Despite what you may have heard, there is, and always will be, a need for a vehicle at fits in a normal garage and has seating for up to eight.
For decades the queen of the people haulers was the minivan and it still is.
But the rise of the sport utility vehicles over just the past 15 years has been astonishing. Now SUVs come in all sizes, price ranges and uses.
Hyundai, never one to leave a viable niche unplumbed, offered the Entourage extended minivan and more recently the Veracruz SUV that more than filled the bill.
With the advent of direct injection engines, lighter but more rigid chassis and, above all, ingenious new people packaging methods, you can have a mid-size SUV and seat up to seven people all in one vehicle and that’s what the 2013 Santa Fe XL is all about.
While the five-seat Santa Fe offers a choice of two, four-cylinder engines, the 215 mm longer Santa Fe XL is fitted with Hyundai’s new, direct injection 3.3-litre V6 as the only engine, mainly because of the weight of its greater 6/7-passenger seating. The 3.3-litre produces 290 hp and 252 lb/ft of torque.
The XL is available in front- or all-wheel-drive and both use a six-speed automatic transmission with Shiftronic manual sequential shift mode.
Fuel rating for the FWD version is 11.6/7.8/9.9 L/100 km city/highway/combined and 11.7/8.0/10.0 L/100 km for the AWD.
The Santa Fe XL increases second-row legroom by 50 millimetres and cargo capacity by 156 litres, relative to its five-passenger sibling with a nice touch being standard rear-passenger HVAC controls and vents.
The standard 50:50 split-folding third row bench seat has 800 millimetres of legroom.
Customers can opt for a 40:20:40 split-folding second row bench seat for seven-passenger versatility or a six-passenger layout with second row captain’s chairs.
The interior is festooned with beverage holders of all shapes. Thoughtfully, each one has a little ridged bottom so drinks and water bottles don’t clatter around when moving.
When it comes to electronics, the South Koreans are probably the best in the world and that proves to be true inside the Santa Fe.
The XL is available with three audio systems starting with a standard AM/FM/Satellite Radio/CD/MP3 audio system with six-speakers and iPod/USB/auxiliary connectivity.
Tested here is the Santa Fe Limited AWD fitted with a super fast navigation system, a 550-watt Infinity Logic 7 audio system with 12 speakers, including an eight-inch subwoofer, and external amplifier.
An XM satellite radio interface is integrated into each head unit as is a Bluetooth hands-free phone system with voice recognition, address book download and audio streaming. LCD screen-equipped systems integrate rear-view camera output.
The third-generation navigation system starts with an eight-inch touch-screen display and is simpler to use thanks to enhanced voice recognition commands and improved navigation screens.
Drivers and passengers will find it more intuitive. For example, pop-up messages now appear to help sync a phone while the voice recognition software also now understands street addresses and cities all in one sentence.
Where it really excels is on highways where route screens display speed limits and details the next three required manoeuvres.
It is much easier to use and understand than I can explain in words and definitely worth a test drive just to see how it works.
The 2013 Santa Fe has every safety feature you can think of such as seven airbags, but one of the more interesting is the Vehicle Stability Management (VSM) system that incorporates a Rollover Protection System.
What it does is control the ESC (Electronic Stability Control) and the Motor-Driven Power Steering (MDPS) to help the driver maintain control of the vehicle in slippery conditions or during fast cornering. Should the vehicle lose traction, VSM can deliver up to eight Newton-meters of counter-steering effort to help keep it on the road. A Traction Control System (TCS) is also included.
In keeping with the ways the Koreans are dialling in electronics into their cars and trucks is Hyundai’s all-new Driver Selectable Steering Mode (DSSM) system.
It has three operating modes (Comfort, Normal and Sport) allowing the driver to configure steering response to road conditions and his/her driving style.
I’ve tried this a few times now and find Normal is the best for all-round driving. Sport adds a 10 per cent stiffness to the steering while Comfort relaxes driver input for the long haul.
My AWD Limited came with the topline saddle leather interior adding a near-luxury feel one expects from the Germans in this segment.
There is an icon of the Santa Fe in the centre driver display. At start up, it shows a beam passing from stern to stem as part of a maintenance check to see if everything is functioning. It’s like a little bit of Star Trek in your people hauler.
While the new V6 is smaller for 2013, its direct injection makes it more responsive as well as more powerful plus more frugal in operation.
But what owners will like is the way the power and torque are applied by the six-speed, making for transparent gear changes with the steering wheel communicating a feeling of solid grip at the road surface.
Part of this is due to fact the Santa Fe is 178 kg lighter than the Veracruz and advances made in steering and road holding between the two make for a much better handling package in the new one.
This comes to the fore on downtown city streets where girth and sloth are hindrances as any full-size SUV or pickup truck owner will tell you. You can access any underground parking without fear of skinning the roof on a height restriction bar.
Another great feature of the XL Premium is the full-length sunroof that is great on sunny days but it also gives you a reassuring view of the height bar as you pass underneath it.
The Santa Fe XL comes at a time when Hyundai needs a strong seven-seater in its model portfolio.
By keeping the outer dimensions tight and the inner ones enough for seven, Hyundai’s 2013 Santa Fe seems to have found the perfect people mover solution.
Hyundai Santa Fe XL Limited 2013
Body Style: Mid-size six-/seven-passenger CUV
Drive Method: front-engine, front-/all-wheel-drive
Engine: 3.3-litre DOHC gasoline direct injection V6 (290 hp and 252 lb/ft of torque)
Cargo: 383 litres behind third row, 1,159 litres behind middle row, 2,265 litres max cargo room
Towing Capacity: 2,268 kg (5,000 lb) with trailer brake)
Fuel Economy: 11.6/7.8/9.9 L/100 km (FWD); 11.7/8.0/10.0 L/100 km (AWD)
Price: base FWD $29,999, Premium AWD $34,999, Luxury AWD $39,199, Limited AWD $42,899, Limited AWD with Saddle Leather $43,199