2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T AWD Road Test

Remarkably unremarkable and better off for it.

What It Is
Hyundai's third-generation midsize crossover, now with a turbocharged four-cylinder instead of a V-6.
Best Thing
It's quiet, comfortable, confident, and punchy.
Worst Thing
Neither its sub-par fuel economy nor its $36,000 price will have you thinking it's cheap.
Snap Judgment
Toyota and Honda no longer have a lock on the do-it-all, family-hauling appliance market. But this Hyundai's price is a bit rich.

Much like watching the "Harlem Shake," there's a lot of noise, movement, and confusion as to what you're looking at when it comes to Hyundai. Most of us still think a Hyundai ought to undercut its competition in both performance and price; that's not the case anymore. A Hyundai is supposed to be a small car; most aren't. While no Hyundai to date has made us think that the automaker has come up with a vehicle that has knocked us on our well-padded posteriors, Hyundai has earned its place at the big kids' table in the auto industry with a solid portfolio of top-selling vehicles.

The 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport yet another extension of the lots of stuff shoved into a pretty decent vehicle idea, right after the last slew of new Hyundais hit the market. We wouldn't hold it against you if you didn't know what all was in Hyundai's fleet of cars and crossovers. And with a bigger three-row version of the Santa Fe coming within months, it's going to be even more confusing for the undiscerning shopper.

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Crossing paths with both cheaper crossovers like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 as well as more premium fashions of transportation like the Toyota Venza and GMC Terrain, the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport carves no new territory. It's just designed to cultivate the real estate in Hyundai's lineup left by the outgoing Santa Fe and move a little upmarket at a price point where the other Santa Fe starts. While Associate Editor Matt Askari drove the Santa Fe Sport last summer, not holding back on his long list of praise for it, he tested it in the desert on flat roads, away from our dense pocket of life and chaos in Los Angeles. Would the change of scenery hurt its likability?

What We Drove

Unless you need heated rear seats and heated and cooled leather thrones up front, there's a good chance our 2013 Santa Fe Sport isn't necessarily representative of what you'll actually be shopping for. Nevertheless, we took in a fully loaded Santa Fe Sport 2.0T that comes in more than $10,000 above the $25,295 non-turbocharged base model.

While well-appointed at that price, the $28,545 Santa Fe 2.0T adds some features beyond its 264-horsepower optional engine, including 19-inch wheels, automatic headlights, a remote starter, roof rails, power heated mirrors, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. All-wheel drive adds another $1,750 to the bottom line.

From there, the leather and premium package adds another $2,450 and includes dual-zone climate control, leather seats, a power passenger seat, and a 4.3-inch touchscreen, among other features. The Technology package adds another $2,900 on top of that and throws in an 8-inch touchscreen in place of the smaller unit with navigation and a 12-speaker, 550-watt stereo, panoramic sunroof, and rear sunshades. Along with carpeted floor mats ($135) and a cargo cover ($150), totaling $35,930.

That's a good chunk of change, but it's right in line with a loaded Ford Escape Titanium, which looks to be its closest rival. It'll also get you a five-star overall government safety rating and an IIHS "Top Safety Pick" title. If you have smaller kids, you'll also be happy to know that with large rear door openings and relatively soft foam seats, installing a child seat is a relative cinch, with LATCH points for two kiddie thrones.

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The Commute

We can't remember the last time a Hyundai didn't deliver on outstanding ergonomics and a quality fit and finish. Immediately apparent in the 2013 Santa Fe Sport is the ease of use of the controls, whether because of the large knobs, the touchscreen, the controls on the steering wheel, or just how well-marked everything is.

We found its seats also fairly comfortable, soft and not too well-bolstered, but supportive enough to ward off long-distance fatigue. If we got cold, we just turned on the heated seats and the steering wheel warmer. If the Santa Fe Sport's interior got too warm, the front seats cooled, too, making it easy to get comfortable. And if we wanted some fresh air, we opened the windows and ginormous sunroof that spanned nearly the entire length of the passenger compartment.

In a vehicle this size, there's usually a V-6 powertrain with oodles of torque--pulling force--for getting up to speed. Here, we have a small, turbocharged four-cylinder engine that has a little lag from get-go that's mitigated by an excellent six-speed automatic transmission. Whenever you need to keep up with traffic, the little engine can do its part, but we saw right under 19 mpg in mixed driving with plenty of highway travel. That's close to the Santa Fe's city rating but 2 mpg short of its mixed number. We were expecting better.

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The Grocery Run

Only having to make do with two rows of seats, there's plenty of room in back for cargo--35.4 cubic feet, in fact. That was enough to engulf all 20 of our grocery bags we test with and have some room to spare. With the rear seat folded, that space doubles to 71.5 cubic feet. With flip-fold compartments underneath the floor in back, there's a little more space beyond that. Cavernous? We'd say so.

The rear bench is a 60-40 split-folding bench that can slide back and forth and has a fold-out armrest in the middle. We found it comfortable, but unsupportive. If not for the seatbelts, we'd have slid from side to side in quick turns, which would be amusing if it were legal.

On the electronics front, the screen made using the backup camera a snap, with a large, but somewhat pixilated, image on the screen. Likewise, we found pairing smartphones easy. Along the same lines, our Santa Fe Sport came with Blue Link that included a smartphone app that can start the vehicle remotely, find it in a busy parking lot, or even tell you where you parked and when your parking meter expires.

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The Weekend Fun

Fun? What fun? Despite being an overachiever on the practicality front, there's not much driving satisfaction to be had here. And that's a bit upsetting. In saying this, we're not asking for this thing to compete with Porsches, but we would like to feel some sort of connectedness to the road that both the competing Ford Escape and slightly smaller Mazda CX-5 have.

While comfortable, we found the Santa Fe Sport's suspension not all that sporty. In tight handling, it feels top-heavy. The Santa Fe Sport wafts leisurely down the highway and wouldn't be all that unpleasant as a long-distance traveler. But getting up to speed felt like a strain on the small engine--once again, Hyundai's incredibly smooth automatic balanced out the little engine's lack of grunt.

The Santa Fe Sport has three selectable steering weights--Normal, Sport, and Comfort. We recommend avoiding Comfort, as it feels as though the steering rack were shot with a dangerously high dose of Novocain. One of our editors noticed back and forth tugging from left to right at constant speeds that he felt were nothing short of disconcerting. And the antilock brakes made a crunching noise once during our drive with the car while on dry, flat pavement at low speeds. That only happened once though, and we couldn't repeat it.

Between the design and the build quality, there's little to dislike with the Santa Fe Sport. But at $36,000, we'd expect to find a little more pizzazz in its driving character, especially when there are crossovers out there that will wow you with their moves for less cash.

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From the LED headlight accents to the cavernous cargo bay, there's a lot to like about the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport. Somewhere between those bookends are more luxury items than what used to be available in a high-end luxury car. Used to be.

Now, you can get most of the same features in a Nissan Murano or Ford Escape at prices that are on-par with the Santa Fe. The Hyundai still has its 10-year powertrain warranty pulling in its favor, though.

But peeling back the frills and fripperies, the Santa Fe Sport just doesn't feel as polished as the similarly priced competition, losing some of the luster that made Hyundais such compelling buys over the past few years. It'd be easy for us to forgive the mediocre steering feel, the somewhat laggy engine, and overly cushy suspension if it were a grand or two cheaper like Hyundais of yore. But it isn't. The Santa Fe Sport aims squarely at the competition that, when loaded, is more than $5,000 over the price of the average new car last year. It's pretty good, sure, but for what Hyundai is asking, it should be better.

So we have two conclusions for the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport: Hold out hope that Hyundai can improve its driving dynamics next year on its high-dollar version, or just check out a still very well-equipped base model. The Santa Fe Sport is far more palatable when it's not competing at a premium price point.

Spec Box

Price-as-tested: $35,930
Fuel Economy
EPA City: 19 mpg
EPA Highway: 24 mpg
EPA Combined: 21 mpg
Cargo Space: 20+ Grocery Bags Child Seat Fitment, Second Row: Good Estimated Combined Range: 365.4 miles
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: Below Average

Notebook Quotes

"The Santa Fe is definitely one of the better products to come from Hyundai recently. Nothing really overwhelmed me from a mechanical standpoint, but the interior is ergonomically friendly and easy to interact with. If you're more focused on hauling the kids and cargo all over town rather than the drive itself, then the Santa Fe is a solid choice." -Trevor Dorchies, Associate Editor
"After 10 miles, I considered driving it back. I was honestly scared of driving this vehicle. I'm not being funny right now. I'm not overstating a minor problem, or airing a personal grievance against an automaker. If it didn't take me 30 minutes to drive that 10 miles, I would have turned back." -Jason Davis, Associate Editor
"If I were going to spend $36,000 on a Hyundai, it'd be on this, and not the Azera. That said, if I was going to spend $36,000 on a crossover, it probably wouldn't be this." -Keith Buglewicz, News Director