Hands On: A Day in the Utah Mountains with the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport (video/pics)
When Hyundai called and asked us if we wanted to join in them Park City, Utah to test drive their all new, 2013 Santa Fe, it was hardly a question that needed much evaluation. That said, there couldn’t possibly be a better place to visit at the end of the summer, especially since the Republican National Convention was on the cusp of commencing. After all, Mitt Romney is a devout Mormon, and Utah is home to those that wear special underwear.
So last Friday I stuffed some clothing in my prized Jack Spade duffel, adorned my best pair of Aviators (my only pair in fact), and boarded a plane at Los Angeles International airport. Less than two hours and some quick shut eye later, I arrived in good old Salt Lake city. With no time to think, I was quickly shoved into the back of an Escalade, sans black hood and duct tape mind you, and transported to Park City, home to Bob Redford’s Sundance film festival. It’s a quaint location, receives about 25′ of snow every year, and is the type of town where there are no strangers and only familiar faces. Tourism is abound in this part of Utah, and unlike the city it remains in the high 70s during the summer thanks to its high elevation. Just about everyone that I spoke to was a ski bum, and rightfully so given the amount of precipitation they receive on a yearly basis. But Park City wasn’t always the endearing town it has come to be. Before silver, gold, and other elements were discovered there it was hard living, which is anything what my experience was.
Hyundai put us up in the Montage, which is the grand daddy of all hotels. If you don’t believe me, check their other locations, which includes Beverly Hills, the gold standard in over priced living. And if it’s good enough for the LA rich, then it’s good enough for me. The first evening we wined and dined, networked with fellow bloggers, and met the congenial folks at Hyundai. They didn’t pepper us with car related news. Instead, they made sure we were fed, indulging in all the libations they had to offer, and enjoying the company cut from a similar cloth. The following day we rose and got down to business. And by business I mean to say that we jumped behind the wheel of the yet released 2013 Santa Fe Sport, a crossover that has currently just entered into its third iteration. In other words I got to drive the latest and greatest that the company had to offer.
Utah, and the Park City area is full of scenic vistas. While most cars simply provide a 360 view, the Santa Fe is outfitted with a gigantic sunroof that extends from the front seats to just beyond the rear seats. And unlike some of its competitors, this one can open, albeit 50% of the way, without significantly hindering the view. That in mind, the backseat of cars has long been regarded as second place to shotgun. Hyundai’s 2013 Santa Fe’s backseat not only slides back an additional 5-inches, allowing for additional leg room or cargo space – however you see fit – but reclines for added comfort. My only regret is not spending time in the backseat, though that would have negated my driving experience as well as the ability to play with the vehicles toys.
Perched in the center of the dash is a 4.3-inch touchscreen nav system (8-inch if one so opts). And while it’s largely on par with many a manufacturer’s, they’ve managed to refine theirs a bit by providing crisp, clear, and succinct directions. Approach your exit and the voice not only demands that you follow the path at hand, but it displays actual road signs, providing another level of image recognition. Furthering that is a speed limit indicator, and while it doesn’t always display, it’s a nice touch for those traveling from state to state not familiar with road signs, speed limit laws, and the like.
For a car that starts at $24k you’d expect less, I know I did. Not just in terms of creature comfort, but in terms of the interiors look, materials, and finishes. Sure, the Santa Fe isn’t encrusted with wooden inlays. However, the attention to angles and refinement is abundantly present – something Hyundai calls “art meets technology” – but ask me and I’ll tell you it’s comfortable, evokes a sense of safety, and yet doesn’t strike you with pure utility. In other words it’s a nice balance and a refreshing approach to a car of this ilk.
Furthering that are a few exterior elements that complement the interior and much to my initial amusement, Hyundai calls this “floating sculpture”. It’s a bold nomenclature, despite my initial apprehensions it’s actually quite apt for the lines and curves that they’ve adorned upon the 2013 Santa Fe Sport. The back isn’t too overstated, yet doesn’t completely blend in with the pact of other CUV in the same class. Yes, the far back quarter panel windows aren’t usable, at least in terms of driver awareness, but that’s a moot issue since it largely addresses the car’s exterior curves and those that reside in the back during a road trip. The face, or the grill of the Santa Fe Sport, which mind you is crafted from plastic, appears as though it wouldn’t back down from a fight, even if the opponent was clad in in all black sheet metal and weighed twice its weight (of note, this year’s Santa Fe Sport is lighter than before). Of course it might be deriving some of its guts and brawn from the optional 19-inch alloy rims and standard LED headlight. That or the mid level 2.0L 264hp engine that produces 269 lb-ft of torque. All of which I wanted, scratch that, needed to traverse the hilly and high altitude roads of Utah’s Park City and beyond.
Hyundai apparently knows a thing or two about engineering – they’ve got their own plant to produce high-tensile steel, the only one in their industry – but they they also know how to entertain while educate. The road trip started out relatively status quo. A warm up by some accounts. The real amusement began when we laid tire onto dirt road. This is where the Santa Fe Sport showed off its versaility by gripping to dry dirt and softening the blow of what would have otherwise felt like a Kung Fu master hurdling hundreds of punches to my upper torso. Unfortunately, they’ve yet to craft a vehicle that can repel dirt and water from its exterior, but that’s a caveat I’m willing to accept for now, especially since it was a testament to to one’s exploration of all things Utah. At peak we drove our Santa Fe Sports to over 8,800 feet of elevation without a single hiccup in engine performance; smooth sailing to and from.
Bathroom breaks aside, we stopped over at Bob Redford’s property, majestically situated in the hills of Utah. It’s an uncanny place that ensures humans will be around for 1,000 of years to come. There we pitted for lunch and viewed the property courtesy of their resident tour guide who insisted that Robert Redford insists he be called Bob. Much to my bemusement I acquiesced, only for a second, and then promptly returned to calling him Robert Redford.
Lunch in our bellies we returned to our freshly polished vehicles and delved into the car’s other creature comforts. User adjustable steering wheel sensitivity (three levels) with heating elements? Check. Infinity 550-watt 12 speaker audio system, at an additional cost on all level no less? Check. Back up camera (mid level or higher)? Check. Front and rear heated seats? Check. Insulated windshield with auto defogger? Check. Dual automatic temperature control? Check. Most in class airbags (7 in total)? Check. Down hill assist? Check. Air ionizer (the Sharper Image wants royalties)? Check. Hill assist start? Check. Specially coated cloth seats for easy spill clean up? Check. Standard Bluetooth connectivity? Check. AWD or RWD? Check. The list goes on. No doubt about that. But one feature stood above the rest of the best: the Blue Link app.
That isn’t to say the other features are moot, or aren’t well positioned. In fact, the complete opposite. The Blue Link option is one destined to become necessity amongst car consumers, but for now shall remain a luxury. A 90-day free trial is available to all of those that sport a smartphone and a penchant for gadgety fun (as well as a model that includes a 4.3-inch or bigger nav system). The app, which requires a manufacture code only available to an owner, allows you to control a variety of things from your smartphone. This includes: honk the horn, flash the lights, remote start the car (great if you reside in a cold area, such as Utah), un/lock the Santa Fe Sport’s doors, delve into the car’s diagnostic details, and send points of interests directly to the nav system. It’s a vastly useful tool, especially if you misplace your Santa Fe Sport in a gigantic parking lot, as it also includes a car finder tool, which can hunt down your whip within a one mile radius (I’m told this is to avoid lawsuits, and by lawsuits I mean spousals disagreements).
Nevertheless, I could probably go on and on rambling off a variety of specs and features that the Santa Fe Sport has to offer, which are vast by all accounts. However, before I close with, well, my closing remarks on the 2013 Santa Fe Sport, I do want to point to Hyundai’s goal to end pediatric cancer. Sure, they’re a for profit company, but that hasn’t stopped them from donating what has now amassed to $57 million. Yes, $57,000,000 to end this sickness that plagues our youngsters, something they call Hope on Wheels. You could accuse them of using it as a marketing ploy, and even if it slightly is, isn’t it the good that matters? After all, the more cars they sell the more money they’ll donate.
Though, don’t misconstrue my intentions. I’m not on all pilgrimage to end the world’s problems, which in this case would be a very long and cumbersome way to go about it. The quality, time, care and detail Hyundai has squeezed into Santa Fe Sport speaks for itself. One could simply compare their cars of today with the ones of 10 years ago. Fair enough, but remove the Hyundai’s of a time past from the picture, and the Santa Fe Sport stands on its own two legs. Or in this case its own 19-inch alloy rims, which sure do look purrty when your zooming through Utah’s picturesque hills and vistas, with or without special underwear.