2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Parks in Park City

The 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe drew its fair amount of attention in the roads above Park City, Utah.

John Scott Lewinskiby John Scott Lewinski

I first saw the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe at the 2012 New York Auto Show. I thought it was a nice looking promising midsize SUV. But it looks a hell of a lot better a 8,000 feet above sea level in Park City, Utah.

Hyundai recently brought the automotive press to the little ski town that plays host to the Sundance Film Festival. Even without a trace of snow on the ground, it’s a gorgeous chunk of country. And the Montage Resort high above the quaint Park City streets served as the staging area for a an extended test drive of automakers proud SUV.

For 2013, the vehicle will arrive in setups – the Santa Fe (a midsize SUV, according to Hyundai’s own description) and the Santa Fe Sport (a compact SUV). I managed to understand those details before my notebook was obliterated by one number – 266.

To improve fuel economy, acceleration and other driving elements, Hyundai cut 266 lbs. out of the Santa Fe’s construction. By cutting the equivalent weight of two average sized men (or one male SEC football fan), Hyundai’s engineers can hang a gold star in their cubicles.

Since all cars are painstakingly designed to limit overall weight right from the beginning, finding another 266 lbs. to squeeze out that high-tech mass of steel, aluminum, plastic and rubber is a genuine achievement. But how would that translate to the road?

To test that, we took the Sport model – an all wheel drive unit with a turbo charged 2.0 engine – through the mountains. It’s one of several possible setups for the vehicle. Buyers will be able to take on a 2.4 liter engine with the turbo and a front wheel drive version of 2.0 turbo model.

As for our test ride version, the engine was more than up to the task. On the highway, power was ample. On mountain dirt roads, it was aggressive enough to allow me to get the tail sliding out into some nice tree-lined drifting.

In an effort to bring a defter touch to such diverse driving conditions, the Santa Fe comes with Hyundai’s adjustable steering. The driver can choose from Sport, Normal and Comfort modes to tighten up or loosen the response of the wheel in different conditions. After playing with all of the above settings, it’s clear there are subtle differences in each choice, but the handling in a midsize SUV is rarely tactile enough to make such differences essential.

In comfort, capability and equipment – regardless of Santa Fe subspecies – Hyundai’s 2013 SUV entry is a worthy competitor for the Ford Escape, the Mazda CX-5 and its other rivals. And at $24,450 for the base four cylinder Sport or about $27,700 the larger version with more power, its MSRP will combine with Hyundai’s 100,000 mile power train warranty to make the Santa Fe a legit player.

I can report that the exterior styling of the new Santa Fe drew a surprising share of attention from the casual consumers passing by us on our journey. My driving partner and I stopped along a mountainy roadside to snap some rugged photos of the Santa Fe in hilly climbs.

There was a Florida couple taking their own vacation shots. They were drawn over to the Santa Fe, armed with countless questions on its capabilities and qualities so they might recommend it or shoot it down for their car-shopping daughter back in their native Sunshine State.

We can report that the couple hit the road with a “yea” verdict, so Hyundai can count on at least 2013 Santa Fe Sport selling in Florida.