The Hyundai Santa Fe mid-size crossover utility was all-new for 2013, built on a new lighter-weight, higher-strength platform. The 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe comes in two handy family sizes: regular (long-wheelbase) and the smaller Sport.
The two-row, five-passenger Santa Fe Sport, about the same size as the previous-generation (2012) Santa Fe, competes in the fast-growing field of domestic and import compact crossovers that includes the Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Edge, Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V.
The larger, three-row, six- or seven-passenger 2014 Santa Fe is 8.5 inches longer overall, on a 3.9-inch-longer wheelbase, to take on the Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, and Mazda CX-9.
Both Santa Fes (and the smaller-yet Tucson) are crossover utility vehicles, or CUVs. That means they're car-based sport utilities, essentially tall wagons, which offer more car-like driving dynamics and fuel efficiency than truck-based SUVs.
Most revisions for 2014 apply to optional equipment. Blind Spot Detection is now available on all trim levels, while rear parking assistance is included in Technology Packages. HID (high-intensity-discharge) headlights and LED taillights are available for 2014 in the Santa Fe Sport 2.0T and Santa Fe Limited Technology Packages. New 18-inch wheels are standard on the Sport 2.0T. Rear side-window sunshades are part of the Santa Fe Sport Premium Package. Ventilated front seats with integrated memory are part of the Technology Packages. Also, 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe Sports equipped with a panoramic sunroof are now fitted with roof rails.
Two four-cylinder engine choices are available in the Santa Fe Sport: a 190-horsepower 2.4-liter non-turbo, and a turbocharged 264-hp 2.0-liter. The larger Santa Fe holds a 290-hp 3.3-liter V6. All three engines benefit from high-pressure gasoline direct injection (GDI) and drive through 6-speed automatic transmissions with SHIFTRONIC manual capability. All models offer available Active Cornering Control all-wheel drive.
EPA fuel economy ratings range from 20/27 mpg City/Highway for the base front-wheel-drive four-cylinder Santa Fe Sport, down to 18/24 mpg City/Highway for the 2.0T turbo Sport with all-wheel drive. That same 18/24 mpg estimate has been given to the larger Santa Fe with all-wheel drive. (Early Santa Fe Sports were rated as high as 21/29 mpg City/Highway, but Hyundai revised some fuel-economy estimates in late 2012.)
Hyundai's all-wheel drive continuously monitors driving conditions and enhances stability by managing brake and engine torque, vectoring one or the other toward or away from individual wheels to balance side-to-side and front-to rear traction. The result is improved cornering stability, reduced understeer (loss of front-wheel traction) or oversteer (loss of rear-wheel traction) to help the driver maintain control in tricky conditions. Standard Hillstart Assist Control minimizes roll-back on steep uphills, while Downhill Brake Control manages speed and enhances control on steep descents.
To our eyes, each Santa Fe is a handsome piece that's more distinctive than most of its compact CUV competitors. Styling follows Hyundai's recent fluidic sculpture design direction, though slightly toned down.
The 2014 Santa Fe's interior is modern and stylish, with an obvious focus on soft-touch materials and thoughtfully arranged, well-marked controls. The base Santa Fe Sport offers YES Essentials stain-resistant cloth seats, Hyundai Blue Link (similar to GM's OnStar) and a 40/20/40 split folding second-row seat. The Sport 2.0T and Santa Fe add more equipment.
The longer Santa Fe boasts 1.9 inches more second-row legroom and 5.6 cubic feet more total cargo capacity than the shorter Sport. Santa Fe comes with second-row climate controls and vents, and a 50/50 split folding third seat with 31.5 inches of legroom. The second row is a 40/20/40 split folding bench in GLS trim; twin Captain's chairs in the Limited.
We found our test Santa Fe Sport AWD 2.0T to be fully competitive and pleasant to drive. Performance was impressive when needed, the ride was smooth and controlled over most surfaces, braking was strong and stable, and handling was at least as good as most competitors.
Hyundai further defines the Santa Fe's Fluidic Sculpture design language as Storm Edge because it seeks to capture the types of strong, dynamic, constant-motion shapes created by nature during a storm. We see it as handsome, dynamic and more distinctive than most other entries in its class.
The Santa Fe Sport's three-bar hexagonal grille and wraparound headlamps (with LED accents) lead to a rising beltline, which sweeps upward to a stylishly narrow third window and a standard rear roof spoiler. The rockers bulge between bold, round wheel arches, while a sculpted character line runs through the front chrome door handles, then hops over the rear handles to frame the upper surface of the taillamps, which wrap well into the rear liftgate.
Distinguishing the three-row, long-wheelbase Santa Fe from its two-row Sport stablemates are a four-bar grille and different lower front valence/park lamp treatments in front. Larger models also have different taillamps and dual exhausts (vs. twin passenger-side tips on the turbocharged Sport 2.0T or a single outlet on the base model). Most important, the three-row Santa Fe's side character line is flatter, and its side glass extends to incorporate a larger third window, which emphasizes its additional length and passenger capacity.
The Santa Fe's structure is built with 37.7 percent high-strength steel, part of the reason the base Sport model is some 266 pounds lighter than the 2012 Santa Fe, while the LWB Santa Fe is nearly 400 pounds lighter than the Veracruz it replaced. This also makes it stiffer, which enhances both ride and handling for driving enjoyment, and better manages crash energy should something bad happen. The suspension is lightweight MacPherson struts in front, independent multi-link in back, with stabilizer bars at both ends.
The Hyundai Santa Fe Sport plays a digital tune when you boot it up, and again when you shut it down. That may be charming at first, but could get annoying over time. The proximity key lets you walk up and push the the front door handle's touch-button to unlock the door, then get in and start the engine while keeping the fob in your purse or pocket. The push-to-start button has On, Off and Acc lights to let you know its status.
We found the engine temperature, gear selection, fuel gauge and outside temperature read-outs too dim to read easily through sunglasses in bright sunlight. Front bucket seats were comfortable and easy to adjust, but rear-quarter visibility from the driver's seat was hampered by the narrow rear side windows.
The sliding second-row seats fold down easily, but not quite flat. The outside ones flop forward using either levers on their sides or pull handles in the cargo area, while the central section that doubles as an armrest has a release on its upper back surface. Slid fully back, they provide adequate leg- and knee-room for a six-footer to sit comfortably behind another; slid fully forward, they maximize cargo room.
In general, the cabin is warm, modern and inviting, with lots of soft-touch materials in our leather-lined Santa Fe Sport AWD 2.0T test vehicle. The panoramic sunroof is huge, with sectioned hidden storage under the load floor.
We loved the fact that virtually all buttons and controls are easy to see, read and reach, with good-size white letters and graphics. The three-spoke steering wheel has large, well-marked audio and cruise controls on its horizontal spokes. Phone, voice-command and trip-computer buttons sit along both lower edges of its V-shaped center hub. On the dashboard to the left of the wheel are controls for instrument lighting, Hillstart Assist, Active ECO mode, heated steering wheel and the AWD center differential lock. In the vertical stack to the right are the thoughtfully designed and conveniently arranged audio, navigation and climate controls.
The two primary instruments are a large, round tachometer (left) and speedometer (right), flanking the central information/trip computer screen. Inside the tach are a coolant temperature dial and a gear selection indicator, while the speedometer houses matching readouts for fuel and outside temperature. The trip computer conveniently displays average and instantaneous fuel economy and range at the same time, and can toggle through other information on demand.
Both sun visors (with vanity mirrors) swing and extend for side sun protection, and there's a sunglasses holder in the overhead between them. A nice touch is convenient placement of two (of the four) 12V outlets flanking USB and Aux ports above a bin under the vertical console. The large, deep console storage box has a small-item tray under its cover. The driver's side console cup holder can accommodate a typical ceramic cup with handle, and the commodious door storage bins can securely hold large cups or water bottles.
Audio volume is controlled by a large central knob, while an even larger one in the climate cluster below it handles fan speed. We appreciated the radio's scan function, too often missing in some modern cars; but there's no knob for station fine tuning, which means that weaker stations are missed while the system electronically seeks and finds the stronger ones. One constant annoyance for iPod users is that the Shuffle function must be reset (a two-step process) every time you re-start the car or change functions or playlists. Most modern systems remember and return to Shuffle (aka Random), as they do the previously set volume and song, but not Hyundai's.
On the positive side, continuing the theme of the surrounding hard buttons, the big audio/navigation touchscreen displays large, easy-to-read and -activate touch pads. The navigation system's function and graphics are outstanding, offering realistic representations of route-related intersections and interchanges. We tried using voice commands to select destinations with mixed results.
We drove front-wheel-drive base and turbocharged Santa Fe Sport models on city streets and curvy country roads during a press event, then borrowed a 2.0T AWD example for a few days at home. The base 2.4-liter engine's performance seemed more than adequate on flat roads with light loads, but we recommend the available 2.0T turbocharged four for family excursions, especially in hilly country. Wide-open-throttle zero-to-60-mph acceleration with the former takes roughly nine seconds, while the turbo four is about two seconds quicker.
We found our test Santa Fe Sport AWD 2.0T pleasant to drive in nearly every way. Its on-demand performance was ample, its ride quiet, smooth and controlled over most surfaces. Braking was strong, stable and fade-free. Handling fell short of nimble, but as good as most competitors in its class.
The steering mode settings, selectable via a steering-wheel button, add 10 percent effort (vs. Normal) in Sport mode (our choice) and subtract 10 percent in Comfort mode for low-speed maneuvering. The AWD's Active Corner Control, while transparent to the driver, seemed effective in keeping all four tires firmly planted even when driving aggressively.
Our only disappointment was averaging 21-22 mpg in mostly freeway driving, in line with its 21-mpg EPA combined rating, but short of its 24-mpg Highway EPA estimate.
In a brief test-drive, a larger Santa Fe Limited delivered a pleasant ride, along with ample performance from the V6 powertrain. Though it feels rather big, and has loads of space inside, the long-wheelbase Santa Fe drives easily, if with less agility than a Sport. Set against the Santa Fe Sport, and against its own competitors, the bigger, mid-size Santa Fe also comes across as a bit more nondescript, without great differentiation from rivals in its class.
Hyundai has made great strides in styling, quality and overall pleasability of its cars in recent years, especially the mid-size Sonata (which shares the Santa Fe's platform) and compact Azera. These two entries in the highly-competitive compact/mid-size CUV segment stand proudly alongside them. They are major improvements over the departed 2012 Santa Fe and Veracruz, fully competitive and worthy of consideration.
Veteran automotive journalist Gary Witzenburg filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drive of the Santa Fe Sport near Detroit.