First Drive Review: 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited proves that mainstream need not be boring

I’m not married. Nor do I have any kids, a 401K, a mortgage, and an underlying fear for discoloring hair and sagging body parts invoked by the stress of a nine-to-fiver and coming home some to juniors running around…yet (no offense). But all in all, I pretty much seem like the worst candidate to be reviewing the all-new and completely redone 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe. And that’s because, majority of the people in the market for a crossover SUV are left with options that only blend you into the mainstream automotive hodgepodge. It’s the kind of market that me, being the youthful college upperclassman that I am, seeks to avoid simply because I am by virtue, the complete antithesis to the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe’s intended market.

But the company as a whole has certainly reaffirmed its footprint in the automobile industry as of recent, representing one of the greatest automotive turnarounds of the new millennium. So that said, even my youthful self was curious to see how Hyundai’s efforts paid off with their latest model, the redesigned 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe.

Pedantic individuals would keenly note from the pictures alone that this new Santa Fe is, well, a little bit on the big side. And that’s because it is. The original Hyundai Santa Fe was originally classified as a compact SUV when compared to its peewee subcompact sibling, the Tucson. Over the course of time, the Hyundai Santa Fe grew over time from market demand, but it essentially still remained a compact crossover—and that’s something that this particular 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe, isn’t.

First Review - 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited AWD Collage2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited Specifications:

  • Style: 6-Seater Midsized Crossover.
  • Seating Capacity: 6.
  • Base Price: $35,695.
  • Engine: 3.3-Liter Lambda II V6 – 290hp at 6400 rpm and 252 lb-ft at 5200 rpm.
  • Transmission: 6-speed automatic with SHIFTRONIC manual operation.
  • 0 to 60 mph: 7.5 seconds (Est.).
  • Top Speed: 120 mph.
  • Curb Weight: 4,400 lbs.
  • Fuel-economy: 18/25 mpg (city/highway)

For the incoming generation, this specific 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited is actually the brand’s intended Veracruz six- and seven-seater replacement. Though, obviously, gone is the original Veracruz name, which is in a bid to simplify the brand’s lineup nomenclature for marketing reasons that I’m not exactly here to talk about. Hyundai still offers their original compact-sized Santa Fe five-seater for the new generation. This top-spec 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited however means a longer wheelbase and overall length to make way for a third row, plus a little some. Quite specifically, the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited is a whole eight and a half inches longer in length than the original and succeeding compact base 2013 Santa Fe, which they call the Sport model. There’s also a nearly four-inch increase to the wheelbase as well, for an overall 38.6 cubic foot increase in total interior volume. But, before we move onto the interior, let’s start off with the looks.


The new 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited isn’t the most striking automobile to capture my vision, though I have to admit that it is by far the best looking crossover in its competitive market set. Despite its rather conservative proportions and aesthetic details, the new Hyundai Santa Fe does an absolutely solid job of visually separating itself from the rest of the pack. It wholly employs the brand’s design philosophy internally coined as “fluidic sculpture,” made famous on the current generation Hyundai Sonata. The Santa Fe, is just that—fluid, and is thus synonymous to sleek. In a sense, they’re sort of visually like the current Audis in a metaphoric way, wherein most of Audi’s lineup aren’t particularly outrageous to look at—few models notwithstanding. But that leads me to the next adjective they certainly are—and that is, handsome. The Santa Fe just seems to avoid the utter blandness of the new Nissan Pathfinder and the boringriffic Toyota Highlander, the rather odd and aging uprightness of Honda Pilot, and the fussiness of the Ford Explorer and the Mazda CX-9. Okay, maybe the tester’s metallic red paint may have made it a little more convincing…


First Review - 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited AWD Interior Collage

Calling it the Veracruz then would’ve probably harmed its image like naming your child after an exotic and unheard of fruit. The inside of the Santa Fe is equally as fluidic and appealing as the outside with build quality hovering well up there with the other segment leaders. There of course exists the same abundance of hard and soft plastics, though like many of the brand’s other models, they are fairly well executed in their placement, visual appeal, quality and touch. Some of the buttonage did need some getting used to, because like many of the other equally value conscious competitors, the Santa Fe comes very decently equipped. The top-spec Limited version tester I was at the helm of came complete with all-wheel drive and the $2,900 Technology Package. That means extra options like sat-nav, a wonderful panoramic sunroof and a captain’s chair second row—a setup that’s often considered to be left to the more premium segments.

If you’re in the market for a midsized six seater, the implication would be that you have a need to haul some extra people around on the common occasion—most likely some youngens. That is, if you haven’t already sold them off for medical experiments so you afford that dream Ferrari of yours. And the long wheelbase Santa Fe offers plenty of room even for not just their growing frames, but adults as well. The combination of the second row individual buckets and the panoramic roof make for a very cozy and cosseting feeling atmosphere with ample head space. The third row bench even offered just enough room for my 5’11 figure for just a casual journey. Should you want the seven-seater Santa Fe with the second row bench, you’ll have to opt for the slightly lesser GLS model, which is the same size but similarly equipped. Cloth seats are standard and you opt out on some of the other extras like the panoramic sunroof and the fancy five-spoke 19-inch wheels like on this Limited.

Hyundai didn’t skimp in the front either as the seats all around were very comfortable and supportive. The fronts were nicely adjustable to a variety of heights and positions from gangsta’ lean low to cocky high-horse urbanite. Though a nice medium of in between presented a very good seating position with excellent visibility all around. Of course, the Santa Fe comes standard with a rear-facing camera for reverse maneuvers.

First Review - 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited Interior Dashboard


So what makes it go? An in-house 3.3L Lambda II GDI V6 complete with direct injection is the only option for the long wheelbase models good for 290hp and 252 lb-ft of twist on the regular propellant. That’s on par with the equivalently equipped segment leader, the 2013 Ford Explorer, which produces 290hp and 255 lb-ft of torque from its 3.5L Duratec V6. Channeling that power to all four-wheels is a six-speed automatic cog swapper—no CVT here unlike the new Nissan Pathfinder. Wrong Front-wheel drive is also available as a less expensive option as well. Hyundai hasn’t released specific performance figures as of yet, but the Santa Fe’s V6 proved to be quite torquey, with most of it being readily available in the mid-to-upper rev range.  This, in conjunction to the well-spaced gears of cog swapper provided more than ample yahoo power for a crossover of this kind when going wide-open throttle. It is also a very smooth and refined powerplant with a linear power delivery. But don’t expect to be burning anyone off at any red lights as the Santa Fe accelerates with the leisure of most of its other competitors.

When interacting with a few of the other individuals representing other outlets at the Hyundai Drive Event featuring the new Santa Fe and the updated Sonata Hybrid for the 2013 model year, I’ve heard some describe the new Santa Fe’s handling as “mainstream,” with some even describing this particular Limited model as “a little hard riding,” particularly due to 19-inch top-speed five spoke alloy runners. Though, many of them did have quite a few more years on me, so I reckoned they were a little bit more sensitive. Because I truly didn’t find the Santa Fe to be hard riding. In fact, I felt the Santa Fe rode quite excellently, especially over the battered roadways of upper Manhattan and all the way through Westchester County.

Now let’s be honest, there really shouldn’t be a great expectation for handling or crazy performance for a refrigerator on wheels. But I genuinely found myself extraordinarily impressed with the way the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited drove. Hyundai has been noted to be progressively improving the refinement with the way their cars feel in efforts to aim more upmarket and this new crossover is no different. The new Santa Fe benefits from the use of MacPherson struts up front and a fully impendent multi-link setup at the hindquarters. The result was a ride that I found to be rather sublime and very comfortable, yet completely void of the isolation and undulation from, for example, the Toyota Highlander. Sure, this ain’t no Mercedes-Benz GL-Class. But the Santa Fe Limited rode with the most pomp and circumstance that I’ve ever experienced in a mainstream crossover, this side of the major luxury automakers from Europe. Cruising about the local highways and Interstates of North Jersey and suburban New York at speed yielded an extremely hunkered ride that is Autobahn worthy. At 70 MPH, I literally felt like I could get outside and run faster. And potholes? “What potholes?” said the Santa Fe.

Handling was equally as much of a shocker, in a “I did that in THIS?” sort of way. Because remember folks, this is a midsized crossover that tips well into the two-ton mark. Despite this, I found myself downshifting and powering away from the sharp turns and the on-ramps of the Saw Mill River Parkway with a little bit of an unnerving grin. I was shocked to have noticed my bum feeling the rear independent links work about as I hauled ass out of some on-ramps in Northern New Jersey. The steering dialed in some surprises too. Hyundai’s tillers have been reasonably described as feeling artificial and under overly light in the past and on several different models, which was no thanks to the trend towards the use of electrically assisted steering. When behind the new Santa Fe’s, those memories were virtually left in the pages of history as I found there to be some quality accuracy and weighting and again, was shocked to have noticed some road feel for something in this market segment. Hyundai also equipped its steering rack with a variable effort option, ranging from Comfort, Normal, and Sport. The change from Comfort to Sport makes to steering less assisted and actually contributes to a rather connected feel to the Santa Fe, making its direct competition feel dull in comparison. The only other competitor that has the slightest edge would be the Mazda CX-9.

First Review - 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited AWD Exterior Collage

What really proved to be a testimony for the Santa Fe’s drive was the dash through the Saw Mill River to the Rockefeller Park Preserve, just outside Sleepy Hollow, and a slightly too fast approach on the on-ramp to the West Side Highway off of the George Washington in Upper Manhattan. Through the sharp turns and hilly curves of the Saw Mill, the Hyundai Santa Fe Limited felt a slight bit smaller than its six-passenger size suggested and demonstrated mid-corner composure like a well-behaved GT car on stilts with a big open boot. The brakes were tuned to offer good pedal feel and progression without being under- or overwhelming. And overall, the Hyundai Santa Fe was just easy to drive much faster than you really ought to expect in a larger midsized crossover. In fact, out of the many descriptors that I could use to illustrate the way the 2013 Santa Fe Limited drove, the one truly embedded in my mind was solid. On my return from Jersey, I found myself approaching the sharp right-hander for the southbound West Side Highway a bit faster than anticipated. But the Santa Fe took it with grace and pace without making me fear for the fact that too much speed was involved. In other words, with the handling limits set just slightly higher than majority of its competition for this two-ton leviathan, the Santa Fe proved to be somewhat rewarding in its own bespoke ways.


While the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe steps its game up into a market segment that is already extremely competitive, it does so with a quality and commendable effort that even has me, someone who’s not really supposed to be interested in this sort of vehicle, truly appreciating it for what it is. I felt like there was a solid attention to detail, which has led Hyundai to serve up a spacious, comfortable, and well-mannered mid-sized crossover for the masses that’s also good looking and excellent to drive. But above all, Hyundai truly tackled some previously cited issues with refinement by supplying a drive that you could almost mistaken for something posh from Germany…just almost. But at the as-tested price of $38,595 fully equipped, the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited screams value to the tenth degree, simply because it drives and feels like a more expensive and premium vehicle.

Moms, dads, if you care at all about the car that you drive and haul your family about in and really don’t want to succumb yourself to the abundant and ubiquitous choices of the midsized crossover segment, then look no further than the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe long-wheelbase. Because much in the same way Honda and Mazda have proven that front-wheel drive cars can handle, Hyundai proves that mainstream need not be boring.

– By: Chris Chin

Hyundai Motor America provided the vehicle, gas, and lunch at a specially arranged drive event.

All Photos Copyright egmCarTech © Chris Chin.