The second-generation model was introduced for the 2007 model year, but it took a couple of years before sales took off. Actually, that's when the Korean manufacturer started to slap on heavy rebates and 0% financing, and customers seeking a good deal responded.
The third-gen 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe, however, is alluring buyers for its sophisticated good looks, much-improved interior finish and all-around versatility. The company's decision to replace the seven-passenger Veracruz with what is basically a stretched version of the Santa Fe – ok, it's a little more than that – can be considered a strategically logical one.
Sport vs. XL
First, let's clear things up: the five-passenger version is called the Santa Fe Sport, while the seven-seat edition is the Santa Fe XL. They basically share the same front end, with their prominent in-your-face grilles and squashed headlights. However, you can tell them apart by looking at the different grille slats and fog lamp designs.
At the rear, the Sport's window line rises upwards at its rear doors, while the XL gets a less dynamic profile, and their taillights are shaped differently, too. In addition, the Sport boasts a single exhaust with dual tips, while the XL flaunts a dual exhaust setup.
Obviously, the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe XL is longer than its Sport sibling. Eight and a half inches (215 mm) separate the two in overall length, while the XL's wheelbase is stretched by about four inches (100 mm). Second-row legroom is increased slightly despite the addition of the two third-row seats. However, the Limited trim is also available in a six-passenger configuration, as the middle-row bench is replaced with captain's chairs.
As for cargo space, the XL can accommodate up to 2,265 litres of volume (12% more than the Sport model), which is about the same as in the 2013 Ford Explorer and the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder, yet less than in the 2013 Chevrolet Traverse.
Two extra pistons
While the Sport model features four-cylinder engines (naturally aspirated and turbocharged), the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe XL gets a direct-injected 3.3L V6 that develops 290 hp and 252 lb-ft of torque as well as a six-speed automatic. The XL accelerates effortlessly and the engine is quiet at highway speeds.
Properly equipped, towing capacity can reach 5,000 lbs. (2,268 kg), which is the segment average. Unsurprisingly, the party pooper is fuel economy, which averaged 13.2 L/100km during our test despite using the Active ECO mode. Ironically, the V6-powered Santa Fe XL actually consumes less fuel on the highway than the Santa Fe Sport's turbo 2.0L engine. If that's where you rack up most of your mileage, know that you won't be penalized at the pump for choosing the seven-passenger version.
Without making a big deal out of it, Hyundai tried to promote the old Veracruz as a luxury SUV but without the luxury-brand badge and price tag. This time around with the XL, they're lowering the psychological bar by using the Santa Fe name, but raising the physical bar by offering a more refined, more powerful and overall better product.
Apart from the price leading, front-drive base model which starts just below $30K, every other version gets an all-wheel-drivetrain. The latter favours the front wheels under normal driving conditions, and sends power to the rear wheels when slippage is detected.
The 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe XL also includes tons of features, even in the base model. However, our Limited trim benefits from luxury items such as HID headlights and LED taillights, a sound system upgrade, navigation with an 8-inch touchscreen, an intelligent key, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, a heated wheel, a power tailgate, side window sunshade blinds, rear-seat climate control, a huge panoramic sunroof as well as leather upholstery.
Our tester also featured the Saddle Leather option. However, the colour of the seat upholstery looked more like orange – maybe terra cotta – than brown. Cowboys don't put orange saddles on horses.
On the other hand, that's about the only downside to the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe XL's cockpit. The dash design is modern and tasteful, the switchgear is well laid out, the seats are comfortable and the rear ones flip and fold easily, while the sound system is surprisingly good. The only thing missing here is a good factory-installed DVD entertainment system to keep the kids quiet, and maybe a blind-spot monitor – not that you really need it with this SUV's expansive greenhouse.
Priced to sell
Then again, at $43,199 before freight and delivery charges, this loaded XL Limited offers a lot. Actually, it undercuts a comparably-equipped Ford Explorer Limited and a Chevrolet Traverse LTZ, but it's a little more costly than the bargain Nissan Pathfinder SL.
With rugged looks, plenty of room for road trips with the kids, reasonable fuel economy and packed with features, the Santa Fe XL is quite a deal, and we're a lot more pleased with this Hyundai three-row crossover than the last one. And we're not alone; a greater number of people are visiting Santa Fe than Veracruz. Hyundai's plan to create a spinoff of their successful utility vehicle is working.
5/5: Attaching our child seat to the captain's chairs is a piece of cake, while our baby stroller fits even with all three rows of seats in place.
In collaboration with Canadian Tire.