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A Victory & Reseda review of the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe

Remember the Veracruz?

In case you needed to be reminded of Hyundai's mid-sized three-row crossover that once graced our market for a few years, it was somewhat forgettable. It just seemed that a few people in North America bought it – especially when it faced some serious competition. The likes of General Motors' Lambda triplets, the new Ford Explorer, the Dodge Durango and the new Nissan Pathfinder may have relegated the Veracruz into stasis – somewhere between the Pontiac Aztek, and the entire Ssangyong lineup.

Perhaps after the Veracruz, the prevailing thought would that Hyundai abandoning this growing segment. No…not even. Hyundai wants to play in every segment it could compete in North America with. Yet, Hyundai simply does not want to compete – it wants to win.

The third generation Santa Fe has this covered. They actually have a double-pronged lineup designed to compete with both two- and three-row mid-sized crossovers. The two-row Sport lead off this offensive with a choice a four-cylinder and a turbocharged model. The three-row model was just introduced, effectively replacing the Veracruz. As the first three-row Santa Fe, its mission is to take a widely sold nameplate to compete directly with the likes of the Pathfinder, the GM Lambdas, the Durango, the Explorer, the Mazda CX-9…and so forth.

Was this the right move for Hyundai? The Sport and the larger Santa Fe shares practically the same front-end design as each other. From there, things are slightly different.

Visually, Hyundai make great steps towards visually improving the larger three-row Santa Fe over the Veracruz. The front end is almost shared with the smaller Sport, but with the different, more elegant grille texture. From there, the Santa Fe followed the latest Fluidic Sculpture design language to create continuity from bow to stern.

Doors open wide for both front and rear occupants. The rear doors in particular open wide enough for third row access. A huge liftgate helps to load everything you need for an adventure somewhere – from camping to an invasion of the mall. Eighteen-inch alloys with Kumho tires finish off the big Santa Fe's overall look.

2013 Hyundai Santa Fe GLS AWD

As with the latest Hyundai vehicles, the Fluidic Sculpture design language continues inside. Instrumentation is of a good size with secondary dials for engine temperature and fuel gauges inside of each dial. A switchable screen gives you all the information you need for fuel consumption and other trip measurements. Controls feel good and are easy to understand on the stalks, around the instrument panel and on the steering wheel.

New to Hyundai is the BlueLink telematics suite. BlueLink offers emergency services when your vehicle is in trouble or stolen, navigation assistance and so forth. The same services are available from a smartphone app, including remote access to your vehicle. BlueLink powers up an additional layer of protection – Hyundai Assurance Connected Care. This adds three years of connection to Hyundai from the car on maintenance and service issues and recording of vehicle collision information. These are powered by a series of buttons on the Santa Fe's rearview mirror.

The center stack features a good-sized TFT screen that handles your navigation, audio readouts, vehicle settings, climate control and the rearview camera. Additional buttons and knobs help with these functions, along with touch screen access.

There is seating for seven. Up front are some big chairs for command of the road. They offer plenty of comfort and bolstering for long distance driving and short runs. Power lumbar support is available along with other power adjustments. Second row passengers get rake and recline adjustments – as long as you do not have anyone in the third row.

Third row does look inviting, but it is only for children. Actual access is really made for those who could climb around the second row to get inside. Once they do, they have their own climate control settings to adjust, along with their own vents.

2013 Hyundai Santa Fe GLS AWD

The big Santa Fe gets a real treat under the hood. Hyundai's latest 3.3litre V6 serves up 290 horsepower with only 252 pound-feet of torque. It is a powerful engine worthy enough to haul 4,098 pounds of three-row crossover. Do not let that torque figure fool you – it is far from sluggish with a grunt to prove it. That grunt is good enough to tow up to 5,000 pounds behind the big Santa Fe. A six-speed automatic transmission sends that power to all four wheels.

The Santa Fe offers a smooth ride that absorbs as much as the road can dish out. Some road imperfections will be heard and felt, but expect to simply roll along quietly at speed anywhere you point the Santa Fe. Handling is on the soft side with plenty of roll and lean in the turns. It does gather up nicely, if you find yourself in a bind with the Santa Fe.

Steering is sharp and reactive. There is some play at center, but you could fix that with a button on the steering wheel. This button, called the Driver Selectable Steering Mode, will set the weight of the wheel depending on your driving style – Sport being the heaviest. Brakes are pretty decent with average stops in both normal and panic situations.

Big, three-row crossovers usually turn low fuel economy figures, even with powerful V6s and substantial towing capacities. Fuel economy averaged at 22.0MPG for the big three-row Santa Fe, which is not bad considering the weight and size of the vehicle.

The entire Santa Fe family starts off with a price of $25,555 for a two-row Sport with a regular four-cylinder and front-wheel drive. To upgrade to the larger three-row GLS model, you will have to pay another $3,900 to do so. Our AWD GLS tester came to a sticker price of $36,390. There is another step in the lineup – the Limited. Pricing tops out at $38,855 for a fully loaded AWD model.

2013 Hyundai Santa Fe GLS AWD

How would you know that the Santa Fe is right for you? There is the space, the size, the power, the supple ride…all are good arguments for getting one. Where I am conflicted is how it is seen as the front of the mid-sized three-row crossover class – something its predecessor never achieved.

According to a few websites and publications – it is. Then again, have you shopped in this class, lately? It is getting quite crowded with several different approaches to the same problem: What if you had a family of five-to-seven and need that kind of space?

If you choose the Santa Fe, you probably will not go wrong. It certainly makes the old Veracruz a piece of trivia.

DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Hyundai Motor America

All photos by Randy Stern

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