Driving 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport By Thom Cannell


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2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport


By Thom Cannell
Senior Editor
Michigan Bureau
The Auto Channel

In a previous story we alluded to the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe’s weight loss program, its increased muscularity and power. This review is the hard, technical stuff for the enthusiast feeling left out by allusions to spa treatments and personal trainers.


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Santa Fe Sport, the short wheel base version (a long wheel base people hauler arrives soon) is indeed muscular — if you define muscles as a testosterone injection of high strength. What makes the Sport fun to drive is rigid and quiet chassis resulting from a variety of well understood chassis modifications at every corner. Its typical MacPherson strut front end is now better isolated with larger diameter sub frame mounting bushings to deter road and tire noise while adding stiffness. Under the hood, the strut towers are stiffer and link to form a racing-type braced tower for less steering deflection. The rear multilink suspension moves some linkage into the wheel area (both FWD and RWD, though they’re obviously different) to increase the rear cabin volume. It also makes the ride more comfortable even when on challenging rutted or stone-covered roads.

Elsewhere, small improvements make significant differences to the suspension. All the bushings in lower arms and rear trailing arms are larger in diameter for ride quality. Rear dampers are improved for more control and we could feel the difference when it just wouldn’t dance over ruts and bumps.

Santa Fe’s AWD is a system designed by Magna called Dynamax. Magna says, and we agree, that the system reacts nearly instantaneously to wheel slip or torque requirements. Even on dirt and gravel slip is limited to practically nothing and, in our limited experience on normal roads, there’s zero permitted slip. Dynamax’s torque transfer assists in smoothly and accurately pointing into corners.


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Dynamax is a fully active AWD coupling that uses a small electro-hydraulic torque controller to activate internal clutch plates. Gathering information from the stability control system, it reads steering angle, wheel speed and accelerator position, factors in yaw (rotation) to determine whether it should apply traction control, brake control, or a combination. Maga says its system has less drag, an ability to decouple, and high thermal capacity for long life. Other low down goodies include vented front and solid rear discs for a stopping distance Hyundai says is better than its rivals, albeit by a few inches or up to 11 feet shorter distance.


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Another detail results from an extremely solid implementation of EPAS—electronic activated power steering. Sport’s Driver Selectable Steering Mode is a trio of steering resistances that go from 10% higher to 10% lower from a Normal setting which you’ll like so well you might never change. Sport setting is aggressive and useful charging up slippery mountain trails while channeling your inner Rhys Millen-ness. Sport setting is unnecessarily demanding of muscle on the freeway as it should be. DSSM is controlled from the steering wheel and displayed on the instrument pane at the push of a button. On those rock spitting, full throttle attacks along two-track roads we also put Dynamax to the test. Frankly the Santa Fe is no rally car, it’s stuck down tighter than a politician at an open debate. Instead of tail-out power slides in the dirt we drove the Sport more like Buffum’s old Quattro—point and shoot, and yes there is power to really shoot.


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An underrated portion of the Santa Fe Sport’s nimble chassis is its use of multiple grades of high strength steels. They do make it lighter than equally new CUV’s like Escape, and Hyundai says Sport is one of the few CUVs in its segment under 4,000 pounds at 3,459.
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Extremely stiff HSS is used in critical side panels to reduce impact intrusion, and across and along body structural rails to move impact forces across or through the body. The strongest steels are reserved for front head-on collision strength and to create a roll cage structure around occupants. Hyundai also laser welds panels with different strengths and thickness together to place meat and muscle where needed. Their weight loss did not involve exotic materials, leaving Hyundai plenty of opportunity to shed more pounds. That stronger steel also creates a vehicle that feels so solid that rigidity is not a feature, it just is.

The vehicle also includes 69 new pounds of NVH—noise, vibration, and harshness—improvements like thicker floor insulation, acoustic windscreen, a thick noise absorber pad behind the dashboard, and improved bushings. We noticed the quietness most on those stone chucking mountain rally roads. Instead of the familiar “ping” or clang of stone-on-metal, we got quiet thuds, some rumble, and our conversations never required shouting.

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Reasons for quietness are the HVH measures just mentioned along with multi-layer wheel wells that insulate tire and road noise intercepting rocks and gravel. Cannell SantaFe13Lauch-2554

Quietness is not only for creating a luxury ambiance that rivals more expensive vehicles. More vitally, telematics and voice recognition demand a quiet environment. Hyundai focused noise abatement across speech frequencies so voice control could function better, improving quietness across normal human speech and hearing frequencies. (It’s so stupid quiet that reviewing audio notes we heard what sounded like a rough highway, and actually was rocks and stones tumbling and banging in the wheel wells!)


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The only engine we tested was Hyundai’s excellent 2.0-Liter turbocharged mill. Our testing occurred at 7,600 feet to 8857 feet highest and the base engine would have sucked big time—literally, as altitude robs 10% of horsepower every 1,000 feet. Widely reviewed since introduction last year the direct injected engine uses a twin-scroll turbocharger for near-instant response and increased low end torque. The turbo intake is integrated into the exhaust manifold which minimizes delays before the turbocharger contributes its boost—AKA turbo lag. Valve timing is continuously variable on both intake and exhaust which increase performance, lower emissions and improve fuel economy. An increasingly familiar tool used to improve economy is an air guide or baffle on top of the intercooler. As needed the guide channels cooling air to the charge air cooler and can close off air flow while cruising, further increasing fuel economy through reduction of aerodynamic resistance. The result is a very strong 264 horsepower and 269 pounds-feet of torque at 1,750 rpm on regular fuel (note that at 7,600 feet output without a turbo output would have been well under 200 hp). For comparison, Ford’s excellent EcoBoost 2.0 claims 268 hp and 246 pound-feet at 4,700 rpm. Santa Fe’s maximum torque at lower rpm makes vehicles feel more powerful and gives Hyundai an advantage.

Regardless engine choice all Santa Fe Sports rock out Hyundai’s 6-speed automatic with a manual shift mode it calls Shiftronic. There’s also a selectable Active ECO system to smooth out throttle application for those with nervous or musical right feet. At altitudes above 8000 feet we usually downshifted from fourth to third to provide the turbo an abundance of exhaust gas to spin up the turbine wheels. The resulting power was impressive, and when the turbo and AWD kicks in it adds stability and a feeling of greater solidity. It's not the activity of the AWD system per se, rather chassis starts to feel even more solid and predictable, kind of like an NFL front line on the second “Hut”. Hyundai and Magna/Dynamax engineers spent 3 days tuning iterations of torque vectoring, stretching the boundaries of control without creating that old and ugly “let me help you” feeling.


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We’d be slackers if we didn’t note all the new tech stuffed under the roof, like their BlueLink telematics system. Yes, it does many of the same things we’ve experienced from others, and it does it well (though the data base provider missed a few and routed us back to the hotel the long-long-long way). What we like most about the safety and security service is an iPhone app which serves your favorite cocktail. Well, it does dish up remote start, find the car, unlock doors, sound the horn and light lights, can send interesting points of interest to the vehicle, schedule service, access maintenance and has few user complaints, mostly time from command to execution, or having to enter user info each time for security. We’ve mentioned the quiet interior and yes, it does improve accuracy in voice commands in our limited testing. We even called home on the first voice dial.


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