The humble Hyundai Veracruz, on sale in its current iteration since 2007, was one of the last holdouts of "old Hyundai," a crossover that soldiered on with bland exterior design while brandmates like the Sonata and Elantra added fancy new powertrains and sharp exterior looks. No more: Hyundai's seven-passenger crossover, now named Santa Fe, enters the 2013 model year with "new Hyundai" written all over it.
First things first: the crossover's new name is unlikely to win any fans. Both Hyundai's mid-size 5-passenger crossover and 7-passenger crossover are all-new for 2013, and both are named Santa Fe. The smaller of the two, previously known as the Santa Fe, is known as the Santa Fe Sport, while the larger of the two -- nee Veracruz -- is now the Santa Fe. For what it's worth, the smallest of the three Hyundai CUVs is still called the Tucson.
Should you be in doubt about which Santa Fe is which, the Santa Fe is the one with much, much more interior space. Thanks to a stretched wheelbase the Santa Fe sports 146.6 cubic feet of passenger volume and 40.9 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row of seats (with the third row folded), both are respectable increases on the smaller Santa Fe Sport's 108 cubic feet of passenger volume and 35.4 cubic feet of space behind the passengers. Santa Fe customers can also order their cars with seating for either six or seven: GLS-spec Santa Fes come with a second-row bench with space for three, while Limited-spec trucklets have two (heated) bucket seats. As is customary with seven-seat crossovers, the third-row seats fold flat into the floor when not in use, although the process is a manual one with the Santa Fe.
The Santa Fe, for reference, is also the one with more cylinders. The Santa Fe Sport's powertrain choices match those of the Sonata mid-size sedan (not counting the Sonata Hybrid): one 2.4-liter direct-injected I-4 (making 190 hp), and one 2.0-liter turbocharged and direct-injected I-4 (making 264 hp). The larger Santa Fe lifts its engine, a 3.3-liter direct-injected V-6 making 290 hp and 252 lb-ft of torque, from the Azera premium sedan. As with the Azera (and the Santa Fe Sport) that power is sent through a six-speed automatic transmission, to the front wheels. All-wheel drive is optional on both GLS and Limited trim levels.
With the job of differentiating itself from the Santa Fe Sport done, the Santa Fe also does a good job at distancing itself from its predecessor. The Santa Fe tips the scales between 320 and 333 pounds lighter than the Veracruz, and its new engine boasts some 30 additional horsepower. Even with the added power the Santa Fe handily beats the Veracruz's mpg estimates: at 18/25 FWD and 18/24 AWD (manufacturer's estimates), the Santa Fe goes between one and three further miles on a gallon than the old SUV, depending on driven wheels and trim level.
As for the Santa Fe's "new Hyundai" touches, one need look no further than the family hauler's slick exterior to see the improvement. The Veracruz, last updated in 2007, made it to market years before Hyundai's slate of products designed to follow the "fluidic sculpture" design language, but the Santa Fe (and Santa Fe Sport) leapfrog over that design philosophy and into a new era of what Hyundai calls "fluidic precision." The Sonata and Elantra sedan's swoopy lines have been creased and straightened, and the Santa Fe looks chic in a way that stands in contrast to competitors like the Ford Explorer (more rounded), the Honda Pilot (more boxy), and Mazda CX-9 (more flowy).
On the inside, the Santa Fe is packed with typical Hyundai fare, like BlueLink telematics, an optional Infinity Logic7 sound system (12 speakers, 550 watts), standard SiriusXM radio and USB/Bluetooth connectivity, a panoramic sunroof, an "Active Eco" button to tune HVAC performance and throttle mapping, and a variable-effort steering wheel (with settings for comfort, normal, or sport).