Hyundai offers two models of its redesigned flagship crossover SUV for 2013: the long-wheelbase Santa Fe and the smaller Santa Fe Sport. The Sport is a five-seater. The slightly bigger Santa Fe can seat up to seven, and replaces the three-row Veracruz. Our tester was the Santa Fe configured for six passengers.
Appearance: For its third generation, the Santa Fe carries Hyundai's "fluidic sculpture" design philosophy, which makes for a handsome SUV with its bold grille, sculpted rear fenders and swept-back headlights. The body creases and LED "eyebrows" on the headlights add character. (The rear roof pillars, however, impede rear visibility, which made us both ask: Why no blind-spot monitor?) We liked our tester's Frosted Mocha paint, which looked sophisticated and is another example of brown being the new black in car paint.
Performance: The Santa Fe has only one available engine, a 3.3-liter, 290-horsepower V-6. (The Santa Fe Sport has two 4-cylinder options.) The acceleration is robust up to the redline, with the only downside some noticeable torque steer for the front-wheel driver (AWD is available). The 6-speed automatic shifts smoothly. The Santa Fe handled well in the rain, and is nimble for an SUV. The ride is comfortable, even on rough brick streets, and there is only minimal body lean on tight turns. It has 5,000 pounds of towing capacity, which is good for what most buyers will probably use as a family hauler. Some have criticized the Santa Fe's motor-driven power steering, but it felt nicely weighted to us.
Interior: The Santa Fe's quiet interior looks more luxurious than its price suggests. That's because Hyundai does a good job of making the cabin — even the roof liner — look upscale with its mix of colors, textures and trim materials (faux wood and metal). Hyundai also puts the intuitive controls within easy reach of the driver. The cabin is roomy, except for taller drivers who may feel cramped for headroom even when the 12-way adjustable seat is in its lowest position. The sloping roofline doesn't help. Our tester had the second-row captain's chairs, which are standard for the Limited trim. This configuration sits only six, but the advantage is easy pass-through to the third row. (The GLS trim comes with bench seats for the second row and seats seven.) The second row is expansive — even the headroom — with the reclining captain's chairs, which slide forward and backward. The third-row seats, as with most, are a fit only for kids. Both rows fold flat. Our tester came with the Technology Package ($2,900), which includes a panoramic sunroof, navigation with an 8-inch touchscreen, 12-speaker surround sound and manual window sunshades for the second-row windows. One tech nit: It's easy to accidentally press the BlueLink buttons on the rearview mirror when adjusting it.
Our 3 favorites
Warm up: Both the first- and second-row seats are heated.
BlueLink: Hyundai's telematics system is intuitive and easy to use.
Rear seats: Separate climate controls and a storage tray for kids' small items.
Second row: Comfortable captain's chairs allow kids easy access to the third row.
Console controls: Simple to use with large buttons and dials.
Power liftgate: Always a plus for the vertically challenged.
The bottom line: In its extended wheelbase version like our tester, the Hyundai Santa Fe is simply one of the better family haulers on the market.