New Car Review: 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport

Front 3/4 view of 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport

The original idea behind the crossover SUV was to get people from huge trucks to carlike sport-utes...eliminate some of the bulk and achieve some efficiencies in both packaging and fuel economy. For the most part, it's worked. But there's one thing the Suburbans and Tahoes and Expeditions whetted an appetite for that's not going away...and that's the third row of seats.

Many manufacturers have simply crammed in a final row at the expense of cargo room. Others are making their crossovers bigger to accommodate the extra seating. Hyundai, on a roll lately, came up with what looks to be the intelligent solution...keep the Santa Fe at its current size as a five-seater and offer a new, slightly larger model with three rows of seats.

The only confusion is, to capitalize on the equity in the Santa Fe name, that's what they're calling the new three-row crossover. What was the Santa Fe last year is now the Santa Fe Sport. But it's been re-designed, refined and just plain made a lot better.

side view of 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport

If you don't need three rows, the Santa Fe Sport is a great way to go. Sensibly sized, more than decently powered, with a 264 horsepower 2-liter turbo four and a six-speed automatic (or, for $3,000 less, a 190 horsepower 2.4 liter normally aspirated four) ...a combo that delivers an EPA estimated 19 MPG city and 24 MPG highway.

Our tester was the all-wheel drive 2.0T version and for a base price of $29.450, it comes loaded with stability control, anti-lock brakes, tire pressure monitoring, 19-inch alloy wheels, fog lamps, chrome twin exhausts, windshield wiper de-icers and heated side mirrors, pushbutton start, power driver seat, heated front seats, cruise control, an AM/FM/Sirius XM/CD/mp3 audio system with USB, iPod and Auxiliary jacks, a full tank of gas, and Hyundai's 10 year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty.

Interior view of 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport

You could stop right there and never feel deprived. But spend just a bit more, and the words "luxury" and "Hyundai" edge closer to each other. $2,450 gets you the Leather & Premium Equipment package (turn signals in the door mirrors, leather seating surfaces, a power passenger seat, sliding and reclining second-row seats, heated rear seats, dual automatic temperature control with CleanAir ionizer, a 4.3 inch color audio display, a rearview camera and an auto-dimming rearview mirror with Homelink and compass. Toss in $100 for carpeted floor mats, $50 for a cargo net and $150 for a cargo cover and you've got one equipped just like our tester, with an as-tested price (including $825 freight and handling) of $33,025.

I'm consistently surprised how many people don't know how far Hyundai has come...the stunned looks in their eyes when I tell them just how good these cars are now. If you're among those stuck in the 1990s, it's time for a test drive.