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car review

The 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe won its category at the AJAC TestFest.

Hyundai's Santa Fe was Canada's fourth-best-selling SUV/Crossover last year, making it one of the shiniest jewels in its sparkling product tiara and, with a new generation just jumping out of the starting blocks and already an award winner, what it didn't need was anything that might tarnish its reputation.

So it's a good guess word of the recent fuel economy rating faux pas must have caused a palpitation or two among those labouring in the Canadian branch's marketing department, not to mention boardroom. Hyundai says procedural errors in Korean testing led to incorrect fuel economy ratings being stated for its own and, keeping it in the family, Kia models. Hyundai sold just more than 24,000 Santa Fe models here last year and was anticipating bettering that, particularly as the just-launched third generation was named the 2013 Best New SUV/Crossover (between $35,000 and $60,000) by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada.

And they still might as the fuel fuss seems to have evaporated as quickly as a splash of spilled gasoline, with affected Hyundai (and Kia) owners' additional fuel costs being covered by the companies. Although, whether it leaves a stain, remains to be seen. And AJAC says that, even with the corrected rating numbers applied, the Santa Fe still comes out on top of its Canadian Car of The Year category.

So, the new Santa Fe, undoubtedly helped by some aggressive damage control marketing by Hyundai, should remain a sales stalwart, and a good choice for Canadian crossover buyers.

The first generation of the mid-size crossover Santa Fe arrived for the 2001 model year and was a strong seller virtually from the get-go. The second generation appeared as a 2007 and this third was introduced at the New York auto show early this year and began appearing in showrooms this fall.

It marks a departure for the Santa Fe in that it will be offered in two versions. Initially in five-passenger Sport form, with a choice of two engines, normally aspirated 2.4-litre four and a turbocharged 2.0-litre four, and with front- or all-wheel-drive, to be followed by a seven-passenger long-wheelbase model with a 3.3-litre V-6 early in 2013.

The five-passenger Santa Fe is priced from $26,499 for the base front-wheel-drive model with 2.4 engine (190 hp/181 lb-ft of torque), and a better-equipped Premium going for $28,299. The first AWD offering is a 2.4-engined Premium at $30,299. The more potent turbo-motored 2.0T range begins with the FWD Premium at $30,499, then the AWD at $32,499 and the SE for $35,299. The Sport 2.0T Limited AWD we'll look at here tops the lineup with a price-tag of $38,499.

Part of the Santa Fe's appeal appears to be based on size, although compact and mid-size definitions are becoming blurred. The new one is 13 mm longer, which keeps it bigger than compact crossovers by enough to apparently make a difference.

At 4,689 mm, it's longer than Hyundai's Tucson (4,440 mm), Honda's CR-V (4,530 mm) and Toyota's RAV4 (4,620 mm). But a handier-sized package overall than Hyundai's Veracruz (4,840 mm) or the popular Dodge Journey (4,888 mm).

Hyundai must feel it has things just about right in terms of meeting customer's inner space requirements as well.

Despite being slightly narrower and not as tall, with "fluidic" sculpted sides and a faster rear roofline, overall volume has increased a little. And with 1,002 litres of room behind the rear seat, it gains a bit on the outgoing version, although total cargo volume of 2,025 litres is down from its 2,214 litres. Versatility is aided by a sliding (and reclining) 20/40/20-split rear seat. The Honda CR-V's cargo numbers are a similar 1,054 litres and 2,007 litres.

The interior is acceptably quiet at speed, and not only feels quite roomy, but materials have been upgraded, the restyled dash looks good with its Supervision instruments, the centre stack ads visual drama while proving functional and the seats are well-shaped. Access to the rear seat is easy, there's decent legroom back there and the panoramic sunroof brightens the area.

And there's a lot of equipment to play with. Standard are heated front seats, driver's seat with power lumbar support, Bluetooth, a six-speaker audio system, tilt and telescope wheel, air conditioning and the usual power features. The Limited ads a bunch more; leather, power heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, the sunroof, automatic climate control, park assist, rear view camera, auto headlights, rear door window blinds and an upgraded audio system and navigation.

Delivering performance and fuel economy efficiently is a key challenge today and the Santa Fe 2.0T Limited's twin-scroll turbocharger equipped four-cylinder engine meets the former by producing 264 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque, down just 12 hp, but up 21 lb-ft on the previous 3.5 litre V-6. A six-speed automatic delivers this to the pavement through the all-wheel-drive system.

AJAC testers found the Santa Fe 2.0T averaged 9.2 seconds in getting to 100 km/h, which was slower than its seven class rivals, but it was the quickest in the 80 km/h to 120 km/h sprint (think passing or highway merging) at 5.1 seconds.

I found it steps off the line fine, and that turbo-generated torque always seems to be on tap. But the transmission's torque converter requires a lot of revs to make things happen, perhaps to smooth out the turbo's power delivery, which is mildly irritating.

This motor returns (updated) fuel economy figures of 11.0 litres/100 km city and 8.4 highway which, a bit surprisingly, aren't quite as good as the 3.5-litre V-6's ratings. I averaged 10.0 litres/100 km in highway and rural/city driving.

The Santa Fe is a competent handler – you can select from three steering weight choices – and delivers a ride that reflects this by its noticeable firmness and control.

Overall, the Santa Fe 2.0T Limited AWD has style, a pleasant and well-equipped interior, more than decent performance and reasonable fuel economy – and I liked it.

Tech specs

2013 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Limited AWD

Type: Mid-size crossover

Base Price: $38,499; as tested, $40,259

Engine: 2.0-litre, DOHC, inline-four

Horsepower/torque: 264 hp/269 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Drive: All-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.0 city/8.4 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Mazda CX-7, Toyota Highlander, Kia Sorento, Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Edge, Nissan Murano, Mitsubishi Outlander