tHUNTSVILLE, ON - Hyundai has been fighting for every scrap of market share possible as it continues its unprecedented march into prominence among global auto makers.
That push has enabled it to go toe-to-toe with the leaders in the two hottest segments of the Canadian market – compact cars and compact SUVs or CUVs.
Last year the Hyundai Elantra topped the perennial compact car queen, Honda Civic on several monthly sales reports. Honda blamed the situation on a shortage of supply caused by the tsunami in Japan.
Now with the supply chain full, the Civic is back atop the charts. But Hyundai says it could still knock Honda off the top rung if it could get more Elantra sedans.
A third shift going into action at the company’s southern U.S. plant and the addition of the Elantra Coupe and GT to the line could well turn the trick.
Compact CUV/SUV market growing
In the meantime Hyundai is tackling the compact CUV/SUV segment, which has grown 26% over the past four years and where 21% of new car buyers are expected to land in the coming three years, according to Hyundai’s research.
Here, where the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape are the big guns, Hyundai has a double-edged plan – the Tucson for the smaller end of the segment and a brand new Santa Fe for the upper portion.
A new Tucson was introduced only last year and has been doing very well, thank you. This year it is being joined by the third-generation Santa Fe.
The first version of the 2013 Santa Fe is being called the Santa Fe Sport, the five-passenger version of another two-tier approach.
The second will be the long wheelbase, seven-passenger Santa Fe coming in the first quarter of 2013. It will replace the Veracruz in the mid-size segment.
Steve Kelleher, the long-serving President and CEO of Hyundai Canada, says the new Santa Fe is the most important launch since the Elantra.
During that interval the company has introduced several other new vehicles (Veloster, Elantra Coupe and GT) but the Santa Fe is the second leg in Hyundai’s success here along with the Elantra sedan.
The company has sold more than 170,000 Santa Fes in Canada and 2.6-millioin around the world.
More for less
"More for less" is sort of a mantra for Hyundai and the new Santa Fe Sport certainly meets those expectations.
It is slightly smaller yet has more room inside. It gets better fuel economy but has more power. It has a raft of additional standard equipment but there is no increase in price.
Hyundai knows consumers are flocking to SUV or CUVs because they like to sit up higher and enjoy a commanding view. But it also knows the recent trend toward CUVs or more car-like SUVs is at least in part because of the desire for more car-like driving dynamics.
They want all-wheel-drive and utility but care little about pure off-road ability. They also want more premium features, luxury and "premiumness," the company says.
Accordingly the 2013 Santa Fe Sport has a more aggressive look and showcases Hyundai’s dramatic "fluidic sculpture" language.
Its coefficient of drag has dropped from 0.38 for the outgoing model to 0.34 thanks to wind-tunnel work and the new design.
The wheelbase remains the same as for the outgoing model and overall length is up slightly ( 14 mm) but width and height are down, by 14 mm and 35-mm respectively. Yet interior space is up slightly.
The second row seat-back is split 40/20/40 allowing one to carry long items like skis and two full-sized adults in the rear. The seat-backs recline, the seat slides fore and aft and there is a very roomy storage compartment below the cargo floor .
The standard fabric seat covering has a new stain-repellent treatment. Heated second row seats, ventilated front seats and a heated steering wheel are all available as are a panoramic sunroof, rear side window shades and proximity key with push button start.
Distinct engine choices
The new Santa Fe Sport comes with a choice of two four-cylinder engines, the V-6 option having been dropped. The seven-passenger Santa Fe will be powered by a 3.3-litre V-6 with direct injection.
The base engine in the Santa Fe Sport is Hyundai’s Theta II four-cylinder, displacing 2.4 litres and producing a healthy 190 horsepower and 181 lb-ft of torque.
Optional in some trim levels and standard in others will be a 2.0-litre four with a twin-scroll turbocharger. Output is an impressive 264 horsepower and 269 lb-ft of torque. Both engines have an aluminum block and head, direct injection, continuously-variable valve-timing and are paired with a six-speed automatic transmission.
The Santa Fe Sport 2.4 has more power and torque than any of the Honda CR-V, Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape and four-cylinder Toyota RAV-4.
The Santa Fe 2.0 has just 4% fewer horsepower than the V-6 used in the outgoing model but this deficiency is more than made up by 8% more torque and an 8% improvement in fuel economy.
The 2.4 carries a 682-kg (1500-lb) tow rating and the 2.0, 1590-kg (3500-lb).
A new AWD system is also available. It operates primarily in front-drive mode until slippage is detected, at which time some power is diverted to the rear wheels.
The new system also features fully active cornering control, which uses a series of sensors to detect understeer or oversteer and applies the brakes at an individual wheel to aid in cornering.
Hill start assist, downhill brake control, brake assist and electronic traction control are all standard.
So is driver-selectable steering. A button to the left of the steering wheel alters the feel of the electric steering system, with a choice of normal ,comfort and sport.
The new Santa Fe Sport is 120 kilos lighter than the outgoing model, despite a 16% improvement in torsional stiffness and the added weight from additional safety and NVH features.
Credit goes to the extensive use of high tensile-strength steel from Hyundai’s own steel plant.
The 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport is available in a dizzying array of drivetrain and trim levels starting at $26,499 and climbing to $38,499. You can get a well-equipped AWD version for $30,000.
Hyundai expects the 2.0 AWD to be the dominant seller.