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The Santa Fe Sport offers 71.5-ft3 of cargo room behind the first row. The bigger Santa Fe provides 80.0-ft3.

This 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 is one of three engines available in the Santa Fe. There is also a normally aspirated 2.4-liter I4 with gasoline direct injection (GDI), and a 3.3-liter V6, also with GDI.

Here’s how the Santa Fe has evolved, with the first generation (left) being available from 2000 to 2006, the second (center) from 2007 to 2012, and the third (right) now.

The 2013 Hyundai Sante Fe

The third generation of this crossover may be the charm. An efficient one.

The situation is that there are three segments in the crossover utility vehicle market so far as Hyundai is concerned, as it doesn’t play in the full-size space. There is the subcompact market, in which it has the Tucson, and in which Jeep has the Compass, Honda the CR-V, Ford the Escape, and Mazda the CX-5. There is the compact segment. This includes the last-gen Hyundai Santa Fe, along with the Nissan Rogue, Toyota RAV4, Kia Sorento, Ford Edge, and Chevy Equinox. Finally, there is the midsize category. Here can be found the Hyundai Veracruz, the Toyota Highlander, Nissan Murano, Honda Pilot, Dodge Journey, and Nissan Pathfinder. Not only is this segmentation predicated on dimension, but Mike O’Brien, vp of Corporate and Product Planning for Hyundai Motor America, says there are a couple other factors that they include in their demarcation: What customers actually cross-shop and price. (The 2013 Santa Fe Sport starts at $24,450, incidentally.)

According to Autodata (motor-intelligence.com), last year Hyundai sold 74,391 Santa Fes and 47,232 Tucsons. Both respectable numbers, although the Santa Fe sales were off a bit from 2010 sales, down 3.0%. And while its third CUV entry was up 4.6% in 2011 compared with 2010, the grand total for the Veracruz was a comparatively low 9,146 units.

Names Like Chrysler
So given that, and given, as John Krafcik, HMA CEO and president, puts it, “There are too many model names in the universe, and Santa Fe is strong for us,” they’ve decided to drop the Veracruz, which was introduced in 2007, and do something in the CUV space that has not been done before. But Krafcik does see an analogy in another segment: the Chrysler Caravan and Grand Caravan minivans. One vehicle. Two wheelbases.

But this is not the Santa Fe and Grand Santa Fe. There’s the Santa Fe Sport in the compact category and Santa Fe in midsize. Consider. The 2012 Santa Fe is 184.1-in. long, 74.4-in. wide, has a 106.3-in. wheelbase, and offers 108.3-ft3 passenger volume and 34.2-ft3 cargo volume. The 2013 Santa Fe Sport is 184.6 in. long, 74.0 in. wide, has a 106.3-in. wheelbase, and offers 108.0-ft3 passenger volume and 35.4-ft3 cargo volume. At 3,459 lb., the 2013 model weighs 266 lb. less than its predecessor.

Then there is the 2013 Santa Fe that is on offer instead of the Veracruz. And the tale of this tape is more interesting. The 2012 Veracruz is 190.6-in. long, 76.6-in. wide, has a 110.4-in. wheelbase, and offers 137.2-ft3 passenger volume and 40-ft3 cargo volume behind the second row. The 2013 Santa Fe is 193.1-in. long, 74.2 in. wide, has a 110.2-in. wheelbase, and offers 146.6-ft3 of passenger volume and 41-ft3 cargo volume behind the second row. (Both of these models offer a third row, it should be noted.) And at 3,869 lb., the new Santa Fe is 397 lb. lighter than the 2012 Veracruz.

DYI . . . Steel
So you might wonder . . . bigger and lighter? Well, as Krafcik points out, “A lot of the steel for this car comes from our own steel plant.” Yes, there is Hyundai Steel, which falls under the Hyundai Motor Group, and, while it makes products for a variety of industries and applications, from ships to buildings, it has a specialization in producing alloys for cars.

Compared with the 2012 Santa Fe, the 2013 Santa Fe Sport added 31 lb. of mass to do such things as to increase roof strength and to provide a driver’s knee airbag and 38 lb. for NVH and aero improvements (the coefficient of drag for the vehicle is an impressive 0.34), like an underbody cover and increased sound-damping material. Yet there was a reduction of 213 lb. as a result of the use of new steels, by far the greatest contributor to the overall weight save for the new vehicle. Whereas the previous-gen vehicle pretty much had high-tensile steels in the B-pillar and roof rail, the structure of the new car has the materials front, side, top, bottom, and back. There is hot-stamped steel. There is roll-formed steel. And thanks to the improvements in material and structural design, there is a 15.7% improvement in the torsional stiffness of the 2013 Santa Fe Sport (27.3 x 104 kgf.m2/rad) compared to the 2012 model.

It is presumably quite helpful to have a steel company on board, as this allows the vehicles to be loaded up with an impressive array of technologies, whether it is the additional knee airbag for the driver or the available panoramic sunroof.

No NIH Approach
And one important technology for the vehicle is the Dynamax fully active, all-wheel-drive coupling with electro-hydraulic torque control. The multiclutch arrangement allows the distribution of torque to any single wheel at a time. One of the interesting aspects of this is that it was developed not by Hyundai, but by Magna Powertrain (magnapowertrain.com), which just goes to show that if the people at Hyundai discover a technology that will get the job done, they’ll deploy it.

Behind the Chrome Grille
Speaking of the powertrain—and this is one area where Hyundai is putting considerable focus across the board (and you might have thought that it was all about simply doing the “fluidic sculpture” designs for its vehicles, which the Santa Fes have, from the hexagonal grille in the front to the swooping and arcing character line across the side to the wrap-around taillights at the rear)—there is one transmission, a six-speed automatic with SHIFTRONIC manual control, and three engines, two fours for the Sport and one six for the bigger Santa Fe, which have been used in other Hyundai products.

There is an all-aluminum 2.4-liter, gasoline direct-injection (GDI) four cylinder that produces 190 hp @ 6,300 rpm and 181 lb-ft of torque @ 4,250 rpm. Put in a vehicle with a curb weight of 3,459 lb., this means a weight-to-power ratio of 18.2, which betters that of competitive rivals like the 2012 Toyota RAV4 (2.5-liter I4: 18.8), the 2012 Chevy Equinox (2.4-liter GDI I4: 20.8), and the 2013 Ford Escape (2.5-liter I4: 20.9) (a lower number is better). Then there is a 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 that produces 264 hp @ 6,000 rpm and 269 lb-ft of torque @ from 1,750 to 3,000 rpm. This engine features an integrated stainless steel housing for the twin-scroll turbocharger and the exhaust manifold (a one-piece design reduces both the weight and the cost of what would otherwise be two components) as well as a motor-driven electrical waste-gate, which can more precisely manage boost pressure than a mechanically controlled setup. Again, Hyundai makes a comparison to the weight-to-power ratio of this engine (13.5) compared with other engine/curb weight combinations, and although the 2012 RAV4 comes in with a better number (13.1), that’s when it is equipped with a 3.5-liter V6 rather than the Santa Fe Sports I4. Both of these engines are used in the Hyundai Sonata.

The third engine is a V6. It’s a 3.3-liter GDI engine available in the long-wheel base Santa Fe. It produces 290 hp @ 6,400 rpm and 252 lb-ft of torque at 5,200 rpm. This engine is also available in the Hyundai Azera. Again, when put up against a competitive set, all with sixes, the 13.3 power-to-weight ratio bests all of them.

Mass Matters
It should be noted that this brings us back to the discussion of steel, because this is not just about the output of the engine, but the mass of the vehicles, as well. For example, the 2013 Ford Explorer has a 3.5-liter engine that produces 290 hp and 255 lb-ft of torque, with the former being the same as the Hyundai V6 and the latter better. It, too, is mated to a six-speed transmission. But the curb weight for the Explorer is 4,534 lb. vs. the 3,869 lb. for the Santa Fe, so the Explorer has a power-to-weight ratio of 15.6 vs. the Santa Fe’s 13.3.

Selectable Modes You Might Not Expect
Sometimes, there is a series of buttons on crossovers as well as sedans that allow you to select the suspension tuning.

But the Santa Fe offers something different.

It has an electric power steering system. And with that system it offers what it calls “Driver Selectable Steering Mode” (DSSM). There is Normal, which is normal. There’s Sport, which adjusts the amount of power assist so that there is as much as 10% higher steering effort required, which is particularly advantageous at higher speeds. Then there is Comfort, which increases the amount of steering assist by about 10%.