Hyundai further defines the Santa Fe's Fluidic Sculpture design language as Storm Edge because it seeks to capture the types of strong, dynamic, constant-motion shapes created by nature during a storm. We see it as handsome, dynamic and more distinctive than most other entries in its class.
Its three-bar hexagonal grille and wraparound headlamps (with LED accents) lead to a rising beltline and that sweeps upward to a stylishly narrow third window and a standard rear roof spoiler. The rockers bulge between bold, round wheel arches, while a sculpted character line runs through the front chrome door handles, then hops over the rear handles to frame the upper surface of the taillamps, which wrap well into the rear liftgate.
Distinguishing the three-row LWB Santa Fe from its two-row Sport stablemates are a four-bar grille and different lower front valence/park lamp treatments in front and different taillamps and dual exhausts (vs. twin passenger-side tips on the turbocharged Sport 2.0T or a single outlet on the base model). Most important, the three-row Santa Fe's side character line is flatter, and its side glass extends to incorporate a larger third window, which emphasizes its additional length and passenger capacity.
The 2013 Santa Fe plays a digital tune when you boot it up, and again when you shut it down. That may be charming at first but could get annoying over time. The proximity key lets you walk up and push the the front door handle's touch button to unlock the door, then get in and start the engine while keeping the fob in your purse or pocket, and the push-to-start button has On, Off and Acc lights to let you know its status. But we found the engine temperature, gear selection, fuel gauge and outside temperature read-outs too dim to read easily through sunglasses in bright sunlight.
We found the front bucket seats comfortable and easy to adjust, but rear-quarter visibility from the driver's seat was hampered by the narrow rear side windows.
The sliding second-row seats fold down easily, but not quite flat. The outside ones flop forward using either levers on their sides or pull handles in the cargo area, while the central section that doubles as an armrest has a release on its upper back surface. Slid fully back, they provide adequate leg- and knee-room for a six-footer to sit comfortably behind another; slid fully forward, they maximize cargo room.
In general, the new cabin is warm, modern and inviting, with lots of soft-touch materials in our leather-lined Santa Fe Sport AWD 2.0T test vehicle. The panoramic sunroof is huge, and there's sectioned hidden storage under the load floor.
We loved the fact that virtually all buttons and controls are easy to see, read and reach, with good-size white letters and graphics. The three-spoke steering wheel has large, well-marked audio and cruise controls on its horizontal spokes, and phone, voice-command and trip-computer buttons along both lower edges of its V-shaped center hub. On the dash to the left of the wheel are controls for instrument lighting, Hillstart Assist, Active ECO mode, heated steering wheel and the AWD center differential lock. In the vertical stack to the right are the thoughtfully designed and conveniently arranged audio, navigation and climate controls.
The two primary instruments are a large, round tachometer (left) and speedometer (right) flanking the central information/trip computer screen. Inside the tach is a coolant temperature dial and a gear selection indicator, while the speedo houses matching readouts for fuel and outside temperature. The trip computer conveniently displays average and instantaneous fuel economy and range at the same time, and can toggle through other information on demand.
Both sun visors (with vanity mirrors) swing and extend for side sun protection, and there's a sunglasses holder in the overhead between them. A nice touch is convenient placement of two (of the four) 12V outlets flanking USB and Aux ports above a bin under the vertical console. The large, deep console storage box has a small-item tray under its cover, the driver's side console cup holder can accommodate a typical ceramic cup with handle, and the commodious door storage bins can securely hold large cups or water bottles.
Audio volume is controlled by a large central knob, while an even larger one in the climate cluster below it handles fan speed. We appreciated the radio's scan function, too often missing in some modern cars, but there's no knob for station fine tuning, which means that weaker stations are missed while the system electronically seeks and finds the stronger ones. One constant annoyance for iPod users is that the Shuffle function must be reset (a two-step process) every time you re-start the car or change functions or playlists. Most modern systems remember and return to Shuffle (aka Random), as they do the previously set volume and song, but not Hyundai's.
On the positive side, continuing the theme of the surrounding hard buttons, the big audio/navigation touchscreen displays large, easy-to-read and -activate touch pads. The navigation system's function and graphics are outstanding, offering realistic representations of route-related intersections and interchanges. We tried using voice commands to select destinations with mixed results.