2013 Hyundai Santa Fe is stylish but unspectacular

The two-row 2013 Santa Fe made its debut The two-row 2013 Santa Fe made its debut in August of 2012. Photo Credit: Hyundai / Scripps Howard News Service

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It has nothing to do with basketball, but Hyundai has nailed a triple double.

It's the 2013 Santa Fe, which now appears as one spirited crossover utility vehicle with two distinct bodies. The triple comes with three rows of seats and the double with two.

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    Together, they replace the previous midsize Santa Fe and the larger three-row Veracruz, which has decamped to that forlorn automotive graveyard in the twilight zone.

    The two-row 2013 Santa Fe had its debut in August of 2012. To distinguish it from the other, plus-size body, it is called the Sport. The chubbier one, the subject here, arrived seven months later and is called, simply, the Santa Fe. Like the late Veracruz, it is bigger and more powerful than its Sport sibling.

    Where the Sport has a choice of two four-cylinder engines -- 264-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo or 190-horsepower 2.4-liter -- the three-row Santa Fe comes only one way, with a 290-horsepower 3.3-liter V6 that gets the power to the pavement through a six-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode.

    Front-wheel drive is standard; all-wheel drive costs extra and is not needed unless you live in areas of particularly nasty weather. It also could be used for a bit of mild off-road duty, such as trundling down a farm or logging road. But serious stuff should be left to Jeeps, Land Rovers and truck-based SUVs.

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    However, the Santa Fe comes with a towing capability of 5,000 pounds -- a lot for a crossover in this class -- so it can be used to tow watercraft, snowmobiles and the like.

    But despite its pleasant exterior styling, don't look at it as a more socially acceptable alternative to a minivan. Although it's plenty roomy, with 147 cubic feet of passenger volume, it has a paltry 14 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third-row seat, which can accommodate about the same number of things you can stuff into the trunk of a compact car.

    Of course, if you fold the third row, it's another matter. That gives you a cavern of 41 cubic feet, which can grow to 80 if you fold the second row as well. But then you'll be driving a five-passenger or two-passenger vehicle.

    The other downside is that the third row seat is flat and hard, not to mention a chore to crawl into, which likely wouldn't bother a couple of nimble kids but is torture for most adults. It is mitigated somewhat by a fore-and-aft adjustment for the second row, which at least can deliver a smidgen of knee room for the third-row inmates.

    There's a choice of seating arrangements in the second row. Buyers can choose two captain's chairs or a three-person bench seat. Either choice works, although the former are more accommodating and the space between them provides easier access to the third row. But pity the person in the punishing middle of the bench seat.

    Overall, the interior has a classy designer look with tasteful renderings of soft-touch materials and faux wood grain. Instruments and controls are intuitively laid out. The front seats, as well as the second-row captain's chairs, are supportive and comfortable for long-distance cruising.

    On the road, the Santa Fe is surprisingly nimble for a tall crossover that weighs nearly two tons. The electric power steering has decent road feel, although it gets a bit vague around the corners. But there's little body lean. The ride is comfortable, the acceleration is brisk and the EPA city/highway/combined fuel economy for a crossover this size is decent at 18/25/21 mpg.

    The tester was the top-of-the-line Limited model with front-wheel drive. It featured a full load of safety equipment and, along with all Santa Fe models, Hyundai's Blue Link telematics system. Similar to the familiar On Star system from General Motors, it offers automatic collision warning, turn-by-turn navigation and a variety of other packaged communication services.

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    Standard equipment on the Limited includes automatic climate control with second row controls and third row vents, 19-inch aluminum wheels, leather upholstery, power tailgate, heated front and second-row seats, eight-way power driver's seat, pushbutton starting, and an audio system with satellite radio, HD radio, and MP3 and CD players.

    The test car also carried an option package that included a panoramic sunroof, navigation, upgraded audio system, heated steering wheel and second-row side window sunshades. That brought the base price of $33,945 up to a tested price of $36,980.

    SPECIFICATIONS

    Model: 2013 Santa Fe Limited four-door crossover utility vehicle.

    Engine: 3.3-liter V6, 290 horsepower.

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    Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual shift mode and front-wheel drive.

    Overall length: 16 feet 1 inch,

    EPA passenger/cargo volume: 147/14 cubic feet.

    Towing capability: 5,000 pounds.

    Weight: 3,904 pounds.

    EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/25/21 mpg.

    Base price, including destination charge: $33,945.

    Price as tested: $36,980.

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