Santa Fe, N.M., was officially founded thirteen years before the Mayflower Pilgrims arrived in New England. The Spanish conquistador Don Pedro de Peralta christened the town in the early seventeenth history as “La Villa Real de la Santa Fé de San Francisco de Asís (Translation: “The Royal Town of the Holy Faith of St. Francis of Assisi.”)
Hyundai wasn’t the first to borrow the name for a mode of transportation that has nothing in common with the town: The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, founded in 1859, never actually reached Santa Fe. And the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe isn’t the best choice for conquering the deep canyons around the Rio Grande that kept the railroads away.
But the nameplate has been a winner for Hyundai, so much so that the Santa Fe is now offered as both a short-wheel base and a long-wheel based package, which effectively replaces the Veracruz. The rationale for the rebranding campaign is not to confuse Hyundai conquests, but simply to attract more customers to the popular Santa Fe badge, according to the automaker’s marketers. You can now super size your Santa Fe to accommodate six and seven passengers.
I drove the 2013 Santa Fe where it belongs — in a decidedly urban environment, where the biggest crevice in the landscape is a formidable pothole, traveling from Manhattan to Mt. Kisco one recent fine New York City spring day. From the outside, the Santa Fe is not a bubble mobile; sharp curves taper back toward angular rear. In other words, you don’t have to look like your average commuter put-putting along with 1.5 kids, even if you happen to be one.
But Santa Fe retains its family values. That meant no gunning the engine on the Limited model to race the Acura driver who tried to pass me from the right lane. This direct-injected V-6, made for the long-wheel base model, makes 290 hp and 252 lb.-ft. of torque, and is tough enough to go steady and sure, but not crazy.
Across its other variations, the thrill of the Santa Fe isn’t in its salacious driving legs; even the 2.0 liter turbo four-cylinder option offered on the Sport has lackadaisical response when shepherded by the six-speed automatic transmission. The impetus for the Hyundai buyer to bump up to the turbo engine option on the Sport model seems misguided; stash that extra $3,250 and stick with the 2.4 four-cylinder engine that makes 190 hp and 181 lb.-ft. of torque, and moves with a sense of confidence on the freeway.
The CUV acronym should actually stand for “Child Utility Vehicle,” and in this segment the Santa Fe shimmers like an oasis in the desert. Legroom is ample at 41.3 inches in the front, extending to 31.5 inches in the third row on the long wheelbase model. The storage space is well planned, granting 146 cubic feet, and also includes storage space beneath the cargo floor for odds and ends like baseball mitts. In the smaller Sport, a nifty sliding second-row seat accommodates clunky cargo and long-legged passengers.
The emphasis on backseat comfort for the entire family includes options for reclining second row seats, heated second row seats, individual reading lights, a manual rear side window shade and stain-resistant cloth seats. The Limited offers a fine example of how Hyundai stocks its interior fridge full of high-end gadgetry with options for a heated steering wheel, a panoramic sunroof, leather seats, touch-screen navigation and a backup camera.
The base model of the Santa Fe Sport starts at $26,200 all the way up to the top-of-the line Limited Technology package that prices out at $37,750, indicative of Santa Fe’s vast territory. These days the real Santa Fe is better known for Georgia O’Keefe and chili peppers, and the Santa Fe trains are the relegated to model train yards. That's fine; the Hyundai Santa Fe seems more than ready to haul any load it can find.