By Arv Voss, Motor Matters

Hyundai launches its third-generation Santa Fe, employing a new "two wheelbase strategy. This is a unique approach in the crossover segment.

The 2013 Santa Fe replaces the outgoing Veracruz and is offered in two trims: a seven-passenger GLS; and the more upscale six-passenger Limited. Both three-row seating models come in either Front-Wheel Drive or an Active On-Demand AWD system with AWD Lock and Active Cornering Control configuration.

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Santa Fe's shorter stablemate (106.3-inch wheelbase) is the new Santa Fe Sport, a five-passenger crossover with two engine applications -- a 2.4-liter or a 2.0-liter turbocharged powerplant.

The long (110.2-inch) wheelbase Santa Fe is powered by a 3.3-liter V-6 engine with Gasoline Direct Injection and Dual Continuous Variable Valve Timing. The V-6 produces 290 horsepower at 6,400 rpm along with 252 lb.-ft. of torque at 5,200 rpm. Motive force reaches the driving wheels via a Hyundai designed and engineered, electronically controlled 6-speed automatic transmission with Shiftronic manual shift capability. EPA mileage estimates are 18 mpg city, 24 mpg highway for the AWD version with 1-mpg-plus on the highway for FWD models.

The 2013 Santa Fe Sport and three-row Santa Fe were designed together, featuring Hyundai's signature Fluidic Sculpture with the primary differentiating element being the side window shape. The longer Santa Fe features a shape highlighting the increased passenger and cargo room behind the third-row seat. Santa Fe also displays its own unique bodyside character lines from the B-pillar back, a different grille design, standard 18-inch Euroflange alloy wheels, chrome-tipped dual exhaust and a flush-mounted tow hitch design.

During the national press launch, I drove a 2013 Santa Fe Limited with AWD. The base price was set at $34,850, while the final sticker totaled $38,730 after adding the Technology Package and carpeted floor mats. The Tech Package included: Panoramic sunroof, navigation system with 8-inch touchscreen, 12-speaker Infinity Logic 7 Surround Sound 550-watt audio system, HD radio technology, heated steering wheel and manual rear side window sunshades. The base model in the 2013 Santa Fe lineup starts at $28,350.

Hyundai categorizes its crossover structure as the Tucson being the pre-family choice, the Santa Fe as ideal for families, and the Santa Fe Sport skewed to post-family use. In reality, beauty and function are variable values based upon individual preferences. In my opinion, both the Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport are more pleasingly stylish than the Tucson.

If you want V-6 power and third-row seating, go for the Santa Fe in either GLS or Limited Trim. If smaller fits your needs then the Santa Fe Sport is the obvious pick -- with your choice of two four-cylinder engines.

In any case, the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe, is an extremely sleek (with a drag coefficient of 0.34) and attractive midsize crossover SUV with more than adequate power coming from its 3.3-liter V-6, along with a pleasant note from its dual exhaust. The six-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly whether that be fully automatic or in the manual Shiftronic mode.

There is a notable difference in steering effort with the Driver Selectable Steering Mode. The Comfort Mode seemed somewhat on the numb side to me, with the Normal mode being just as its name implies. I preferred the Sport mode, which in my opinion, delivered a crisper, more on center feel. Hyundai's Bluelink telematics system is intuitive and easy to use, with a host of applications and infotainment features.

Seating configurations are a seven-passenger model with 40:20:40 split-folding second-row bench seat or the six-passenger seating with second-row captain's chairs, or a sliding and reclining second-row seating with cargo area release and 50:50 flat-folding third-row seats.

New for 2013 is a YES Essentials seat fabric treatment that provides soil-resistant, anti-odor and anti-static properties. 2013 Santa Fe models also offer an optional push-button starter with proximity key, Electroluminescent Gauge Cluster with color LCD trip computer and a heated steering wheel. The remote start may be activated by an available smartphone application.

Hyundai has grown tremendously not only styling and design, but also in engineering development and mechanical advancements -- as well as dependability and reliability from its first U.S. offerings. Bottom line, the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe rates as a highly desirable and practical midsize CUV in either trim level.

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