EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 24, 2013

Hyundai Santa Fe gets a larger identity

Motor Mouth
Jeffrey Zygmont

---- — In the next week or two, Hyundai will mess with success. That success is the 2013 Santa Fe crossover wagon.

Introduced last summer, the 2013 version is an all-new, third-generation rendition of the capable, comfortable hauler. A lot of people like it.

“It’s the hottest car on the market right now,” said Michael Palmer, Hyundai sales manager at Salem Ford Hyundai, Salem, N.H.

He referred to demand versus availability. Hyundai, a Korea-based auto company, builds the Santa Fe in Georgia, where it is adding a third shift to produce more of the hot-selling wagons. Still, in Salem, N.H., Palmer must scramble to fill orders for customers looking for fully-loaded models that run above $35,000. The starting list price for Santa Fe is $25,295 for a front-wheel-drive model, with all-wheel-drive versions starting at $27,0454.

So far this year, across America the new Santa Fe is outselling its predecessor by about 25 percent. That’s a big jump.

But early in March Hyundai starts a second phase for the re-made Santa Fe. The company will begin selling an alternate version that differs in one significant way from the popular model people first saw last summer. That original, called the Santa Fe Sport, is a five-passenger crossover. The Santa Fe that arrives in a week or two seats seven people. It is nearly 10 inches longer than the Santa Fe Sport, making room for a third-row seat that turns the stretched version into an ultimate family shuttle.

The new, longer model starts at a list price of $30,945 when equipped with all-wheel drive. Factoring in such standard features as 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlight accents, tire-pressure monitoring, Bluetooth hands-free phone link, driver selectable steering, seven air bags, sliding and reclining second-row seats with usefully split backs, fingertip controls on the steering wheel, cruise control and air conditioning, Hyundai calls Santa Fe the most affordable seven-seat crossover you can buy.

The side windows are the main visible difference between the two versions. Hyundai reports that it shaped the side-glass differently to emphasize the greater passenger and cargo capacity of the long model.

The new, seven-passenger version (also available in a six-seat configuration) has a larger, more powerful engine as well, as compensation for the 400 or so pounds it gains. The Santa Fe Sport comes with a four-cylinder engine that delivers an ample, 190 horsepower. For an additional $3,250, an optional turbocharged four cylinder lifts the Sport’s horsepower to 264. The long version of Santa Fe contains a 3.3-liter V6 that generates 290 horsepower.

All three engines use an advanced method of fuel management called direct gas injection, helping to optimize both power and fuel economy. All engines connect to a six-speed automatic transmission. A driver-selectable “Eco” mode sets up engine and transmission to operate at maximum efficiency, cutting fuel use by five to seven percent from the normal operating mode, according to Hyundai.

Through the model’s first six months, the engines in Santa Fe Sport have emerged as popular features, reported Palmer, the sales manager at Salem Ford Hyundai. The model is not a racer, but the crisp response of the turbocharged engine in particular gives the wagon zest and spirit, he said. People notice that the power surges immediately, without the lag often experienced with turbocharged motors, said Palmer.

By contrast, the character of the seven-passenger Santa Fe tilts more toward practical cartage. The added seating automatically makes it a family wagon, attracting a new class of drivers who might consider the five-passenger Santa Fe Sport inadequate.

But Palmer expects the altered character of the new, seven-seat version of Santa Fe to only expand the model’s appeal. In his view, rather than messing with success, Hyundai is extending it.

“It’s going to blow everything else apart,” he said. “A lot of people are looking for seven-passenger seating. But they don’t want a big boat. They don’t want to drive around in a school bus.” Even with an expanded interior, the new Santa Fe remains manageably sized, he said. Its high capacity and reasonable body dimensions will attract not only families, but also professionals who cart around supplier and equipment, and sales reps who take product samples on the road. “That’s going to be a huge market,” Palmer predicted.

Whether it’s the five-seat Sport or the new, seven-place version, the Santa Fe still offers drivers the comprehensive, full-package advantages that are proving to be so popular, said Palmer. While competing models excel in one area or another, he stated, the Hyundai wagon can claim superlatives in all the areas that matter to drivers. Those include quality, comfort, usefulness, price, warranty, resale value and third-party ratings.

They certainly include style. Hyundai gave the re-made Santa Fe a bold, distinctive exterior that announces its presence on roadways. Its nose protrudes powerfully but then sweeps rapidly back at the corners, pointing to sides that look streaked by fast, forward movement. A down-sloping roofline aids the effect.

If you haven’t noticed one yet, look left or right the next time you’re driving. One should appear soon as the new Santa Fe grows more and more populous.

The same goes for Hyundai at large. To anyone paying attention, Hyundai is rapidly expanding its presence on American roads as it transforms itself into a top-rate auto maker.

Palmer said you can see the future of the entire car brand in today’s Santa Fe. It looks like success.

2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Vehicle type: 4-door, 5- to 7-passenger, front- and all-wheel-drive crossover wagon Price range: $25,295 to $33,945 (plus options) Warranty: 5 years/60,000 miles basic warranty; 10 years/100,000 miles powertrain warranty; 7 years/unlimited miles corrosion warranty; 5 years/unlimited miles roadside assistance Base engine: 2.4-liter I4 Power: 190 horsepower at 6,300 rpm; 181 lb.-ft. torque at 4,250 rpm Transmission: 6-speed automatic Fuel economy: 21 mpg city; 29 mpg highway Wheelbase: 106 inches Length: 185 inches Width: 74 inches Height: 66 inches Weight: 3,459 pounds Fuel capacity: 17.4 gallons Turning circle: 35.8 feet