Driver's Seat: Hyundai Santa Fe doesn't quite shine

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2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport AWD 2.0T: Handsome inside and out, but nothing standout about it.

Price: $29,450 without options; $35,925 as tested.

Marketer's pitch: "Take the scenic route."

Conventional wisdom: cites its "spacious and high-quality interior; Sport model's strong and relatively economical turbo engine."

Reality: That route maybe shouldn't be too scenic.

Timed for the season: So now that Pittsburgh is enjoying its early spring -- thanks, Phil, for the flurries and 37 on Tuesday -- April appears to be as good a time as any to share the reviews of the Korean crossovers I've had sitting on the shelf.

This week I'll start with the more expensive version, and next week see how it feels to save some bucks on a Kia Sportage EX AWD.

Crossover mashup: Hyundai has done some lineup rearranging with the new 2013 Santa Fe. The Sport replaces the plain, old five-seater Santa Fe. The Sport-less version of the Santa Fe now offers seven seats and a longer wheelbase, and replaces the old Veracruz.

Not twin cousins: A couple years ago I found myself enjoying a 2011 Kia Sportage SX with the 2.0-liter four found in this Santa Fe Sport. It seemed like a sharp vehicle, fun enough to drive, roomy and versatile. As a front-wheel-drive vehicle, it handled well and got great gas mileage (27 mpg in my testing).

But this all-wheel-drive Hyundai relative? Not so much. If you're more interested in comfort and not that worried about sportiness, then steer yourself in this direction.

Yes, I'm moving: The 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder exudes an ample 264 horsepower. But the power is a little unrestrained. Standing starts could often be wonky, especially when I wasn't looking to race from a stoplight. A 2.4-liter four is the base engine (which I tried out in the Sportage coming in next week's test).

On the curves: I don't expect Mini Cooper-esque performance from crossovers, but the Santa Fe Sport was wanting even among its own kind. It was kind of loose in the handling department, and fairly bouncy when the pavement turned rough. Winding roads don't offer any of the delight one might get from a Mazda CX-5, Volkswagen Tiguan -- or even the straightforwardly stable Subaru Forester.

Outside: The redesigned look for 2013 is pretty enough, although the white exterior and big feet of the test model made it look sort of like an egg with wagon wheels.

Inside: Unlike the Hyundai "swoop" in its cars, the Santa Fe interior goes angular. The bevy of buttons and controls and the trapezoidal vents that are hard to aim combine to leave me reaching for the Advil. The leather seats are attractive and comfortable, though.

Tuning in: A big dial on the stereo front makes adjusting the volume extremely simple. But, really, how many times does one adjust the volume in a given trip? The big dial would be better served as the tuner.

Glaring problem: I know the position of the sun varies with the seasons, but the Santa Fe's LCD display seemed strategically placed to capture its rays and cause partial blindness. The best screens are fairly vertical and have a little visor over the top, but the Santa Fe's is angled with the dashboard and goes rimless.

Just a thought: I think it's worth looking back at the "Price" line above. We've managed to add close to 20 percent of the base price, and for it we've received a $2,450 leather and premium package, which includes leather seats, heated and reclining rear seats, power front passenger seat, and rear camera; the technology package adds $2,900 and offers panoramic sunroof, navigation system with 8-inch touch screen, heated steering wheel and more.

Unless I'm missing something, you can get an Acura RDX for that much money, and get most of those features except heated rear seats.

Hyundai and Kia tend to price vehicles like Giant Eagle's weekly circular: Loss leaders lure you in, but the stuff you really want can get very expensive in a hurry.

Fuel economy: Right around 25 mpg in a highway-heavy mix of driving.

Built in: West Point, Ga.

How it's built: Consumer Reports hasn't rated its reliability, as it's a new model. But cousin Kia Sorento also hails from the same plant and gets below-average marks.

Next week: How the 2013 Kia Sportage EX AWD stands up.

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Scott Sturgis, a freelance auto writer, can be reached at


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