With the launch of the 2013 Santa Fe, Hyundai has officially entered a new era in the U.S. Now, every single vehicle in the Hyundai lineup is now either totally new, or significantly refreshed, with each and every car having been met with critical acclaim and stellar sales numbers.

The Korean carmaker is now playing the role of "disrupter." What does that mean? Long-standing best sellers from venerable automakers like Toyota and Honda have lost market share in nearly every important car segment due to Hyundai's success. And now the company has its eye trained on the lucrative and wildly popular crossover segment with its brand new, redesigned Santa Fe, which is built in Georgia.

The 2013 Santa Fe is coming in two different versions, and the nomenclature is a little bit confusing. The Santa Fe Sport, which I drove, seats five and replaces the outgoing 2012 Santa Fe. The Santa Fe, which will be released next year, comes with a longer wheelbase, seats 6 or 7 and replaces the Veracruz SUV that Hyundai is phasing out.

The Santa Fe Sport comes with 2 engine options (a 2.4L I-4 and a 2.0L turbo), all-wheel drive and front-wheel drive and a wide variety of other options. For my test drive, I was behind the wheel of the 2.0T with AWD (mainly because of elevation and mountainous terrain).

The redesigned Santa Fe Sport comes with a sharp new look, new interior and new engine, all of which are now being met with high expectations from the automotive press and consumers alike. With a long line of successes behind them, including a North American Car of the Year award for the Elantra sedan, can Hyundai keep up the momentum with one last hit in its vehicle line up? Should Honda, Toyota and Ford, among others, be worried about Hyundai's presence in yet another car segment? I went to Park City, Utah -- at a wheeze-inducing 7,000 feet -- to find out.

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How Much?

How Much?

MSRP: $24,450 - $29,450
Invoice: $23,492 - $27,948

As Tested: $35,625 (as tested)

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Key Stats (base)

Key Stats (base)

-2.4L I-4 engine
-190 hp, 181 lb-ft of torque
-6-speed automatic transmission
-22 mpg City, 33 mpg Highway
-Seats 5
-71.5 cubic feet maximum cargo capacity

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What We Like

What We Like

Michael: Hyundai nailed almost everything with this car, all the way down to the little things. Granted, I drove a higher-end Santa Fe Sport, but I was really struck by how much effort Hyundai put into the touch points. The steering wheel, shifter, radio buttons and knobs and even the resting pads for arms all feel very pleasant, and add up to make a great driving experience.

The 2.0T engine is very good, too. I drove up some very steep grades at high elevation – where naturally aspirated engines lose about 20% of their power – and my test car never felt even remotely starved for power. Additionally, we did some light off-road driving on a few remote fire roads and the AWD tackled it with no issue whatsoever. No loss in traction or issues getting up and over hills with this car. Santa Fe Sport buyers likely won't be getting too much mud on the tires, but know that this vehicle should be more than capable in inclement weather.

Autoblog: That turbo engine isn't the only part of the Santa Fe package deserving of praise. Hyundai uses a MacPherson front strut and a fully independent multil-ink rear setup here in the Sport, the latter of which not only allows for better manners on the road, but also improves overall cabin space thanks to its in-wheel design. The Sport performed admirably on Utah's silky smooth mountain roads, where the crossover delivered a comfortable yet confident ride. But once we headed off the beaten path and onto some rougher forest trails, the Santa Fe really showed us what it's made of.

In addition to a new suspension design, Hyundai has also fitted a new Active Cornering Control all-wheel-drive system with torque vectoring and active braking. It's nothing new – other automakers (Ford, for example) have used similar technology – but it works quite well on the Santa Fe. We blasted down some stone-laden dirt roads at a relatively decent clip, and even when trying to get the Sport to slip up by entering a corner too fast or applying full throttle while exiting a very slow bend, the Santa Fe never spun a tire, even on the loose road surface. Back on the pavement, the Sport felt controlled and balanced during turns, with a to-be-expected, crossover-appropriate amount of body roll.

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What We Don't Like

What We Don't Like

Michael: There's not much that I don't like about this car. As Mr. Steve Ewing points out below, the steering selections are a little bit gimmicky and doesn't quite work like it does in Hyundai's other vehicles, but it certainly isn't a design or engineering failure. I did have one issue with the navigation, which wanted to take me on a hour-long jaunt to get to a destination that was just a couple of miles away, but I'll chalk that up to a minor computer glitch. I've had enough experience with Hyundai's nav to know that it functions quite well.

Autoblog: We'll admit to getting our hopes up a bit regarding the steering, especially after our recent stint in the 2013 Elantra GT. The compact five-door was the first vehicle to use Hyundai's new driver-selectable three-mode steering, and happily, this on-the-fly rack-adjuster is also available here on the Santa Fe Sport. Unfortunately, we never quite found a steering mode that we truly loved in the Santa Fe. It's certainly not bad in this application, but we wish the electronic rack offered a bit more in the way of feedback. Normal mode seemed to get things done just fine, but Sport mode doesn't have quite the same level of involvement as it did in the Elantra GT. Chalk that up to Santa's bigger bones.

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Bottom Line

Bottom Line

The 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport should be a serious consideration if you're shopping for a crossover. It's great to drive, looks sharp and has a well-appointed and comfortable interior. This goes along with solid fuel economy and Hyundai's generous warranty, both of which should end up saving you money in the long run.

If you haven't been paying attention to Hyundai's cars – and you absolutely should be – you definitely now need to pay attention to its crossovers. The Santa Fe Sport is more than capable and belongs at or near the top of every crossover buyer's shopping list. Look out, Honda, Ford, Chevy and Toyota, Hyundai is in the rear-view mirror and is approaching faster with every new vehicle. But we think you know that already.

AOL Autos Score:


4.5/5 Stars


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