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2013 Hyundai Santa Fe 7 Passenger Review By Martha Hindes

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2013 Hyundai Santa Fe (7 Passenger)
2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Gets Stretched in Appeal to Family Buyers

By Martha Hindes
The Auto Channel <
Michigan Bureau

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My driving partner, another automotive journalist, was determined to check out the creature comfort of Hyundai's stretched Santa Fe midsize crossover. So, although I was just coming to stop at a four corners traffic light, she proceeded to clamber through seatbacks and settled into the newly added third row to find out for herself. The timing was perfect. Bottom met seat just as the light changed and I gunned the accelerator.

"I wanted to see if I'd feel claustrophobic," she offered, noting my startled look, then added, "It is low. And the rear windows are high." At a diminutive height, far below that of a basketball player, her head barely surfaced in the rear view mirror, but I could see a good six inches of headroom above her and we both could envision someone a shade shorter than Kobe Bryant sliding into the rear seat for a longer haul drive.

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My driving partner slid the reclining second row seating forward for more third row toe wiggle room, then we opened the panoramic sunroof's interior cover to remove any feeling of limited space. That did the trick. "I could ride back here for a while," she observed, then turned to play with the third row's air conditioning controls.

The impromptu seating switch was the result of Hyundai's positioning of its newly redesigned long wheelbase Santa Fe in the middle of the hot and competitive crossover vehicle pack. Hyundai had brought a cluster of the longer Santa Fe CUVs to its southeast Michigan Technical Center then cut them loose with several dozen auto writers, in pairs, to check them out.

As Hyundai execs describe it, the world of crossover vehicles fits one of three groups: The Pre-Family crowd, the Families, and the Post Family faction. While it has been well served with the subcompact Tucson aimed at singles or empty nesters and more recently the redesigned Santa Fe Sport for five, there was a pretty noticeable gap where larger families were concerned. The now defunct larger 2012 Hyundai Veracruz simply hadn't caught on with consumers.

According to HyundaI, the shorter, two-row five-seater has been winning over converts from some other auto brands and the company wants that to continue with the 2013 longer wheelbase version. Hyundai cites conquests of Ford, Toyota, Honda, Chevrolet and Nissan owners – in that order – as those who have moved to the shorter wheelbase Santa Fe.

With that as a tasty appetizer, the company is aiming at those needing to seat six or seven who might otherwise be customers of the comparably-sized Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota Highlander and Mazda CX9.

How to do it?

As with other models, Hyundai has gone after the emotional factor with a design philosophy it calls "Fluidic Sculpture." That means a certain look, nuance, must-have demeanor guaranteed to get a second and third glance. We found the design language translated into a sleek overall contemporary appearance that promised to be as capable as needed, but not overly brash and muscular. Hyundai, it seems, has managed to tap into the visual mood of many of the American drivers it is targeting. Among the elements, a high rising beltline forming a base for windows that taper rearward extending into the third row space. A bold nose and large, five spoke aluminum alloy wheels anchor the look. And an expansive sunroof from fore to aft brings the outside in.

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Adding to that is a handsome interior, more eye-catching we both agreed in the two tone textured vanilla and black on the front-drive version we tested than in solid black on our all-wheel-drive test model. (Cloth seat versions have a spill-resistant coating.) Gauges inside were easily reached and controlled by one shorter than a six-footer, sometimes a turn-off if an auto maker has not factored in the necessary stretch factor. The requisite navigation system seemed devoid of screen information until we allowed for the lack of roads in the wholly rural landscape that made up the majority of our driving route. It jumped appropriately to life when two-lane country roads gave way to express roads through more urban areas.

Both of our test models were the top Limited trim level for six, laden with the goodies, including leather, that can push a sticker price up a few thou, a direction many vehicle consumers now seem to be heading. (Remember some of those basic vehicle fundamentals like windows with crank handles? Do those even exist any more?) The second row seating in our Santa Fe for six had fold-flat captain's chairs instead of the seven-passenger GLS model's 40-20-40 bench seat.

Before our drive we got a thorough grounding on the pluses of the long wheelbase version that added 3.9 inches to the wheelbase and 8.5 inches of overall length. Among them is its grunt factor. Since larger families might be the ones to trailer a boat or small camper, all versions can handle as much as a 5,000-pound payload right out of the box.

A height-adjustable power rear tailgate can accommodate those of different heights. Push the button and set how high you want it, a nice touch for an umbrella function while loading during a rainstorm. Third row seats fold flat, and second row ones are nearly flat when it's time to move cargo rather than kids. When they're riding in back, there's an additional 12-volt adapter for plugging in.

The powerplant is the same in both long wheelbase trim levels -- GLS or the upmarket Limited with 19-inch wheels that we test drove. It's Hyundai's 3.3-liter GDI (Gasoline Direct Injection) 24-valve V-6 that punches out 252 lb-ft of torque in addition to 290 horsepower. (The only GDI V-6 standard in the midsize class, Hyundai claims.) There's push button start, and a six-speed automatic with Shiftronic for faux manual mode as the only transmission. But the AWD model felt a little gutsier when driving and had a secure grip on the rain soaked pavement that had started our day. The driver selectable function on the motor driven power steering added to the easy and stress-free handling.

In citing fuel economy ratings of 18 city, 25 highway and 21 combined with active ECO system, (one less for AWD highway and combined) Hyundai reminded us that driving characteristics vary with the driver and can impact the actual fuel economy one gets.

Safety features include active cornering control (AWD version), rearview camera (Limited) plus Hill start Assist Control and Downhill Brake Control in addition to the expected tire pressure monitoring, vehicle stability, ABS and seven airbag system.

On the tech side, for starters there's Bluetooth hands free phone, Blue Link Telematics System and remote keyless entry.

Two upgrade packages -- Popular Equipment ($950) including automatic headlight controller and windshield wiper deicer, and Leather and Premium Equipment ($4,100) including heated second row seats -- are optional on the GLS. An available technology package ($2,900) on the Limited edition includes 8-inch touch screen navigation system, heated steering wheel and manual rear side window shades.

In positioning the extended Santa Fe, Hyundai points out that pricing ($28,350 base for the front-drive GLS and $33,100 base for the front-drive Limited, or $34,850 for AWD) are below the entry costs of its four major competitors.

And with Spring finally springing forth, Hyundai thinks their choices will be irresistible.

Copyright 2013 Martha Hindes. All rights reserved.