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Test-drive Review: 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited (Three-row)

Posted on May 6, 2013

Hyundai now offers the recently redesigned Santa Fe crossover in two very different configurations – the Santa Fe Sport, which is a two-row, five-passenger SUV and the new long-wheelbase model, which is a three-row, six or seven-passenger SUV.  The three-row model is known simply as the “Santa Fe”, losing the “Sport” moniker.  Whereas the Santa Fe Sport has been extensively reviewed, very few publications have tested the three-row Santa Fe.  Thus, we at Car Match thought it would be useful to provide a test-drive review.  We tested a 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited (the fully loaded model) at Towne Hyundai in Denville, NJ.

Key differences between the Santa Fe and the smaller Santa Fe Sport (aside from the third-row of seating) are an 8.5 inch increase in length, the addition of a standard 290-hp 3.3L V-6 engine instead of the Sport’s 2.4L 4-cylinder and an increase of about $4,000 in base MSRP.   The included equipment between the two varies slightly, but the extra $4,000 doesn’t really buy up much besides the extra row of seating and the V-6 engine.  As it goes, this isn’t terrible value, but it’s difficult to compare as competing manufacturers offer entirely distinct two and three row models instead of simply stretching their two-row offering.

How’s the interior and space?

Overall the interior is a fairly pleasant place to be, offering stylish yet functional design and decent materials.  There are certainly other offerings in its price range that have a more quality, solid feel, but there are many that are worse.  The first two rows offer sufficient legroom for 6-footers to sit tandem, but the third row seating is very tight.  Amongst three-row crossovers / SUVs, the Santa Fe is on the smaller side, and most of its space deficiency is in the third row.  That being said, the space back there should be sufficient for children for short trips.  The Limited model we drove included the second row captain’s chairs, limiting the Santa Fe Limited’s seating capacity to a theoretical six passengers.  It should more accurately be described as a four-passenger vehicle with extra room to carry two kids on short trips.  Also, cargo room is quite limited behind the third row, although that’s not atypical for the smaller-than-jumbo three-row SUV class.

Visibility out of the front and first row side windows is quite good on account of a low cowl. Visibility out back and to the rear quarters is very poor.  Our test model did not include navigation, and thus was limited to a very small screen for the rear camera. This was not an easy vehicle to back out of its parking spot.

How’s it drive?

We took the Santa Fe on an extended drive, mixing in highways, curvy back roads and some very poorly-maintained, pot-holed suburban roads.  Overall, the Santa Fe performs reasonably well for what it is, but it’s not exciting.  The 3.3L V-6 and 6-speed automatic are a good pairing though.  The V-6 smoothly belts out power that accelerates the Santa Fe more than sufficiently, and the automatic seamlessly fires off shifts.  It’s not a sports car, but for a three-row SUV, the power is more than adequate.   On our test model, wind noise was surprisingly intrusive on the highway.  Some of this was undoubtedly due to the protective wrap still stuck on this fresh-off-the-truck example, but we suspect the crossbars of the roof rack also contributed to this.  Some competitors offer fold-away cross bars, which alleviate such wind noise.

In terms of the ride/handling balance, the Santa Fe was middling.  The ride quality was acceptable, especially considering the 19-inch wheels on our tester, and the structure did not creak or groan when we hammered over the aforementioned potholes.  That being said, there was somewhat more impact harshness than in certain competitors.  We suspect the Santa Fe GLS’ 18-inch wheels might smooth things our further.  Handling was uninspiring.  In fast corners, there was some float to the body and significant body roll.  But more importantly (three-row SUVs aren’t usually flogged through corners), the steering is quite vague and lifeless.  It offers virtually no feedback and feels like video-game steering.   It is however very easy to wield in a parking lot, as it is very light.


Overall, we think the Hyundai Santa Fe can been a good option for certain customers.  By virtue of being an extend-wheelbase model based off of the Santa Fe Sport, it brings a unique approach to the three-row crossover / SUV class.  We wish that the third row was a little roomier, that rear visibility was significantly improved and that the handling and steering were a little tighter.  But on the flip side, the powertrain is very good, the price and exterior size are attractive, and Hyundai offers certain other advantages compared to other manufacturers.


One Response to “Test-drive Review: 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited (Three-row)”

  1. Steven says:

    Good review. I own a Santa Fe Sport and I think your assessment of the ride / handling is spot on. Mine has the 2.0T, so power is quite good, although it’s a little rough at times.

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