Review: 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T AWD SE

Every once in a while it seems that an all-new version of a vehicle is able to take me by surprise. Typically, changes in vehicles that claim to be all-new are more or less evolutionary, and you can trace the heritage back to previous versions – for good or bad.

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The 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe must then fit into one of these two categories as well. I’m happy to tell you that it has taken me by surprise.

The Santa Fe starts at a measly $26,499 – that’s for the 2.4-litre front-wheel drive base trim. I reviewed the second-from-the-top-of-the-line 2.0T AWD SE.

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Pricing: 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T AWD SE

Base price (of specific trim): $35,299

Options: none available

Freight: $1,760

A/C and other tax: $129.70

Price as tested: $37,188.70


If you’re looking for a review of the bigger 3-row, 7-seat Santa Fe XL, please check it out here.




Hyundai goofily describes the new Santa Fe with the words “Rugged Elegance”. Come ON! Who comes up with this stuff? Anyway, thankfully there’s very little rugged and much more sporty elegance. Very few people these days care about the rugged aspect, and I’m glad to report Hyundai didn’t bother with it here, short of describing it that way.


The front end starts with a very visible chrome grille, which is flanked by large, expressive headlight pods. They’re swept back, with cool projector detailing and nifty LED accent eyebrows. The sides incorporate fenders that don’t flare out very far, a mild crease that eases its way back and side glass that comes to a very distinctive pinched kink at the back. The rear flanks jut out a bit, but that’s a visual cue more so than reality – it’s achieved by squeezing the upper part of the rear so that it’s narrower on top. It looks good.

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The rear end, while perhaps the Santa Fe’s least exciting side, is well done too. Interesting shapes blend those fat rear flanks, the tail lights and the creases on the tail gate, while the rear spoiler and the perfectly-sized exhaust pipes add touches of sport.


The 19″ rims are particularly handsome and striking, and they’re shod with meaty 235/55-sized boots.

The design is relatively elegant, and added a shot of much-needed excitement to the Santa Fe which was starting to look pretty dreary. I like the way the sheet metal flows and the look is upright, balanced and has just the right amount of sophistication.


Under the Hood

This is the upper trim drivetrain – a 2.0-litre turbo-charged 4-cylinder. Pretty common stuff these days. This one cranks out 264 horsepower at 6000 RPM. That’s all well and good, but us North Americans care more about torque. And it certainly has plenty of that. 269 lb.ft at an incredibly low 1750 RPM. Yum!

The power goes through a 6-speed automatic and on to all four wheels – when required.

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Fuel economy isn’t terrible. It’s rated at 11.0L/100 km (21 mpg) in the city and 8.4L/100 km (28 mpg) on the highway. Though these seem unimpressive, I appreciate that, if nothing else, they’re closer to reality than the competition’s ratings. During my week with it, I drove it mostly in the city, with a few sprints down the freeway. I typically don’t speed more than 10 km/h over the speed limit, but occasionally dropped the hammer too. I averaged 12.8 L/100 km (18 mpg) which isn’t bad at all in this class and considering the performance this vehicle offers. I’ll get to that later.

The Santa Fe has shed some weight versus the last model – this configuration comes in at a very acceptable 3862 pounds.



The materials in the Santa Fe are pretty nice. They’re mostly soft-touch plastics, although you can’t get your fingers into the dash. It’s more like a rubberized material, but it’s certainly nicer than hard plastics. Textures vary throughout the interior – maybe a bit too much. I liked the styling of the dash and door panels – it’s adventurous sculpting without going overboard. Fit and finish is good, but not spectacular.

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The seats, heated and trimmed in leather, are very comfortable.

The heated, manually-adjustable steering wheel is decent, but felt a tad slippery to me. It has controls for the media system, phone and handsfree functions, cruise control and the driver information screen. Behind the wheel sit two big, easy to read gauges. I enjoyed the use of smaller display areas in the center of those gauges. That normally wasted space houses small raised digital displays (that look like tiny hockey pucks) showing your fuel, outside temperature, engine temperature and gear selection. Between the gauges is a very crisp, clear driver information screen. It allows you to see what’s playing on your media system, some vehicle settings, fuel economy (range, average consumption), and 2 trip meters.

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The Santa Fe’s center stack starts with a media system on top. It’s anchored by a small 4.3″ touch-screen, which is surrounded by hard buttons to access the main functions. The screen is pretty easy to read considering how tiny it is, and I found it to be quite responsive to touch. Media sources are AM, FM, satellite radio, CD, auxiliary and USB audio. It sounds pretty good most of the time. The screen also acts as the monitor for your back-up camera. The camera’s picture is augmented by parking distance sensors with audible alerts for the rear end.

At the bottom of the stack sits a good dual-zone automatic climate control system. I appreciated the simplicity of the layout on the stack – nothing complicated, and everything works (and makes sense).

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The center console is home to the shift lever, two cupholders and an armrest. Overhead is a really, really big panoramic sunroof – there’s a powered sunshade, and the front panel tilts and slides back.

The Santa Fe has keyless entry, and a push-start ignition.


Rear Seats

The space back here is airier than you might expect, thanks to that huge sunroof. There are three seats, three seatbelts and three headrests. The heated seats are very comfortable (well, the two outboard positions are) and are adjustable fore and aft, and recline as well.

The middle seating is not comfortable, and is narrow and too firm. It could accommodate an adult if need be. This is very typical of any vehicle these days. The head room and leg room was good.

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In terms of comfort and convenience, you get adjustable air vents and manual sun shades on each side and a 12V plug at the back of the center console. There are decent door bins, two seatback map pockets and that middle seatback folds down into an armrest with two cupholders that slide out.

Our three kids were very comfortable back there, and the doors open wide to access children’s seating. You get two sets of LATCH anchors for their seats if you need them.

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I found the storage to be pretty good overall. The glove compartment is big enough, and there is a rubberized bin under a pop-up lid in the center of the dash.

The door bins are a useful size and include bottle holders.  There is a large open bin at the front of the center console – it’s rubberized, and you’ll find auxiliary, USB and two 12V plugs there. It’s a nice space to drop things into like your smart phone. There is also a big carpeted bin under the armrest lid – it includes an organizer tray.

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At first glance, you can tell the trunk space is huge – you’re given 1003 litres to work with. On top of that, you’ll find significant and highly useful storage space under the load floor. There’s another 12V plug back there too. You can cover up your mess with a removable, retractable tonneau cover.

What’s that, you say? You need more? MORE?! That’s all you people ever do. Take, take, take. Anyway, where was I? Oh right. MORE! Sure, Hyundai can do that for you. You can fold the rear seats using handles in the trunk – they split 40/20/40 – the middle one folds down on its own to make a pass-through which adds some fantastic flexibility. Fold them all down, and you’re left with a spittle-stopping 2025 litre space. Wow.

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My Santa Fe had one major annoyance and that was the rattle from the bottom of the windshield. It announced its presence over any kind of road irregularity. Since I live in Edmonton, it was incessant. I decided to talk to a few owners of the new Santa Fe that I ran into at the grocery store or gas station. Every single one of them had more mileage on their odometer and all indicated their vehicle remained rock-solid and completely rattle and buzz free. I’m hoping that this was an anomaly then, rather than par for the course.

This trim level has no power lift gate, though you’ll find it in other crossovers at this price. Speaking of the lift gate, the leading edge of the tailgate is only about an inch taller than me at 5’10” – if you’re 6′ tall, you’ll be banging your melon on that thing. Every time. It even dared to mess with MY coiffure –  a cardinal mistake, Mr. Hyundai Lift Gate. One I won’t forgive twice.

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The Drive

I’m going to be honest here. I was very pleasantly surprised. The smoothness with which the new Santa Fe goes about its business should concern much of the competition.

The Santa Fe has a lot of power. Being a turbo, there is lag, but it’s insignificant during everyday driving. There’s plenty of jam for anything you’re doing around town, and when you need more, this thing simply surges ahead when you step on it. It’s but a moment of lag, and when the boost comes on, the Santa Fe provides tremendous power at any speed. Passing at highway speeds is a non-issue, as is getting into any speed of traffic. That being said, it was also easy to drive slowly and comfortably.

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I couldn’t believe how little commotion the engine made, even when I had it soaring up past 5000 RPM. No strain, no fuss. Smooth. Pretty impressive.

The ride was amazing. Buttery smooth and quiet over anything I drove over. Including our Mongolia-sized pothole collection here in Edmonton. It is truly a luxurious riding crossover, and felt very refined in terms of its motions over any irregularities.

The handling was also excellent. In terms of capability, the Santa Fe never disappointed, and at times, felt as though it was inviting me to have some fun. Throw it into any corner, and you’ll find the grip to be tremendous. The one thing that dampened my spirits a bit was the amount of body lean. There’s a lot of it, but you can rest assured that when you need to get through some curves in a hurry, the Santa Fe won’t back down.

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Interestingly, you can adjust the steering boost between three levels – comfort, normal and sport. The differences are noticeable and I ended up leaving it in sport mode as it was a well-balanced setting. The steering feel throughout the range is pretty numb, but the response to your inputs is actually quite good. I did find the steering ratio was boosted a bit too much at lower speeds, and often I found the wheels had turned more than I’d expected them to in places like a parking lot where I was driving around slowly. I’m sure you’d adjust to this, but it caught me off guard a couple of times.

Continuing for a moment with the smoothness thing… the 6-speed automatic transmission is exemplary. It shifts imperceptibly almost all the time, even under heavy throttle, yet it’s intelligent enough to be in the right gear much of the time. Occasionally I wished it hadn’t hunted for the higher gears so soon to save a drop of fuel, but that’s no different from any other automatic out there. The transmission can be shifted manually with the gear selector – the manual shifting mode is accessed by sliding the lever to the right, then tipping it forward or backward to shift. I was taken aback by the speediness of the shifts. I found them quicker and more accurate than in some vehicles with sportier intentions and costing significantly more than the Santa Fe.

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The Santa Fe offers an active eco mode – depress the button, and prepare to be depressed. It takes everything down a notch to save fuel, but it’s no fun.

The all-wheel drive is front-wheel-drive-based, so it’s the old slip’n’grip system. You’ll feel those front tires squirming under the power for a brief moment before the power is transferred to the rear end. Of course, to the vast majority of drivers, that won’t matter, and it’s the most economical system that makes sense for almost every driver. There is a 4×4 lock mode, but I’m not clear if it just ensures all-wheel drive is always on, or if it actually locks an axle. The Santa Fe also has hill descent control for all you rugged-living, hirsute off-roaders out there.

Visibility is pretty good, although I could never tell where the front of the vehicle was because the angles drop off pretty sharply. That had me guessing a few times when parking it in tight spaces. The brakes, though not the most communicative, were effective and powerful when called upon.

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I was also impressed by the sound levels in the Santa Fe. There’s a nice muted growl when you step on the gas, but other than that, the drivetrain is quiet. The road and wind noise were also well-controlled.

If you need to, you can tow up to 3500 pounds.


The Verdict

I think Hyundai did a great job in putting together a modern, current crossover that packs a punch in terms of performance, utility and comfort. I’ve noticed when talking to people that Hyundai still hasn’t completely overcome the stigma of building lower-quality vehicles. That’s a shame, because from what I’ve seen over the last 5 years, they’ve really come a long way. They simply make good cars.

I give the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport a 7.5 out of 10.

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Short of the irritating buzzing sounds in this review unit (which I will chalk up to journalist abuse rather than a reflection of build quality), I found little that I didn’t like about the Santa Fe. I can’t say how gracefully the avantgarde styling will age, but for now, it’s a great-looking ride that offers a lot – especially at this price.

WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) – well, she liked the Santa Fe. A LOT. She commented on the perforated leather seats (saying they looked great and were very comfy) and that it was very easy to drive. She loved the size of the trunk – it handled a day’s worth of her and her sister’s shopping. And she really liked the ergonomics inside, saying everything suited her and everything made sense. High praise.

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It’s a crowded class the Santa Fe competes in, to be sure, but the 2013 2.0T Sport certainly holds its own and competes fiercely.

You’d be missing out if you don’t give it some serious consideration if you’re dabbling in 5-seat crossover territory.


Disclosure:  Vehicle was provided by Hyundai Canada.

If you enjoyed this review, feel free to check out more of them under my vehicle reviews tab at the top of my blog.

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