When Hyundai does a new auto introduction, they sure do it right, at least in my book. This past weekend, I was the guest of Hyundai along with several other prominent bloggers and members of the media as we were introduced to the new 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe, a CUV (crossover utility vehicle) that I believe will have a great appeal to families and a big impact in the auto marketplace. The setting for the introduction was ideal – high in the Park City, UT mountains at the Montage Deer Valley Resort, a stellar resort bolstered by impeccable service and beautiful scenery.
My trip was brief, only over a weekend, but every moment was filled with activities and introductions to Hyundai’s new Santa Fe. Arriving late on Friday, I spent a little time with Jason Sasaki (of sasakitime.com) touring historic Main Street in Park City, UT.
We enjoyed a famous buffalo burger at the No Name Saloon and Grill which was amazingly delicious and then did a quick tour of the Park City Museum to learn more about the rich history of Park City, UT. Originally established as a silver mining town, Park City is now the home of winter and summer activities alike. The first few days, the altitude got the better of me, and only at the end of my stay was I starting to get acclimated to the 7000 foot elevation.
A few hours later, after my quick walkabout in the history downtown, we had a reception and dinner hosted by the Hyundai group at the Montage. For me, the highlight there was trying a “Dragon’s Breath” dessert – a Rice Crispy treat cooled in liquid nitrogen and then quickly eaten with your mouth closed, exhaling through your nose (see the video below).
After dinner, most of us headed off to bed early in anticipation of the event-packed Saturday.
Saturday was all about the new 2013 Santa Fe. After breakfast, we were introduced to some of the key aspects of the new Santa Fe via a product introduction as well as some displays that show the key components that comprise this newly updated and redesigned vehicle for Hyundai.
Cutaway for the AWD components designed by Dynamax.
A close-up of the dual-exhaust chrome tips.
The drivetrain without the body.
Cutaway for the cabin.
Cutaway of the reinforced doors.
According to members of the Hyundai team, Hyundai is experiencing the best 7 months of sales ever (up 10%) in the US, selling 60,000 units monthly. It is currently ranked in 5th place of sales among major manufacturers. The first Santa Fe was introduced in 1999 as a competitor to the Toyota Rav4 and the Honda CRV in the CUV market. The 2nd generation came out in 2006 and now the Santa Fe has been dramatically redesigned for model year 2013.
The new Santa Fe now has 2 wheel bases and models: the Santa Fe Sport version which is a 5 passenger vehicle (and the one that we test drove) and a new larger 6 or 7 seater version (simply named the “Santa Fe“) which will be introduced towards the end of 2013. The models are clearly targeted towards families and “pre-families” with lots of design nuances that will, in my opinion, make it quite appealing to those market segments.
From a design aspect, the new Santa Fe has what they call a “fluidic sculpture” with bold surfaces and balanced design. When you look at it, the Santa Fe seems to be moving while standing still, with dramatically sloping lines. This design is apparent internally and externally, clearly meant to make it noticeable and memorable.
Once we were all briefed through a short but information-packed presentation, we bloggers paired up (driver and navigator) and headed to our Santa Fe’s for a long, exciting drive through the mountains of Utah.
Our maps were carefully architected to have a mixture of highway and “off-road” (fire road) driving. It was an interesting choice having us test drive autos at such a high altitude because engines typically don’t perform as well where there is less oxygen to mix in the engine. Hyundai seemed pretty darn confident that the 2 liter turbo Sport edition (with 264 horsepower) would be up for the job and I must say that for the most part, it was. I only experienced a tiny bit of acceleration lag climbing a hill – but we were at about 8000 feet altitude!
I believe there were about 10 Santa Fe’s in all on our driving adventure. Not only was our map fantastic (complete with odometer and turn directions) but our trail was clearly marked, on and off road. The only brief adventure we had in my car was a wasp managed to sneak in and my driving partner, Matt Blum from Wired’s GeekDad.com, had to frantically try to get it out the window or sunroof while I madly tried not to be stung, keep the car on the road and find a safe place to pull off the road. Once the wasp was dead, our drive had not unexpected adventures like that.
As I drove, I got to really experience the comfort and technology that makes up the new Santa Fe. One thing that both Matt and I immediately noticed and commented on was how incredibly quiet the drive was. The Santa Fe seemed to be quite well insulated to minimize road noise and we were able to have a very normal volume of conversation, even as we climbed dirt roads and bounced through potholes.
The seats were comfortable and could really be adjusted to your liking. An interesting design choice, in my opinion, was that of the instrument panel. From the front passenger side, it is impossible to see the speedometer and hard to see the odometer. This will really aid in those nagging passengers who say that you are driving too fast. The information on the instrument panel is clearly laid out, using different LCD lighting. Critical information is bright while other items like the outside temperature is more dimly visible.
The other controls are fairly intuitive as well. This being the first Hyundai that I have tested, it did take me a few minutes to figure some of the controls out. For example, I kept looking for a jog-dial or directional pad to control some of the items on the touchscreen. As I was driving, I was really concentrating on the road so I didn’t have much time to explore the car tech that much. I’m hoping to do an extended test drive in the coming weeks where I can really dive into the tech a bit more.
One thing to take note of, because of the swooping design and styling, there are some blind spots that you need to be sure you are aware of. Interestingly, there is no blind spot indicator system (perhaps as an option in the future?) so you need to make sure that you adjust your side and rear-view mirrors to minimize the blind spots. Since the rear windows swoop up to provide the aggressive design, you do need to take note that portions of your view are obscured.
After driving on the highway for a while, it was really fun to turn off the road and head up a dirt fire road. We got to experience how the Santa Fe performed in a harsher environment with bumps, rocks and plenty of dirt. The model we tested has an automatic AWD (All Wheel Drive) that is electronically coupled to the drive-train. Designed by Dynamax, it provides active cornering by anticipating understeer by transferring torque to the rear wheels as necessary. You do have the ability to lock the AWD but it is only active at low speeds (under 19 MPH) and then shifts back to automatic mode once you go over that speed. It will automatically engage though should the environment warrant it.
Once we climbed on the fire road for a while, we hit Camp Santa Fe at an elevation of 8266 feet. We had a quick snack and drink, switched drivers and then headed back down the mountain for our next destination, Sundance, for lunch.
After lunch and a quick tour of the property, we climbed back in our Santa Fe’s and headed to our next destination, the Olympic Park in Park City.
There we got to experience some zip-lining, alpine sledding and watching ski jumpers practice doing flips into a big pool of water. After that fun excursion, we headed back to the Montage resort to clean up and get ready for dinner.
Over all, we drove about 100 miles, only seeming to drain about 1/4 – 1/3 tank of gas which is impressive for the high-mountain driving we were doing. The drive experience was easy as the Santa Fe really seemed to pamper us. It had good acceleration, solid and tight handling, comfortable braking and good performance over all. One feature that I really enjoyed playing with was the Driver Selectable Steering Mode (DSSM) which allowed you to select, on the fly, if you wanted Normal, Sport or Comfort steering. I chose Sport mode which reduces the power assistance by 10%, giving you a bit more of a handle of the road.
It’s important to note that the Santa Fe actually has one more airbag than its competitors, specifically having a knee-level driver’s airbag to help prevent submarining.
It is pretty obvious that Hyundai is going hard after this competitive market, taking on vehicles like the Toyota Rav4, the Chevy Equinox, the Ford Edge and the Kia Sorento for the Sport version, and autos like the Honda Pilot, the Toyota Highlander, the Nissan Pathfinder and the Mazda CX-9 for the larger 6/7 seater Santa Fe. We saw comparisons of sizes and weights compare to these models as well as horsepower and cargo space. In each of these comparisons, the Santa Fe was either best in class or up at the top.
One measure that was repeatedly brought up was that of the power-to-weight ratio of which the Santa Fe did extremely well providing solid performance but in a lighter car (much of this weight reduction coming from the use of high-tensile steel in the frame).
The panoramic sunroof was a real winner in my mind. Most of these types of sunroofs have large sections or bars that break up the true panorama aspect of the sunroof. The Santa Fe’s was quite different, making the experience much more like not having a roof altogether, but rather an opened-top vehicle.
The Santa Fe is clearly being positioned as a family vehicle, from the “Yes” Essentials fabric of the seats which prevents seat stains from spillages because liquids actually bead up on this fabric, to the manual window shades in the 2nd row. Also, the middle row actually has seat positioning where the passengers can both recline and slide their seats for better comfort. That is the first time that I have seen that feature in a car actually.
Overall, I was nicely impressed with this first experience of a Hyundai vehicle. I got a pretty clear understanding of what the 2013 Santa Fe will offer, and I have a feeling that is is going to be a pretty strong performer in the market. The Hyundai team gave us just enough information about the Santa Fe, leaving us plenty of time to explore all of the features through a carefully planned out and executed test drive experience. And the chosen location of the Montage, Park City, UT and the hills around that area, made for this to be a very memorable adventure. I look forward to spending more time in the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe and find out what my family thinks of it.
Disclosure Text : Hyundai paid for my travel, hotel, activities and food during this media briefing event. All opinions within this article are my own and not subject to review or edits by Hyundai. More information can be found in my About page as well as here.
HTD says: If you are shopping for a new family car, be sure to give the new 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe a look and test drive. I believe you will be impressed!