Editor's note: This review was written in September 2013 about the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe. Little of substance has changed with this year's model. To see what's new for 2014, click here, or check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.
It's quite rare that a car fills the stringent requirements of each of my daily roles, but with just a couple of oversights, the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited comes close to being a perfect fit.
For 2013, the Santa Fe is actually two vehicles: the Santa Fe Sport — which is a redesign of the five-seat Santa Fe that helped propel Hyundai's rise in the U.S. — and a larger, three-row, seven-seat version called simply the Santa Fe that replaces the 2012 Hyundai Veracruz. We cover the smaller Sport separately (see the review); here we tackle the three-row Santa Fe. (Compare the two here.)
Similar vehicles worth researching if you're in the market for a three-row crossover are the Dodge Journey, Kia Sorento and Mazda CX-9. See them compared side-by-side here.
The exterior of the Santa Fe Limited manages to look fluid, sleek, modern and sporty all at once. Its slightly sloping, angled rear roofline leads to an angled rear window, as well, which intentionally brings attention to the greater passenger-hauling capability of the longer Santa Fe.
This smaller, angled rear window, while looking sharp, could cause some slight visibility problems for the driver.
In this class of price-conscious three-row crossovers, it's quite tricky to find one with captain's chairs in the second row. The Santa Fe has them in its higher, Limited trim level, which reduces the total seat count to six. The lower GLS trim has the usual second-row bench seat for three. My family is in the market for a three-row crossover, and I won't even look at something without captain's chairs. I have one (sometimes two) kids still in booster seats, which generally get installed in the outboard positions of the second row, depending upon the dimensions of the car and the seats. I don't care how easy a car manufacturer claims it is to flip, flop, fold or slide the second-row bench to get to the third row; nothing is as easy for kids as simply slipping through a passageway between captain's chairs.
The captain's chairs in the Santa Fe Limited have the added benefit of also folding and/or sliding, customizing the interior of the car with additional legroom in either the second or third row, depending where you need it.
The Limited version I drove had standard heated seats for the driver and passenger as well as in the second row. An additional $2,900 Technology Package pushed the luxury quotient much higher than I was anticipating with a massive panoramic moonroof (it's so impressive even an adult would ride in the "way back" just for the wide-open sky view), a heated steering wheel and rear side-window sunshades.
The third-row passengers have control over their own heat and air conditioning, with the ability to turn their air on or off, adjust the direction of airflow toward their feet or heads, adjust the speed of their airflow, and control the temperature. This is a feature I haven't seen in any other car in the class; most three-row crossovers are lucky to have an air vent back there.
The third row is split 50/50 and folds flat via pull tabs on the back of the seats, giving you the ability to increase cargo space when you need to switch from a normal grocery run to a Costco run. Pulling a release lever in the cargo area instantly folds the second-row seats, as well, increasing cargo space even further. There's also a standard 115-volt power outlet (like those found in a home) in the cargo area. While I love the idea of being able to plug a slew of electronics into the car, this feature would be more useful in the main passenger compartment than in the cargo area.
The Santa Fe Limited I drove came with a standard proximity key with push-button start, a power liftgate, a backup camera and power-adjustable driver and passenger seats.
Now onto one of those blatant oversights I mentioned earlier: There's no memory function for the power driver's seat. In my family, I tend to drive the kids around all day and my husband (who is nearly a foot taller than me) often switches into the driver's seat for evening hauls home from the dance studio or piano lessons. The next morning when I get back in, I have to start over from scratch to find the perfect position in the eight-way adjustable seat, not to mention adjust the side mirrors, as well. This is just plain annoying; I'd much rather just push a button and have the car "remember" me and move around to custom-fit my 5-foot-3-inch frame. Or better yet, it should remember my settings based on the key I use.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Excellent
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Good Times
BEHIND THE WHEEL
I've become increasingly aware recently of the difficulty in finding a vehicle I like both as a driver and as a passenger. As a driver, I prefer a slightly tighter, more car-like feel, with enough steering feedback to feel connected to the road and enough give to the suspension to not have my brains jiggled about driving to and from school each day. As a passenger, however, I want to feel like I'm being chauffeured around, surrounded by softness and luxury.
The Santa Fe Limited fits the bill thanks to a comfortable suspension and standard driver-selectable steering modes. The driver can select among Comfort, Normal and Sport modes via the press of a button on the steering wheel, creating a softer or firmer feel to the steering feedback. I prefer to go through the day in Sport mode, as that feels most familiar to me given my current personal car is a small sedan. My husband chose the Comfort mode, which seemed to be very forgiving, smoothing out any herks or jerks passengers may feel from a more heavy-handed driver.
The Santa Fe Limited's 3.3-liter V-6 engine with optional all-wheel drive has plenty of get up and go on both city streets and highways. Braking is smooth, with an acceptably linear feel through the entire braking cycle, and there is little to no tilt or roll in the corners.
The all-wheel-drive Santa Fe gets an EPA-estimated 18/24/20 mpg city/highway/combined. The standard front-wheel drive gets an estimated 18/25/21 mpg.
The 2013 Santa Fe has not been crash-tested.
The Santa Fe comes with seven standard airbags: driver and front passenger front-impact airbags, driver and front passenger seat-mounted side-impact airbags, side curtain airbags, and a driver knee airbag.
As has been required since the 2012 model year, the Santa Fe has standard antilock brakes, electronic stability control and traction control.
The second-row captain's chairs in the Santa Fe Limited are a dream for families with kids of booster-seat age. They recline quite a bit, allowing parents to take the edge off for kids who still nap in the car (slumping over the seat belt just can't be comfortable or safe). This also allows for a more custom fit with different child-safety or booster seats that have slightly different angles to their backs.
The seat belt buckles in the captain's chairs are on stable bases, making them easy for kids with small hands and limited dexterity to buckle independently. The belt buckles in the third row are on floppy nylon bases, but as you'd generally put bigger kids in the "way back," that shouldn't be a problem.
The other oversight is the lack of blind spot monitors in the Santa Fe Limited, as is true on Hyundai's entire 2013 product line. Other car manufacturers have taken to installing these as either standard or optional equipment, even on budget-priced cars like the $20,000 Dodge Dart — so much so that I've grown to appreciate and even rely on them in all the highway driving my family and I do. While Hyundai representatives can't comment upon future product development, we know that the 2014 Hyundai Equus will have blind spot monitors, so I'm crossing my fingers they start to find their way into Hyundai's other vehicles, as well.
See all the standard safety features listed here.
IN THE MARKET
In the past years, crossovers have become increasingly powerful players in the market. With the Santa Fe Limited topping out close to $40,000, it may not seem like a budget- or entry-level option. However, compared side by side with similarly equipped models, the Santa Fe Limited offers more features, higher-quality fit and finish, and of course Hyundai's legendary 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty — which may be difficult for savvy, value-conscious shoppers to resist.