"It adds a certain outdoorsy ruggedness to what could basically be any boring design from any other crossover."
Back when Hyundai first decided to join the sport cute ranks at the turn of the century, it created Santa Fe. It was smaller than today’s Tucson, and Santa Fe is now going to replace Veracruz – Hyundai’s largest SUV offering.
But it’s not this test vehicle that’s being primed for such a task. This is the Santa Fe “Sport” – the five seat version of the seven-seater due in the 2013 calendar year.
Santa Fe is by no means a large vehicle, and true to the trend of making smaller offerings jam-packed with more seats, this Sport is about the right size for four ... maybe five ... and all its occupants’ cargo (whether that is groceries for a couple weeks, three or four golf bags or equipment needed to tackle the wilderness).
In fact, this tester has been done up with add-ons to easily brush off obstacles that may come in its way. It not only adds protection at the front end, but it adds a certain outdoorsy ruggedness to what could basically be any boring design from any other crossover competitor.
Yes, they’re all starting to look the same again (and it’s funny how quickly the Hyundai family look has gotten so “matter of fact”). Which is not to imply Santa Fe isn’t attractive – it is. But it’s suddenly no more attractive or even much different than any of its competitors lined up on the Niagara District Airport tarmac at the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada Utility of the Year awards (where it took top honours in the Best New SUV/CUV over $35,000 category, over the Nissan Pathfinder and Acura RDX).
That’s the other part of the Santa Fe equation that has gotten more mainstream – price. It used to be that Hyundai models were the least expensive in their respective segments. Now, Hyundai execs are left to push “value” rather than price. And in fact, value may be the only trump card Santa Fe is holding.
Engine power and economy are no longer selling points, although Hyundai has gotten better at making smaller and more efficient engines (but so has everybody else). Our tester’s 2.4-litre four-cylinder direct injected model may have 12 horsepower on the standard Ford Escape’s base 1.6 litre turbocharged engine, and it’s out-classed in bottom end torque. Granted, you can get a more powerful 2.0L Turbo “four” in Santa Fe, but so can you in Escape.
It’s slightly bigger than its competitors, but when you factor in only a miniscule difference in wheelbase and roof height, it means it doesn’t really have much of an advantage in terms of interior space (either for passengers or cargo). It’s smaller in interior dimensions than the smaller Toyota RAV4 and only outdoes the (also smaller) Escape by about a cubic foot. What Santa Fe has going for it, though, is versatility. I count four different iterations of its cargo area, including underfloor cargo holds than can hold a lot of larger cargo, though the 40/20/40 split rear seatbacks don’t fold flat.
And though the seating is some of the most comfortable in the business (including tilt adjusting heated rear seats), passenger room is still less or equal to its smaller competitors, front rear and centre (ok, maybe not centre but no compact SUV is really that roomy in the rear centre position).
The dash layout is very similar to that of other current Hyundai products, with a “V” theme that carries through steering wheel and centre stack. Some of the controls require too many steps (such as the direction of airflow from the climate control system) but the controls themselves are easy to work (probably even in winter when gloves are standard attire).
So when you add it all up, there isn’t much more to this Santa Fe Sport that its competitors don’t also do and as more buyers shift to crossovers from family cars, apparently the “vanilla” flavour is going with them.
2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport
Price as tested (before taxes): $31,336
Options on test vehicle: Brush guard ($634); cargo cover ($260); front and rear mud guards ($143).
Configuration: front engine/ all-wheel drive
Engine/transmission: 2.4L 4-cyl./ 6-spd. auto. with sequential shift
Power/torque: 190 hp/ 181 lb.-ft.
Fuel (capacity): Regular (68L)
Fuel economy ratings: 10.1 L/100km city; 7.0 L/100km hwy
Observed economy: 9.2 L/100km over 585 km
Warranties: 5 years/ 100,000 km (comprehensive)
Competitors: Chevrolet Equinox; Ford Escape; Honda CR-V; Suzuki Grand Vitara; Toyota RAV4.
Strengths: rear-seat comfort; loaded for the price; modern looks
Weaknesses: much like rest of segment