Some, on the other hand, have got to have that third row.
The Hyundai Sante Fe is the only medium-small crossover that comes both ways – take your pick.
WHAT IT IS
The Sante Fe is Hyundai’s entrant in the compact and mid-sized crossover wars.
It’s available in compact-sized Sport trim – with two rows of seats and room for five and an available high-performance turbocharged four cylinder engine. Or, you can buy a larger wheelbase GLS/Limited – with three rows and seating for seven and a standard 290 hp V-6 under the hood.
Prices start at $24,950 for the base trim five passenger, FWD Sport with 2.4 liter (non-turbo) engine. With the optional AWD system, the price climbs to $26,700.
For more power/performance, there’s an optional 2.0 turbo engine. With FWD, the sticker is $30,650. With AWD, $32,400.
The seven passenger Sante Fe GLS with V-6 and FWD starts at $29,900 and tops out at $35,550 for a Limited trim with all-wheel-drive.
Possible cross-shops include the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape – but none of them offer a third row seating option. The Ford, however, does offer a turbocharged engine option (as in the Sante Fe Sport) and it’s significantly more fuel efficient (33 on the highway vs. the turbo’d Sante Fe Sport’s 27 MPG).
The Sante Fe was redesigned last year, replacing the Veracruz – which Hyundai no longer sells. Rather than have two separate models – one smaller, one larger – Hyundai now has one model that’s available in smaller – and larger – sizes.
For 2014, Hyundai has added a blind spot monitor as standard equipment in the Sport and three-row GLS/Limited. Blind spot monitors are quickly becoming de facto standard equipment in pretty much all new cars; expect it to become a de jure – required – safety feature within the very near future, like back-up cameras (which this car also comes with as part of its standard equipment package).
Prices have also gone up by a not-small amount. Last year, a Sante Fe Sport with the turbo engine had a base price of $27,950. The 2014 – same basic vehicle – lists for $2,700 more. The 2014 Sante Fe GLS – the larger version, with the V-6 engine – is also more expensive: $1,550 more to start (base trim) and $2,450 more for a top-of-the-line Limited with AWD.
Also, both versions of the 2014 Sante Fe have had their EPA fuel economy numbers notched down slightly for the new model year.
Pick your size – and your engines.
Peppy – or practical. And both at the same time.
Much more standard – and available – engine than 185 hp-only CR-V and 176 hp only RAV4.
Can tow up to 5,000 lbs. (V-6 models) completely outclassing the four-cylinder-only competition.
Available turbo 2.0 engine (264 hp) delivers almost the same gas mileage as much-less-powerful standard engine.
Base engine in Sante Fe Sport is more powerful than competitor engines, but thirstier.
EPA economy stats have been “adjusted” – downward – vs. the 2013s.
All Sante Fes are automatic-only, including turbo 2.0 Sport model.
Excellent turbo 2.0 engine is not available in the larger/three-row Sante Fe.
Price uptick will likely prompt more cross-shopping than last year. A new Ford Escape starts at $23,100; the just-redesigned Toyota RAV4’s base MSRP is $23,550; the Honda CR-V starts at $23,120.
Many automakers are paring down their engine lineups. For example, the Toyota RAV4 no longer offers anything but a small four (it used to offer an optional V-6).
The Honda CR-V is also four-cylinder-only.
The Sante Fe, in contrast, offers three engines.
Standard in the regular wheelbase/five passenger Sport is a a 2.4 liter four that produces 190 hp – already, more power than the CR-V’s take-it-or-leave it 185 hp 2.4 liter engine and the RAV4’s that’s-all-there-is 176 hp 2.5 liter engine.
It’s also more than you get in the base trim Ford Escape, which comes standard with a 168 hp 2.5 liter engine.
Next up is a turbo 2.0 four – and it makes 264 hp. This completely outclasses the CR-V and RAV4 – and also beats the Escape with its standard engine and its next-up and its top-of-the-line engines, a 178 hp turbo 1.6 and a 240 hp turbo 2.0 respectively.
But wait, there’s more.
The long wheelbase/seven-passenger Sante Fe comes standard with a 290 hp 3.3 liter V-6.
You can get a comparably powerful V-6 in something like the Chevy Equinox – which is available with a 301 hp, 3.6 liter V-6. But the Equinox – which is larger than the regular wheelbase Sport Sante Fe but not quite as large as the long-wheelbase Sante Fe – does not offer seven passenger seating. To get that, you’ve got to up-size to something even larger, such as a Chevy Traverse (or a Mazda CX-9).
Interestingly, the EPA fuel economy numbers for the 2014 are slightly less than they were last year – despite no major changes to the vehicle or the drivetrains.
The base 2.4 engine in the Sport rates 20 city, 27 highway now – vs. 21 city, 29 highway last year. With the optional AWD system, the ’14 rates 19 city, 25 highway – vs. 20 city, 26 highway for the virtually identical 2013.
It’s a small difference – Hyundai vs. Hyundai – but it puts more air between the Hyundai and several of its competitors. The ’14 CR-V, for instance, carries an EPA rating of 23 city and 31 on the highway (22 city, 30 highway with AWD). The ’14 RAV4 with FWD delivers 24 city – and 31 on the highway.
On the upside, the base-engined Sante Fe Sport is quicker than most of its competition, getting to 60 (FWD) versions in just over 9 seconds.
The Honda CR-V needs almost 10.
What compares even more favorably, though, is the Sante Fe’s optional (in regular wheelbase versions) 2.0 turbo engine. Despite the 74 hp uptick, gas mileage with this engine is almost the same: 19 city, 27 highway (also slightly “de-tuned” for 2014; the same-engined 2013 Sante Fe carried an EPA rating of 20 city and 27 highway). With the optional AWD system, the numbers are 18 city, 24 highway (vs. 19 city, 24 highway last year).
The turbo’d Sante Fe can scoot to 60 in about 7.9 seconds (FWD; AWD versions take a tenth or two longer), which smokes the CRV and RAV4. Ditto the four-cylinder-powered Equinox, which – like the other two – takes well over 9 seconds to get to 60.
Only one same-sized competitor runs quicker and gets better gas mileage – the 2.0 turbo’d “Ecoboost” version of the Ford Escape. It can hustle to 60 in the mid-high sixxes and manages 22 city, 30 highway (FWD versions).
But, you can’t have that great performance (and gas mileage) and seven seats, too. Because like all the others in this class, there’s no third row, chico.
Unfortunately, the rumor – encouraged by Hyundai at the time of the Sante Fe’s launch last year – that the punchy (and not too hungry) turbo 2.0 engine would be offered as an option in the three-row GLS/Limited has not panned out. The bigger Sante Fe comes standard – and is only available with – a 3.3 liter, 290 hp V-6.
Performance, though, is excellent: zero to 60 in 7.6 seconds. And gas mileage isn’t terrible: 18 city, 25 highway with FWD and 18 city, 24 highway with the optional AWD system. This version of the Sante Fe can also pull 5,000 lbs. – much more than the 1,500-3,000 lbs. that’s typical of crossovers in this general class.
All Sante Fes, regardless of engine, come with a six-speed automatic as the standard (and only available) transmission.
I test-drove a Sport model with the 2.0 turbo engine – which is (slight tuning differences aside) the same excellent engine found in other current Hyundais like the Sonata (and its corporate cousin, the Kia Optima) where it makes an advertised 274 hp vs. 264 in the SF.
But the key number to focus on is torque – 269 lbs.-ft., peaking at 1,750 RPM. This is almost 100 lbs.-ft more torque than the four-cylinder RAV4 and more than 100 lbs.-ft stronger than the CR-V’s standard (and only available) four. Plus, both the Toyota’s and the Honda’s torque peaks don’t arrive until 4,100 and 4,400 RPM (respectively).
Blessed be the turbo.
The only area where I’d say Hyundai hit a triple instead of a home-run is transmission-wise. There is nothing objectionable about the standard six-speed automatic that comes with every SF engine. It shifts smartly and quietly, working well with the turbo engine’s strong bottom end torque and its high-RPM horsepower. It doesn’t shift too soon – or too late. I hardly used the driver-selectable manual gear change mode because why bother? The transmission didn’t need any help from me. It knew exactly when to drop down a gear – and when to hold a gear. I never felt the need to over-ride its decisions.
However . . . it’s still an automatic. And no matter how perfectly timed it shifts, how quiet it is – or how fuel efficient – it is not as much fun as working a clutch and stirring gears yourself. If you prefer a manual, you’ve got two possible alternative choices: The VW Tiguan and the just-redesigned Subaru Forester. The Tiguan’s appealing because it comes standard with a 2.0 turbo engine (200 hp) and a six-speed manual. The Soobie is less powerful (170 hp) but also comes with a six-speed manual as standard equipment.
But – once again – neither the Tiggy nor the Soobie offer more than two rows of seats.
The longer wheelbase/three row Sante FE is, however, a lot beefier than the two-row Sport: 3,964 lbs. vs. 3,459 lbs.
And its handling is inevitably less agile.
AT THE CURB
The seven-passenger SF isn’t quite as big as three-row/seven passenger competitors like the Chevy Traverse, Mazda CX-9 and Ford Flex. It is 193.1 inches long overall and rides on a 110.2 inch wheelbase – vs. over 200 inches long for these others, all of which also have several inches more wheelbase (118.9 for the Traverse, 117.9 for the Flex, 113.2 for the CX-9).
But – and here’s a surprise – it turns out the physically smaller on the outside Sante Fe GLS actually has more second row legroom (41.3 inches) than the much larger Traverse (36.8 inches) and the CX-9 (39.8) and its cargo capacity (80 cubes) is only slightly less than the Ford Flex ‘s (83 cubes).
Now, the Flex has really generous second row legroom (44.3 inches) and the Traverse and CX-9 much more cargo room (116.3 cubes and 100.7 cubes, respectively) but the SF splits the difference pretty nicely and may be just roomy enough – without being too big – for your needs and wants.
And for those who don’t need that third row, there’s the regular wheelbase SF. The second row’s a little tighter (39.4 inches) and there’s a bit less cargo capacity (71.5 cubes) but these stats still stack up well when compared with the stats of other two-row-only, compact CUVs. In fact, the two-row SF has considerably more second row spreadin’ out space than its most direct rival, the Ford Escape – which has just 36.8 inches of second row legroom. That’s 2.6 inches of difference – which is a noticeable difference. The SF also outclasses the CR-V (38.3 inches) and the RAV4 (37.2 inches) and absolutely mauls the VW Tiguan – which has a crumple-you-up 35.8 inches of second row legroom. That’s 3.6 inches of difference – a huge difference. Ditto the cargo capacity count: The tiny Tiggy has only 56.1 cubes of cargo space.
Of course, utilitarian considerations aren’t most people’s only consideration. Style – and features – matter, too.
On style, I’m reminded of the refrain from that little ditty that plays during the opening credits of the HBO TV series, Weeds:
Which, they pretty much do. It is getting really hard to tell one brand’s CUV from another brand’s CUV. None are disfigured. They’re just . . . derivative. I’d be willing to bet that the up-canted rear quarter glass from a new RAV4 would fit a new Escape, which would fit a CR-V . . . which would fit the new SF.
Ok, that’s a bit of an exaggeration – but not by much. A coalescing sameness is spreading across the land. You have to squint hard to discern aesthetic differences – and identify one brand vs. another brand from say 50 yards away. Thank the motor gods for those helpful badges they glue to the tailgate. . . .
Overall, the meme is more sportwagony than SUV-ish, if that makes any sense. The SF and its rivals are less box-on-box-like, with swept-back rooflines and rising rear haunches, a visual trick to make them look like they’re about to pounce. (Motorheads did the same thing back in the ’70s with a set of Gabriel Hi-Jacker air shocks.)
I have no objection – other than the distorted (and limited) view to the rear – a consequence of the “fast” roofline and truncated (and also steeply slanted) back glass. The SF has this issue.
They all have this issue.
Inside, it’s modern and slick-looking (as is the case with Escape and the others, too). But there are some individualized coolnesses, such as the AC vents built into the B pillars and the expansive (optional) panorama glass roof. I also like the side bolsters on either side of the center console – with a semi-hidden storage cubby in between.
Also, you can replace the second row bench with a set of captain’s chairs in the Limited. A heated steering wheel is available, too – and on all trims, including the base Sport.
Usually, you’re forced to buy a more expensive higher trim to get features like that.
If you’re in the market for a versatile CUV that’s also a sporty CUV that’s still a reasonably priced CUV (though not as reasonably priced as it used to be) the SF will very likely meet the must-haves on your list . . along with the I-likes.
The only thing I didn’t like about it is more a matter of wishing it offered the one thing it doesn’t – a manual transmission to go with the spicy 2.0 turbo engine. I know, I know. Hyundai – like most everyone else – is moving away from manuals because most buyers prefer automatics – and also because automatics are now so efficient, they confer a gas mileage advantage relative to a manual, which is a big deal in this era of ever-upticking federal fuel economy mandates.
Still, it would be nice to find a clutch down there. The SF is not a CR-V or a RAV. That is, it’s more than merely an appliance. It wants to have fun.
But it would be more fun with a six-speed stick.
The one other bitch I’ve got is the fairly dramatic price uptick. It now costs almost $5k to go from the two-row to the three row. Last year, it was only about a $3,500 jump. This is hard to justify on newness grounds as the Sante Fe was “all-new” last year – and the 2014 is basically a carryover.
So, what gives?
It’s either inflation, an unfavorable exchange rate . . . or, Hyundai feels confident enough about the Sante Fe to price it closer to par with the competition – in some cases, more than par.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The price increase aside, Hyundai’s still the only player in this segment that offers you a choice of wheelbases – and three engines – in the same vehicle.
Throw it in the Woods?