Pound-for-Pound, the Best Seven-Passenger Utility Vehicle on the Market
The 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe XL Luxury AWD offers families loads of premium without the premium price.
Our insatiable appetite for the utility vehicle won’t see to dissipate anytime soon. The SUV/CUV market is fairly saturated and any environmental implications of the fuel-chugging refrigerators-on-wheels of days gone by (i.e. old-school Navigators and Escalades) are now countered by increasingly fuel-efficient powerplants, including hybrid-engine solutions gradually entering the sport utility market. But at the end of the day, it basically boils down to one thing: growing families are seeking the anti-Van offering cargo, safety, style, and overall efficiencies at an affordable price-point. If automakers can offer all this, and still manage to step it up, well, then we’re talking. The 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe XL Luxury AWD, certainly steps it up, hitting all the marks. And quite easily, the best seven-passenger family CUV on the market…and you can throw some luxury CUVs into that mix.
The Santa Fe nameplate is one of Hyundai’s most successful (goodbye, Veracruz), and for 2013, entering it’s third-generation via the all-new 5-passenger version released late 2012. Followed by the release of the all-new seven-passenger in early 2013. I can’t speak for the five-passenger, but it’s larger version is pound-for-pound the best CUV in it’s class. With eight trims to choose from, my 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe tester arrived in the second-highest trim: XL Luxury AWD. All Santa Fe trims with pricing include:
Santa Fe Sport (5-passenger):
- 2.4 FWD – $26,599
- 2.4 Premium FWD – $28,399
- 2.4 Premium AWD – $30,399
- 2.4 Luxury AWD – $34,099
- 2.0T Premium AWD – $32,599
- 2.0T SE AWD – $35,499
- 2.0T Limited AWD – $38,899
Santa Fe XL (7-passenger)
- FWD – $30,999
- Premium AWD – $34,999
- Luxury – $39,799 (+$200 for 6-seats) > as tested
- Limited – $43,199 (+$200 for 6-seats)
Sleek, Bold Styling
Where many of the full-size CUV/SUVs in the current market find seemingly similar design cues, often undifferentiated from afar, the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe truly stands out. It’s ‘fluidic sculpture’ styling adds refined lines yet overall retaining a very bold, almost aggressive appearance. Strong shoulder lines running front to back coupled with a larger grill and foglights, the Santa Fe Premium can stand toe-to-toe with the more luxe, $65K+ CUVs on the roads today in terms of styling.
Designers at Hyundai worked on the two-row Santa Fe and three-row Santa Fe XL simultaneously, with the main difference being the side window shape. Larger of the two, the 2013 Santa Fe seven-passenger XL features styling that highlights the extra passenger and cargo space behind the third-row seat. Add new alloy wheels, dual chrome integrated exhaust outlets, and a flush-mounted tow hitch design, it’s clear why the 2013 Santa Fe won both AJAC’s 2013 Best New SUV/CUV $35k-$60k and Best New Canadian Utility Vehicle of the Year (the Santa Fe Sport 2.0T won both categories). Nevermind the accolades, my wife points out that the 2013 Santa Fe Premium trim has no blindspots! Happy wife, happy life.
Power, Performance, & Handling
Powered by a 3.3L GDI V6 engine, the 2013 Santa Fe XL produces 290-hp and 252 lb.ft of torque. Benefits of the high-pressure gasoline direct injection (GDI) engine includes a higher than normal compression ratio, significantly increasing power and torque while reducing emissions and fuel consumption.
The competing 2013 Highlander, 2013 Pathfinder, and 2013 Pilot all find a 3.5L MPI V6 engine, yet the Santa Fe’s 3.3L GDI V6 still produces 30-20 additional horses, with overall better torque figures as well. Granted, the Santa Fe does weight the least of the bunch, with Pilot outweighing them all. And for those planning to tow, the Santa Fe XL’s V6 provides maximum towing capacity of 2268 kgs, or 5000 pounds.
A six-speed automatic transmission is standard in all models, including an always-handy manual mode that can adapt quickly to provide easy shifts when needed (and if used correctly, increase fuel efficiency, too). The ActiveECO system (found in all Santa Fe models) also improves fuel figures; essentially, modifying engine and transmission to level-out throttle response.
[quote]Auto makers love to throw the ‘premium without premium price tag’ line at consumers, but the 2013 Santa Fe truly does offer world-class, segment-only features families can appreciate and take advantage of.[/quote]
While front-wheel drive comes standard in this full-size CUV, most families will (or perhaps should) opt for the all-wheel drive system, as per my AWD tester. Hauling 5 to 7 passengers, safety is paramount, and the sophisticated AWD found in the new Santa Fe should put most families at ease; the system distributes power only to the front wheels under normal driving conditions, constantly analyzing vehicular data and allocating power where and when needed, always optimizing traction. Add the Santa Fe’s Active Cornering Control (ACC) and Vehicle Stability Mgmt (VSM) system to manage acceleration and braking when taking corners, the 2013 Santa Fe will put the driver at ease.
The ‘premium product without premium price’ mantra is perhaps most evident in the cabin, where families will appreciate it the most. Indeed, the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe finds a huge list of standards, it’s the premium features that set this CUV apart, including a heated steering wheel, heated front and rear seats, and ventilated front seats; power adjustable front seats with memory; and power liftgate, to name a few. We can’t forget about the huge panoramic sunroof — a must-have option found in many luxury utility vehicles, including my 2013 Range Rover Sport test vehicle following this Santa Fe, where my passengers would gawk at the Rover’s expansive upper-glass, I’d simply tell them, “dude, you can get this same panoramic sunroof in the Santa Fe! Oh, and you can literally buy like 7 Santa Fe’s for the price of the Rover Sport, if you’re wondering.”
A 40:20:40 split-folding, sliding, and reclining second-row bench seat is available, or six-passenger seating with second-row captain chairs. Fortunately, the third-row folds flat with a 50:50 split. For the messy households, and new for 2013 in all cloth seated Santa Fe models, is a YES Essentials seat fabric treatment providing anti-odour, anti-static, and soil-resistant protection. May seem minor, but for a family-mover, this not only provides durability and protection, it adds longevity.
Legroom between the front and second-row seats is ample and comfortable. Compared to the five-passenger Santa Fe, this Santa Fe XL finds an extra 50mm of legroom in this space. Rear passengers now also find standard HVAC controls and vents, and with rear under-floor storage and power-operated liftgate, Hyundai has evidently thought of pretty much everything a family would need and desire.
As for audio and entertainment, the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe comes standard with the usual radio/Satellite radio/CD/MP3 setup with iPod/USB connectivity and six-speakers. But you’ve got options — two options, to be exact, including the step-up audio system with a 4.3-inch colour LCD and rear view camera, or the step-up-again premium system with navigation and boasting 12-speakers, a 550-watt Infinity Logic7 stereo, an eight-inch sub, external amplifier, Bluetooth, and XM satellite radio integrated into each head unit. Overall, the entire instrumentation is laid out well, and the display interface is easy-to-use and simple.
Today, if our growing family were to buy a new seven-passenger utility vehicle, it would likely be the Hyundai Santa Fe (perhaps the stylish Sport version). Props to the Chevy Traverse and Ford Explorer, but the Santa Fe really does hit all the marks. Auto makers love to throw the ‘premium without premium price tag’ line at consumers, but the 2013 Santa Fe truly does offer world-class, segment-only features families can appreciate and take advantage of. Hyundai has slowly stepped up to the plate the past ten years or so, to the point now where consumers need-not question the Korean automakers quality or value anymore. For under $50k, a seven-passenger mover such as this, it’s almost a no-brainer if you can get past the logo. And by now, you should.