Dec. 12--A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but an SUV called Veracruz stinks on ice. That's the "Wherefore art thou" of the three-star 2013 and 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe, which applies the name of a popular midsize crossover to a new bigger six- or seven-passenger family hauler.
Hyundai introduced the Veracruz a few years ago to compete with family crossovers like the Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Explorer and Honda Pilot.
It flopped. Chevy frequently sold more Traverses in a month than Hyundai did Veracruzes in a year. The Korean automaker researched shoppers who were looking for big crossovers and learned most had never heard of the Veracruz.
Hyundai thought the best way to fix that was to give their family-sized crossover a fun-sized name, and the 2013 Santa Fe was born. The five-passenger midsize crossover that replaced the old Santa Fe last year was renamed the Santa Fe Sport.
Confused yet? The bigger new six- or seven-seat Santa Fe replaced the Veracruz this year. It has a 290-horsepower 3.3L V6 and six-speed automatic transmission. There were few changes from the 2013 model I tested to the 2014 edition that's arriving at Hyundai dealerships now.
Prices for the 2014 Santa Fe start at $29,800 for a front-wheel-drive model. All-wheel-drive starts at $31,550.
I tested a top-of-the-line Santa Fe Limited AWD model with an interior wrapped in saddle-style brown leather. It stickered at $37,985 and came with a big sun roof, touch screen, navigation, 550-watt Infinity sound, heated first- and second-row seats, second-row captain's chairs, a six-passenger configuration, Bluetooth phone and music compatibility and more. All prices exclude destination charges.
To my disappointment, it didn't have enough memory for the driver's settings and blind-spot alert, features common on vehicles in this price range.
The Santa Fe's competitors include the aforenamed Traverse, Explorer and Pilot and the Dodge Durango, Kia Sorento, Mazda CX-9 and Nissan Pathfinder. A new version of the Toyota Highlander that goes on sale in 2014 also will compete with the Santa Fe.
The Santa Fe is smaller than most competitors, but has a roomy and pleasant passenger compartment. Appealing soft materials cover most surfaces, but the gaps between some pieces of trim are large. The third-row seats are best left to kids, but the middle row is fine. That's not unusual for three-row crossovers, which are built to compete with minivans, not limousines.
The Santa Fe's smaller size shows up in its cargo compartment. The space behind the third row seat is smaller than most competitors'. It'll hold three or four grocery bags, but not much more.
The voice-recognition system works well with hands-free phone calls and the nav system. The audio system doesn't pause iPods while you dictate commands, though, and it switched my iPod out of shuffle mode every time I shut the Santa Fe off. The CD player in the car I tested did not work. An owner would have to take it in for service.
The Santa Fe's power and acceleration are more than adequate, but the engine gets loud when the transmission holds a gear during strong acceleration. The steering, ride and handling are unremarkable, providing comfort without drawing attention.
The Santa Fe's fuel economy is among the best in its segment at an EPA-rated 18 m.p.g. in the city, 24 highway and 20 combined. Only the Pathfinder beats that among the competitors I've named.
Despite Hyundai's eye-catching styling, the Veracruz never drew much attention. The Santa Fe's familiar name should attract more family shoppers to this pleasant crossover.
(c)2013 the Detroit Free Press
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