My wife and I are holdouts among our friends and family in the offspring department. Our heir-free lifestyle, however, affords us the opportunity to travel this great land, and road trips are our favorite. So while I'm unqualified to remark on how well the new 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport will swallow an infant son and stroller, I can pass judgment on this two-row crossover's talents for carrying people and cargo over great distances.
The lady and I recently drove a new 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport to one of this country's national treasures: the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. The Biltmore was built between 1889 and 1895 by George Vanderbilt, grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt who was one of this country's earliest captains of industry. Despite the Biltmore being the largest privately owned home in the United States, which it remains to this day with a footprint of 178,926 square feet, George and his wife, Edith, only ever had one child. A family of two parents plus one child would have made the Vanderbilts exactly the type of people Hyundai hopes to attract with this two-row Santa Fe Sport – George's eldest brother, Cornelius II, had seven children and would've had better luck fitting his brood in the larger three-row Santa Fe (sans the "Sport" suffix).
Like George, the all-new Santa Fe Sport is now the youngest in a large family of redesigned Hyundais that have been pushing the Korean brand's sales ever higher. Being last in a line of overachievers has its advantages, as this new Santa Fe Sport comes to market with the brand's latest design, technology and safety features, all of which it needs to compete in a midsize crossover segment that is more crowded and competitive than perhaps any other.
Being the last vehicle to benefit from Hyundai's product renaissance, the Santa Fe Sport gets to be the first to wear the next-generation styling language, dubbed "Fluidic Precision." Glimpse a Santa Fe Sport among its kin at the dealership and it's indeed obvious that one of these things is not like the others. With a more upright hexagonal grille and tauter skin stretched tight around a bigger frame, the Santa Fe Sport has taken a clear step away from the draped and flowing lines of the Sonata and Elantra.
It's masculine without being a wannabe Jeep, and attractive without trying too hard to be stylish.
When we look at the new Santa Fe Sport, we see a design that reminds us of something like a more-attractive Subaru Tribeca, or perhaps a next-generation Chevrolet Trailblazer that never was. It's masculine without being a wannabe Jeep, and attractive without trying too hard to be stylish. Hyundai designers deserve kudos for their restrained use of bright, chrome-like trim in the grille, around the side windows and on door handles, which is balanced by a band of flat black trim that entirely encircles the bottom of the vehicle, thereby reducing its visual height. The black trim also blends nicely with the Santa Fe Sport's 17-inch alloy wheels finished in a dark metallic grey color.
The new look, however, is an even bigger departure from the last-generation Santa Fe, and while your eyes might tell you that the 2013 model is larger in every way than the old, they'd be lying. The two are actually very similar in dimension, with both sharing a 106.3-inch wheelbase and the new Santa Fe Sport growing in length by half an inch (184.6) and shrinking in width by 0.4 inches (74). The biggest disparity between the two is height, where the new Santa Fe Sport's pencil line on the wall is located at 66.1 inches, or 1.8 inches below the old model's. While similar in size, Hyundai has managed to minus some 266 pounds from the prior Santa Fe to achieve a svelte, new fighting weight of 3,459 pounds.
Hyundai has managed to minus some 266 pounds from the prior Santa Fe.
After visiting the Biltmore House, we can't say the Santa Fe Sport's interior shares the home's penchant for the finest interior furnishings. Whereas this North Carolina home is built with the finest wood, stone, metal and materials, and then decorated inside with works of art and furniture that a museum curator would kill for, the inner dwelling of this particular Santa Fe Sport was comparatively spartan. A front-wheel-drive model with the base engine, our tester was not a top-tier trim, though we can't say we missed the two-tone leather interior or faux wood trim that would've come at a higher price. Ours was by no means base, however, equipped with a number of options packages like the $2,950 Leather and Premium Equipment Package, which in addition to the hides came with a sliding and reclining second row of heated seats, dual zone temperature control and a rearview camera, and the $2,700 Technology Package that added a navigation system with eight-inch touchscreen, panoramic sunroof, a heated steering wheel and sunshades for the rear side windows.
Technology is an area where you would, of course, expect the Santa Fe Sport to stand apart from anything available in the late 19th century when the Biltmore House was built. In fact, it stands near the head of today's competitive class with an impressive raft of safety and infotainment tech. There are enough electronic control systems for the sake of stability, traction and braking that we're certain the Santa Fe Sport will never need a team of oxen to extricate it from anything. If something were to get this crossover out of sorts, you've got Hyundai BlueLink to recognize you've encountered a spot of trouble and call for help. What's more, in a time when infotainment systems are becoming increasingly complex and over-styled, we appreciate this latest generation of Hyundai's system. It's got all of the functions that a good current-generation system should have (easy-to-establish Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, voice commands, traffic information and more) without any of the ergonomic and latency issues of next-gen systems like MyFord Touch and CUE from Cadillac.
The Biltmore cost $10 million to build in 1895, which equals nearly $275 million in today's money.
All that said, the Biltmore House is no backwards relic. At a time when most Southern rural homes in America were not much more than four walls and a roof, this 1895 home offered running hot and cold water in all of its 43 bathrooms, five refrigeration units including a 10x13-foot walk-in fridge, full central heating and wiring for both DC and AC electricity (they were both so new, no one knew which form of electricity would become the standard, so they installed both). That all partly explains why estimates put the cost to build the house in 1895 dollars at around $10,000,000. Adjusted for inflation, that's nearly $275,000,000 in today's money, or more than twice what the current most expensive home for sale in the country costs.
The Vanderbilts were also car owners, having been introduced to the activity of "motoring" during their travels in Europe. In a letter to a friend from across the pond, George wrote, "I am so in love with this mode of travel that I mean to order an auto like yours... It makes traveling... a natural transition instead of an effort." And he did order some autos, but only one survives, a 1913 Stevens-Duryea Model "C-Six," equipped with a new-for-that-year set of electric lights and starter. With a set of extra seat covers and tires, the car cost George all of $5,046.90, or about the same price as a brand new 1985 Hyundai Excel. Our modern day Santa Fe Sport with front-wheel drive and the base 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine began with a base price of $24,450 and ended with an as-tested charge of $32,175 (including an $825 destination fee). George's taste for the finer things wins out, though, as his Stevens-Duryea would cost over $115,000 today, and being one of only ten known to exist still, is probably worth a lot more.
A turbocharged engine is available, but the Santa Fe Sport's base price will rise over $3,000 for the honor.
While George's Stevens-Duryea is powered by a 48-horsepower six-cylinder engine, our Santa Fe Sport has a much more modern 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine that produces 190 hp and 181 pound-feet of torque. With the aid of direct injection and a perfectly competent six-speed automatic transmission, this mill does a lot with a little and transported the wife, myself and our traveling trunks without complaint. There is a 264-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged engine available, but the Santa Fe Sport's base price will rise over $3,000 for the honor. Even with that premium, we recommend people in a family way consider the more powerful motor. The Santa Fe Sport can carry a lot of cargo – 35.4 cubic feet behind the second row and 71.5 behind the first, plus a deep well of storage beneath the rear cargo floor – and when filled with the support gear for transferring children hither and dither, would likely be taxing the base engine beyond your comfort zone. If you're considering the optional all-wheel drive, we'd recommend the turbo motor regardless to help keep the two extra wheels and their running gear moving.
Still, 190 horsepower was enough to keep our small traveling party comfortably moving down Interstate 77 towards Asheville, NC. While Hyundai does include an Active Eco function that modifies the engine and transmission's behavior for increased fuel economy, the gains did not seem a fair price to pay for what felt like a 10 percent drop in power, which this already burdened motor does not have to spare. Even without Active Eco engaged, our observed fuel economy was better than expected in the 26-27 mile per gallon range. Our route was as combined as they come, with hours of mpg-boosting highway travel split by fuel-sapping city miles among the hills of North Carolina.
A name like "Santa Fe Cozy" would be more accurate, and that's not a dig.
The name "Santa Fe Sport," however, is a bit of a misnomer, as handling isn't really this vehicle's forte. Its moves place it more toward the minivan end of the spectrum than anything approaching a car or even firmly sprung sport utility vehicle. A name like "Santa Fe Cozy" would be more accurate, and that's not a dig. The ride is right down the middle between smooth and composed, neither feeling floaty nor so isolating that you can't tell what type of pavement you're on – perfect for enduring eight hours of driving in a single day.
Hyundai's Driver Selectable Steering Modes (DSSM) also helped ease the strain of such lengthy travel, but not how we were expecting. With the switch over to electronically assisted steering, Hyundai has begun offering DSSM on some of its new vehicles. Three modes are available – Normal, Sport and Comfort – and based on their names, we thought Comfort would be our choice for the hours of highway driving ahead of us. We were very wrong, as Comfort mode requires the least effort to steer, thus creating a situation where the vehicle wanders all over the highway and requires constant correction to maintain a straight path. We decided to check the manual at the next rest stop and discovered some more misnomers in the description of each mode.
- Steering Mode COMFORT – The steering wheel becomes lighter. The comfort mode is usually used when driving in downtown or parking the vehicle. Also, the comfort mode helps weak people to drive easily.
- Steering Mode SPORT – The steering wheel becomes heavier. The sport mode is usually used when driving in highway.
- Steering Mode NORMAL – The normal mode offers medium steering effort.
At the end of our long drive home, my wife and I came to the rare conclusion that this is exactly the Santa Fe Sport we would order: sans AWD with the smaller engine, yet loaded up with comfort, luxury and infotainment options. Many vehicles I test come with no options left to check on the order sheet, their final cost bloated far above their starting prices. This particular Santa Fe Sport, however, was like a bowl of porridge at just right the temperature for us. Would it have been the same way for George, Edith and their only child, Cornelia?
The answer is likely no. While the Santa Fe Sport would surely have served their 2+1 needs well, the culture of their time would dictate that the Vanderbilt family buy only the best, most expensive product available. In terms of fame and fortune, if there's a modern equivalent to the Vanderbilts, it's the Kardashians, and can you imagine Kim and Kanye with their newborn celebrity baby in a Hyundai? Me neither. It'd be a Mercedes G63 AMG all the way.
Most of us are neither Vanderbilts nor Kardashians.
Most of us, however, are neither Vanderbilts nor Kardashians, and while it's great fun to visit their world while on vacation and witness the scope of what unimaginable wealth can procure and create, at the end of day we get in vehicles like the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport and drive home. What we liked most about this new Santa Fe Sport, though, is that its attractive new look, bevy of features and accessible utility made us feel just a little richer than we really are.