinder engines. The longer model with three-row seating now sold as just "Santa Fe" used to be called the Veracruz. Remember it? Didn't think so. Hyundai is leveraging brand recognition for it's more popular model, which, like the compact Tucson crossover, is named after a Southwestern city and is helping the company to sales growth year after year.

The Santa Fe is handsome, wearing the Fluidic Sculpture design that has been so successful in its sedans. It has a prominent, chrome grille up front, as today's vehicles must possess. The lines and folds along the side appeal to the eye and give the body the solid appearance of an iron bar, not an inflated balloon. The 19-inch alloy wheels added road presence.

Hyundai vehicles, when they first came to America, were obviously not on the level of Toyotas and Hondas, and were certainly not in the ballpark with European luxury vehicles. Today, many Hyundais 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. While Honda was cost-cutting a couple of years ago, Hyundai was offering nicer and nicer interiors. Now, the appealing materials, high build quality and sophisticated design are part of what you get when you slide into any Hyundai vehicle. Even the subcompact Accent is a well-turned-out car.

Like SUVS have been for decades, the Santa Fe stands tall, but it's a crossover. That means it's built on a car platform and has a long, slanting windshield, so the driving experience is more like a tall car than driving a pickup truck with room for 7, as the original Ford Explorer was, for example. This is the norm today.

My Circuit Gray tester was the upper level Limited model. The GLS is the regular grade. Many of these crossovers today are only front-wheel-drive, since so few actually go offroad. My car was one of them, although you can certainly order one with power that  flows to all four wheels if you live in areas where it would be a benefit in the wintertime. In Northern California, it's not an issue. The Hyundai all-wheel-drive system is called Active Cornering AWD, which distributes the torque through a computer program to keep you safely on the road.

Hyundais have offered lots of features for the money over the years, and features 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 and Sport modes. It changes your driving experience. Comfort might be handy when driving around in town or parking. Normal is fine 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 right and left turn, and the Santa Fe felt happy there, not swaying back and forth, with plenty of energy to make the climb without downshifting. Perhaps its Vehicle Stability Management helps in that feeling in control in those circumstances.

My tester sweetened the deal with the Technology Package ($2,900). That added an enormous panoramic sunroof, with glass along nearly the entire roof, with the front half sliding open. It also included a navigation system--something almost essential these days. It also provided me with an Infinity Logic 7 550-watt Surround Sound audio system that was entertaining during my commute drudgery. 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, if you won't need that third row seat, the extra 10 cubic feet of 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 including 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, but not lower than rival vehicles. Today, Hyundai competes as an equal, so you have to decide if you like the look, feel, performance, features, and, that great warranty.

See my video review here.

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