Mountain Wheels: Hyundai’s Santa Fe Sport plays the power game
November 10, 2012
Alas. I was absolutely in love with the new Hyundai Santa Fe, gushing in fact – and then I found one critical flaw in the otherwise sterling automobile that set me back a bit. And good for Hyundai, I think it can be traced to “user error,” for the most part.
The venerable Santa Fe crossover comes in a couple of variations for 2013, a shorter “Sport” version that’s a dedicated five-passenger machine, plus a new long-wheelbase model (nearly 10 inches longer overall) that’s comfortable for seven passengers and comes standard with a 290-horsepower, direct-injection V6.
I was thrilling to my all-wheel-drive Sport tester’s new 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo and its very impressive and class-leading 268 horsepower, when near disaster struck. I was trying to merge from an isolated side road onto Highway 93 between Boulder and Golden – which many of you know as a long, lonely and extremely high-speed stretch of hilly highway – but I discovered that totally flattening the pedal did not produce a tire-roasting start. Rather, kind of an overly long and awkward pause, then a slow burst of acceleration. This was not a fun discovery with the traffic quickly bearing down on me.
After I changed my shorts, I spent the rest of the drive playing around with the throttle control and, not unlike the trigger on a 1911 .45 handgun, squeezing seems to be the trick, not stomping, in order to get the twin-scroll turbos to wind up. You can summon that not inconsiderable power with just a touch of patience, and use it to pass quite happily (even up at altitude, as well) or to sail along at 80 mph on the Front Range freeways, earning as much as 26 mpg in the process – considerably higher than the blended 21 mpg estimate.
In all other circumstances, the turbo’s fully capable of flinging you along with judicious and plentiful power; if frugality’s your game, the other option in the Sport is a 190-HP 2.4-liter direct injection engine that’s rated for 33 mpg on the highway.
“Sport” may just be a model designation but the Santa Fe’s ride and handling are quite impressive, noticeably brisk at times but mostly accommodating. Every model now includes a driver-selectable steering mode that can give you tighter (or more slack) steering control, and braking felt solid for the CUV’s 3,700 pounds – a curb weight that’s dropped 266 pounds through the use of high tensile steel. The six-speed sequential shifter is also as fast-acting as the one in the Genesis Coupe sports car, should you need to take downhill speed control into your own hands.
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Beyond that minor emergency acceleration issue, the 2013 Santa Fe is a pretty well-sorted beast, with looks and finish that are on an ever-escalating trajectory toward its European targets (but starts at just $27,700 in front-wheel drive mode).
It’s easily as good looking as the new Explorer, maybe better, actually, with Hyundai’s “fluidic sculpture” ethos now blending rounded contour lines on the mostly flat hood and from the A-pillar back to the tail.
Inside, it’s also been bumped up a notch, with a zillion standard options supplemented by my tester’s $6,500 worth of leather seating surfaces, heated front and rear seats, a super-gigantic full-cabin sunroof and a 550-watt, 12-speaker Infinity stereo system – plus little touches such as shiny sill plates and a heated steering wheel.
Look around a bit (to the left of the backside of the steering wheel, actually) and you’ll find all those Big Boy controls – hill descent control, a differential lock and the settings for the pedal-response-dulling Active Eco system. I opted not to push that button.
There’s a driver-centered focus with a litany of polyangular surfaces (even the window control buttons), extremely bright instrument displays and a considerably improved navigation system. About the only residue of Old Time Hyundai is a slightly plasticky feel to the control surfaces and the center stack, though other surfaces get leather and some soft-touch rubbery pads.
Much unlike most of the other new vehicles out there, my Sport was lacking the package of blind spot monitors and forward-facing radar and crash prevention blinky lights. You do get access to Hyundai’s BlueLink, an OnStar-styled, phone-operated service that will call for help in case of an accident, remotely disable the vehicle if it’s stolen or provide navigation assistance.