PARK CITY, Utah -- Hyundai hopes its redesigned 2013 Santa Fe crossover will shore up the brand's biggest weakness -- appealing to buyers with families.
The Santa Fe redesign also is an opportunity to boost U.S. sales after most of Hyundai's recent launches have been for lower volume products or variants of existing nameplates. This year, the Santa Fe is Hyundai's highest-volume crossover and its fourth-best-selling vehicle overall through August.
John Krafcik, CEO of Hyundai Motor America, told reporters last month at a press event here that the biggest hole in Hyundai's growing lineup is in family vehicles.
The 2013 Santa Fe comes in two sizes: a five-passenger Santa Fe Sport and a seven-passenger Santa Fe, which has a stretched wheelbase and more overall length. (Think Dodge Caravan and Grand Caravan as a strategy comparison.) The Santa Fe replaces the discontinued Veracruz crossover.
The Sport competes with crossovers such as the Chevrolet Equinox and Ford Edge while the Santa Fe will go up against the Toyota Highlander, Nissan Pathfinder and other larger crossovers.
The Sport is on sale now, and the Santa Fe arrives in late December or early January.
The basics: The new sheet metal wrapping the Santa Fe crossovers marks an evolution of Hyundai's fluidic sculpture design language. The swoopy, dramatic curves such as those on the Sonata sedan have been subdued. The Santa Fe's lines are sharper, with more straight edges in sheet metal creases and smoother, less exuberant surface texturing than some of Hyundai's more dramatic recent designs.
Cutting weight was a major goal for the 2013 redesign, and the Santa Fe Sport shed 266 pounds compared with the outgoing 2012 model. The larger 2013 Santa Fe weighs 397 pounds less than the 2012 Veracruz it replaces.
A new platform underpins the 2013 Santa Fe lineup, with a MacPherson strut front suspension and an in-wheel multilink rear, which Hyundai says saves space for interior volume compared with other multilink suspensions. The Santa Fe Sport's dimensions are about the same as the outgoing model. The weight savings help to boost highway fuel economy to 33 mpg compared with 28 mpg for the previous model.
Notable features: Hyundai kid-proofed the Santa Fe's base cloth seats with Yes Essentials anti-stain fabric that beads up spills for easy cleaning as a standard feature. A 40-20-40 split folding rear seat gives the cargo area extra versatility.
All-wheel drive is available on all trim levels. The drivetrain, supplied by Magna Powertrain, features an Active Cornering Control system that anticipates understeer and automatically applies braking and traction control to keep the Santa Fe from slipping off the road.
What Hyundai says: "We do really well in the pre-family life stage with our lineup, and we do well in the post-family stage," Krafcik said. "The interesting thing is that the people with families who have kids in the house right now, they want to buy Hyundais more than any other group, and we just haven't had very many cars to offer them. And now we do."
Shortcomings and compromises: Hyundai engineers opted not to widen the Santa Fe compared with the outgoing model to make the crossover easier to park, said Mike O'Brien, vice president of product planning for Hyundai Motor America. The compromise is a back seat that can get cramped for families trying to cram in three car seats.
The rear seats are tough to fold down from behind the car with the rear liftgate open. The seat release levers in the cargo area don't easily fold the seats down with one touch, which may be tough for parents carrying kids or gear.
The market: Hyundai expects annual Santa Fe Sport and seven-passenger Santa Fe sales to eventually return to the company's previous Santa Fe peak of 111,447 U.S. sales in 2004.
The skinny: The Santa Fe lineup is an improvement from the outgoing Santa Fe and the Veracruz. Hyundai stuck to its formula of injecting attractive design and high fuel economy with the Santa Fe redesign. Based on consumer response after applying that formula to current-generation Sonata and Elantra, the same should be true for the Santa Fe.