THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Best: Big feature-filled cabin, refined drivetrains, five-year transferable warranty
- What’s Worst: Fond of gasoline, electric steering wanders, exploding sunroofs
- Typical GTA prices: 2013 – $20,000; 2015- $24,500
You no longer need Santa Fe – meaning “holy faith” in Spanish – to drive a Hyundai.
The old joke about the rear window defroster warming the hands of the folks pushing your broken Hyundai to the service centre is a distant memory. The South Korean automaker has amassed several J.D. Power initial quality awards in recent years.
Long-term dependability? J.D. Power says Hyundai is getting there. Comparing the quality of three-year-old models, Hyundai ranks just below the industry average with 158 reported problems per 100 vehicles, but ahead of Subaru, Nissan and Volkswagen.
Canadians have taken a liking to Hyundai’s mid-size sport ute, the Santa Fe, which was renovated extensively for 2013. Is it a good used buy? Yes. A divine purchase? Maybe not.
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Last redesigned in 2007, the Santa Fe had grown long in the tooth in what is a hotly contested sport-ute segment. The third-generation models introduced for 2013 utilized the same wheelbase, but just about everything else had changed.
For the first time the Santa Fe came as a five-seater Sport and, just like men’s pants, the XL model was sized bigger, configured as a six- or seven-seater – thanks to its 10-cm wheelbase extension that provided better legroom in both the second and third rows (it’s some 20 cm longer overall compared to the Sport).
Despite the new models’ chunky appearance, they were made significantly lighter by incorporating more high-tensile steel – which improved torsional rigidity by 16 per cent – and by specifying smaller, lighter engines. The base model was 120 kg lighter than the previous Santa Fe, which pays dividends in terms of efficiency and performance.
The refashioned cabin featured higher quality materials and a cornucopia of standard features, including a cool dashboard with electroluminescent gauges, driver-selectable steering effort, seven airbags, fabric protection and 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats that offer fore-aft adjustability. While owners loved the sumptuous space, some noted the seating felt unduly hard.
The base model uses a 2.4-L direct-injection four-cylinder, good for 190 hp and 181 lb-ft of torque. A 2.0-L turbo four making 264 hp and 269 lb-ft of copious thrust is the step up in the Sport. The long-wheelbase XL uses the corporate 290-hp, 3.3-L V6 standard. All engines came bundled with a smooth-operating six-speed automatic transmission powering the front wheels; all-wheel-drive was optional.
The clever AWD system, designed by Canada’s Magna, partly relies on a brake-based torque-vectoring function in conjunction with the vehicle’s stability control to keep the Santa Fe safely planted in hairy conditions.
Hyundai juggled the available features and options for 2014 and, significantly, retuned the electric steering (by specifying a faster processor) and massaged the suspension to provide more precise handling on 2015 models.
ON THE ROAD
The Santa Fe offers haste for the money: zero to 97 km/h comes up in 7.2 seconds with the turbo engine in the smaller Sport, and 8.6 seconds with the base engine (both of which were borrowed from the Sonata sedan, incidentally). The family-oriented XL gets the task done in a commendable 7.5 seconds with its direct-injected V6.
The ride is tailored more for absorbency and comfort than speedy delivery, which is fine with the vast majority of buyers. They especially like the hushed environment at supra-legal speeds, something Honda has yet to master. Handling is predictable, if a little boaty (leaning in the corners), but never sloppy or alarming.
If the Santa Fe disappoints at all, it’s likely to do with fuel economy. The emphasis on weight reduction and four-cylinder frugality doesn’t quite pay off at the pump. Hyundai lost a class action lawsuit over its optimistic mileage claims for the 2013 Santa Fe Sport (among other models), and mails out fuel cards to original owners as compensation. A light foot on the throttle helps keep the 2.0T’s turbo from drinking too deeply.
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WHAT OWNERS SAY
Canadians have been generally very happy with the newest-generation Santa Fe, citing the ute’s handsome profile, well-thought-out interior, generous content and Korean-limousine ride as big pluses.
At the same time, there are a few headaches that are repeatedly brought up in owners’ online discussions. Chiefly, the 2013 and 2014 models exhibit poor steering and tracking, especially at highway speeds.
“The car doesn’t track straight at all, darting left and then right, requiring constant and exhausting corrections to the wheel. The wheel doesn’t centre itself,” reads one post by a Santa Fe pilot.
As noted, Hyundai’s revised electronic steering gear seems to have addressed the problem in 2015 and newer models. Earlier models have had warranty repairs with varying results. It might be best to avoid the inaugural model year.
The second reoccurring issue involves spontaneously shattered sunroofs.
“While traveling at 70 mph a loud explosion was heard and the panoramic sunroof exploded, covering me and my passenger in shattered glass causing minor cuts to one of us. No object was found to indicate that the vehicle was struck. The glass was pushed outwards as though it was pushed from inside the cabin.”
Hyundai owners are hardly alone in reporting this phenomenon, but the Santa Fe’s optional panoramic sunroof is a popular one. The glass is thought to break due to stress and not impact, yet some dealers insist it should be an insurance claim. Other dealers correctly make the repair under the Hyundai warranty.
Other issues include loose front seats that rock on their mounts, poor headlight illumination, faulty back-up cameras, errant squeaks and rattles, and a few failed turbo engines that have required replacement.
Overall, the Santa Fe delights with its smooth comportment and strong value proposition, but test drive any used examples at length to ensure it tracks like a saint on the highway.
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