The driving distance from Veracruz, Mexico, to Santa Fe, N.M. is about 1,700 miles. But Hyundai's recently retired Veracruz wagon and the 2013 Santa Fe are much closer, at least in spirit.
Until its demise following the 2012 model year, the Veracruz represented Hyundai's mainstay transport for people requiring accommodations for up to seven-passengers and their belongings. Its drawbacks, including a hefty 4,300-pound base weight, eventually placed it out of the running.
The Veracruz's capacity, if not its name, has been replaced by the Santa Fe, or at least one version of the Santa Fe. For the 2013 model year Hyundai has seen fit to create both a five-place model, called the Santa Fe Sport, plus an extended-length model with four inches added between the front and rear wheels that can seat six or seven, depending on the configuration. The Santa Fe now closely matches the boxier Veracruz's total cargo capacity, but is lighter by about 320 pounds.
The Santa Fe's trimmer, sleeker design also places it higher on the attractiveness scale. Abandoned is the soap-dish shape that was in evidence with first- and second-generation wagons. Along the sides and rear deck, the sheetmetal is now as taut and crisp as a starched shirt, while the grille copies a familiar style that's common to most of Hyundai's fleet.
The Santa Fe's interior reveals that Hyundai is really getting the hang of what constitutes great interior design. From the sculpted dashboard and door panels to the inwardly angled primary gauges, the look is strictly premium, even without the available leather seat coverings or eight-inch touch-screen display.
A second-row bench seat that's included with the base GLS is split 40:20:40 and can be had with optional slide and recline to maximize either passenger comfort or stowage room. Second-row twin-folding high-back bucket seats are standard in the six-passenger Santa Fe Limited.
Both trim levels come with a 3.3-liter V6 that puts out 290 horsepower and 252 pound-feet of torque. The engine is exclusive to the three-row Santa Fe (the five-passenger Sport comes with four-cylinder power). The V6 is hooked to a six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift controls.
Fuel consumption is rated at 18 mpg in the city and 25 highway, or 18/24 if all-wheel-drive is selected.
AWD increases the Santa Fe's $29,200 base price by $1,750, but is well worth it for the added control and peace of mind in slippery, muddy conditions. The system has been engineered to shift torque to a single wheel, if necessary, depending on weather and driving conditions.
Additionally the AWD's active cornering control applies light braking to the outside wheels while turning to help stabilize the vehicle's intended trajectory.
Towing capacity for all is rated at 5,000 pounds.
Another Santa Fe feature is the Driver Selectable Steering Mode, which has Comfort, Normal and Sport settings. Selecting Comfort reduces steering effort by 10 percent and aids parking maneuverability. Inversely, the Sport position firms up the steering by the same amount and increases "on-center feel" for better highway control.
The base GLS is fitted with a solid array of content but stops short of going overboard. For that you'll need to move up to the Limited that comes with dual-zone climate control, eight-way power driver's seat, heated second-row seat, power tailgate, rearview camera, push-button start and a 19-inch alloy wheels (18-inchers are standard).
Heading an extensive list of options is a panoramic sunroof, eight-inch touch-screen navigation system, 550-watt 12-speaker premium audio package, heated steering wheel and rear-side-window sunshades.
With its enlarged dimensions, the attractively packaged Santa Fe provides more of everything to more people. Factor in a thrifty V6 and numerous technological improvements and it's a virtual certainty that most Hyundai shoppers will barely miss the Veracruz.
What you should know: 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe
Type: Four-door, front- /all-wheel-drive wagon
Engine (hp): 3.3-liter DOHC V6 (290)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Market position: Tall wagons with all-wheel-drive capabilities are key in most automaker's lineups. Six- and seven-passenger models such as the Santa Fe occupy an increasingly important niche within that bracket.
Points: Extended-length Santa Fe complements regular-length five-passenger version; Standard V6 is unique to that model; AWD option a cut above most competitors in sophistication; Fuel economy about average for its class with more gears for automatic transmission likely on the way; Good looks and practical packaging make Santa Fe a solid choice.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; front-knee airbag; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG (city/hwy): 18/25 (FWD)
Base price (incl. destination): $29,200
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