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2012 BMW 3 Series

2012 BMW 3 Series

Building a new BMW 3 Series is likely one of the more nerve-wracking jobs in the automotive business. On one hand, you start with excellent raw material and a simple corporate mandate: Don't botch it. Yet a new 3 Series must also push the edges of performance, redefine the market segment and excite the BMW faithful. It also has to persuade skeptical shoppers and seduce the cautious. All this is required of the 2012 BMW 328i.

BMW can't afford to miss with the 2012 version of the 3 Series, the sixth generation of the model. The previous car accounted for more than a third of BMW's sales in North America last year. Any serious miscue risks sending buyers into rival showrooms, where the Audi A4, Infiniti G or Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedans all merit serious consideration.
2012 BMW 3 Series

The good news is that BMW hasn't missed. The new 3 Series has evolved in ways both subtle and significant. But it's not without risk. The new 3 Series has grown a little bigger. It now offers a four-cylinder engine in this base model, the 2012 BMW 328i. The steering of the 3 Series has gone electric, the digital equivalent of a once sacred act now controlled by the demons of electricity. We'd even say that the 3 Series has traded some sport for luxury.

But so far we'd say that we're OK with that.

BMW has taken a gamble equipping the base model BMW 328i with an inline-4 engine instead of the inline-6 that has long been synonymous with BMW's heritage. And yet the new turbocharged four-cylinder engine for the 328i marks a return to the beginnings of the 3 Series; the BMW 3 Series arrived in the U.S. in 1977 with a 2.0-liter inline-4 and used different variants of this engine until an inline-6 was introduced in 1986. The inline-4 even made a brief return in 1988 in the beloved, high-performance M3, and then again in the unloved 318ti hatchback, sold in the U.S. between 1995 and 1998.
2012 BMW 3 Series

But where the 318ti's wimpy 1.8-liter engine deserved derision, the new turbocharged 2.0-liter in the 2012 BMW 328i might be one of the company's best yet. BMW claims 240 horsepower from the turbo-4, and Edmunds testing suggests that the actual output is even a little bit more.

The 2.0-liter turbo also makes slightly more than its rated 255 pound-feet of torque, which begins building from 1,250 rpm. This newfound low-end thrust makes the 328i even more playful on winding roads than many of its predecessors. Where previous versions of the 3 Series with an inline-6 thrilled us from the middle portions of the rpm range to the redline, the 328i with its turbo-4 does some of its best work early in the rpm range, making the car tractable and easy to drive around town while still contributing to an overall character of alertness.

In Edmunds testing, a 2012 BMW 328i with the standard six-speed manual transmission accelerated from a standstill to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds. More impressive is the new engine's ability to deliver excellent fuel economy. This 328i car is EPA rated at 23 city/34 highway mpg and 27 mpg combined, plus it recorded 25 mpg while in our hands.

This fuel savings carries something of a price in performance, however. The new 328i features electric-assist power steering, which improves engine efficiency while compromising communication from the front tires. Aficionados of the 3 Series might notice a little less feedback from the steering wheel — for them, the optional all-hydraulic, rpm-controlled variable-ratio system can help improve communication — but we think most drivers won't give the electric-assist, speed-controlled system a second thought.

While the 2012 BMW 3 Series comes standard with front and side curtain airbags, a more structurally rigid body and various optional safety systems (blind spot detection and lane departure warning among others), the braking performance of this 328i base model is a bit disappointing. It stops from 60 mph in 115 feet; it's not a bad result but still longer than the car's rivals (could these 225/45R18 Goodyear Efficient Grip tires be responsible?). The 328i also exhibited signs of brake fade, as repeated stops led to longer distances sooner than we would have liked.

The 2012 BMW 3 Series is nearly 4 inches longer than its predecessor, yet designers tucked the body in all around, so less metal hangs off the front and rear ends. And despite the growth, increased use of aluminum in the suspension and body panels helps reduce the 328i's weight by a useful 90 pounds.

Most important, larger dimensions give rear-seat passengers more room than before. Legroom is up by nearly three-quarters of an inch and knees gain an additional half-inch of breathing room. It's a slight but noticeable improvement in the rear-seat experience, reinforcing the ability of the 3 Series to perform as a multitasking compact sedan. Trunk space is also generous, with 17 cubic feet accommodating a few suitcases or a very impulsive shopping binge.

Up front, even the standard seats express the performance legacy of the 3 Series. Well-defined with side bolsters that embrace torso and thighs, the driver seat is a wonderful place for any stretch of driving. Opting for the Sport seats only improves the driver's sense of command over the car, so every long corner becomes an entertaining thrill.

Although the 2012 BMW 328i marks an entrance to the BMW brand, there is nothing entry-level about the interior. Thick faux-leather material wraps tightly across interior panels that fit together as if by organic fusion. Compartment doors open and shut with muted, smoothly controlled action. The center stack with its audio and climate controls is canted 7 degrees toward the driver for better access. This level of detail makes the 3 Series feel solid to the touch, and it proves a daily reminder of money well spent.

The iDrive multimedia interface in the 3 Series has become one of the best in the business, a small array of control knob and complementary buttons just forward of the center armrest. Unlike a touchscreen, the iDrive system never requires a driver to avert his eyes to guide fingers to the display. Instead just steal a quick glance at the freestanding iDrive monitor on the dash — a high-resolution color unit similar to a large iPhone on its side — while wading through navigation, entertainment and system menus with your hand on the control knob, just like a home computer and mouse. Opting for the available Technology package and BMW Apps suite can turn your iPhone into a jukebox that can stream online music, or a tool capable of reserving a table at Ruth's Chris' Steak House while stuck in traffic.

Most of the exterior changes to the 2012 BMW 3 Series appear subtle from a distance. Revised taillights now more closely align with the design of those of the new BMW 5 Series, while pronounced ridges and depressions in the hood and along the sides of the bodywork offer visual distinction.

But the biggest change has had the 3 Series faithful sniffing in skepticism ever since BMW released the first photos of this car. The headlights now feature "corners" at the inside edges of the lamps that connect with the traditional twin-kidney grille. BMW says the new design highlights the wider stance of the new 3 Series. We agree there's some theoretical design unity in this choice, but we can't get over the new front end's almost comically aggressive furrowed brow.

Purists might bemoan the 2012 BMW 328i as too big and too soft. They'll say its electric-assist steering and fuel-saving 225/45R18 tires undermine the impeccable sporting legacy of the BMW 3 Series. We sympathize with their frustration, but ultimately the base model 328i delivers better power and drinks less fuel than before while retaining its quick wits.

Of course, the perennial charm of the BMW 3 Series comes with its perennial premium. The price of the 2012 BMW 328i begins at a reasonable $34,900, but it escalates quickly with just a handful of extra-cost items. Our test car was built as a showcase of 3 Series options, so it included the Technology and Cold Weather packages, plus the adaptive sport suspension. As a result, the bottom line came to $50,745. This isn't representative of the average transaction price for this four-cylinder BMW, but it does remind you that luxury has its price in the 3 Series, no matter what the engine might be.

As a consequence, some BMW 3 Series loyalists won't be persuaded that a four-cylinder engine merits their attention, even a turbocharged one. For them, there's the 2012 BMW 335i. The dimensions and dynamics are mostly the same, but where the turbo-4 starts to strain its vocal cords when pushed to the limit, the 335i's turbocharged inline-6 sings a resonant tenor all its own thanks to 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque.

2003 Ford Expedition

2003 Ford Expedition

As comparable as the Expedition was in terms of size, price and features, its sloppy suspension, vague steering and lackluster engine were sure to leave it trailing in the dust of the more powerful Tahoe and ultra-smooth Sequoia. In order to compete, the Expedition needed help. Thankfully, no one knew this more than Ford.

The relatively unchanged look of the 2003 Expedition hides the fact that nearly everything underneath is new. Significant enhancements to the frame, suspension, steering and brakes elevate the Expedition's driving dynamics to 21st-century standards, while numerous refinements and innovations in the cabin result in a more attractive and functional overall package. We'll reserve final judgment until we complete a full road test, but our introductory drive left us with the impression that the Expedition is now well equipped to compete favorably with anything in its class.
2003 Ford Expedition

Addressing the previous version's wobbly ride meant more than just adding stiffer springs and retuning the shocks a little. In this case, Ford used an all-new frame that's significantly stiffer than before along with a fully independent suspension to give the Expedition much improved handling dynamics. We pushed the hulking sport-ute harder than most drivers would ever care to and found it to be extremely stable during hard cornering. The stiffer structure doesn't translate into a harsh ride, however, as the Expedition smothers potholes and road hazards with little intrusion into the cabin. In fact, between the tighter overall feel and the quieter cabin, the Expedition conveys a sense of refinement rivaled only by Toyota's Sequoia.

An all-new rack-and-pinion steering system replaces what was one of the numbest, most detached setups we've ever driven, so to declare that it's a major improvement almost goes without saying. Variable power assistance gives the truck solid road feel at all speeds and a shorter turning radius helps with maneuverability in tight spaces.

2003 Ford Expedition
Larger, more capable brakes enhanced with an electronic Brake Assist feature are another welcome improvement for '03. Brake Assist senses a panic stop and helps apply full pressure more quickly for shorter stopping distances. Head-up driving kept us from having to invoke this important safety feature, but we did give the new binders a thorough workout while descending a steep mountain grade. Fade was minimal, pedal feel was much improved and except for one extremely steep section that required full effort, there was always plenty of power in reserve.

Unfortunately, we can't bestow similar praise on the powertrain, as the Expedition carries over both the 4.6- and 5.4-liter V8 engines from last year's models. Both powerplants received numerous enhancements geared toward quieter operation and more usable torque, but from our seat-of-the-pants perspective, the Expedition still lacks the punch of GM's V8s and the refinement of Toyota's iForce eight-cylinder. The maximum tow rating on 5.4-liter-equipped Expeditions has increased to a class-leading 8,900 pounds, but considering how easily it runs out of breath with just two people aboard, we wouldn't characterize the Expedition as our first choice for a tow vehicle.

Both two- and four-wheel-drive versions will still be available, with the latter getting a revised version of Ford's Control Trac four-wheel-drive system as standard equipment. In response to customer demand, this system now offers a two-wheel-drive mode that completely disconnects the front wheels at the hubs for better mileage and less driveline wear. For serious offroad duty, a new FX4 option package adds underbody skid plates, specially tuned shocks, steel wheels, a limited-slip rear axle and all-terrain tires.

Another new feature that's optional on top-of-the-line Eddie Bauer models and FX4-equipped XLTs is the AdvanceTrac stability and traction control system. Functioning as a type of electronic differential, the AdvanceTrac uses electronic braking to actively distribute power where it's needed most. We sampled the system on both a muddy forest trail and a snow-covered mountain road and found that it provided exceptional traction without feeling overly intrusive. The AdvanceTrac system also helps to maintain vehicle stability on perfectly paved surfaces, again using the brakes to help restore stability should the vehicle lose control during an abrupt maneuver.

Although much of the Expedition's overhaul took place under the skin, a revamped interior that adds numerous class-exclusive features gives the Expedition a fresh new look and improved family-friendliness.

The design team's intense focus on proper ergonomics resulted in a no-nonsense layout that places nearly every control within easy reach of the driver. The two-tone color scheme looks great in the decked-out Eddie Bauer models, but the lower level XLT trim can look a bit dour draped in multiple shades of gray. Most of the interior materials look and feel good, but a few of the door panels still look cheap compared to the Sequoia. If you've ever ridden in Audi's TT coupe, you'll instantly recognize the Expedition's identical vent design, a good steal in our minds, since they're as functional as they are good looking.

Interior space up front remains largely the same, although a redesigned center console and larger door pockets provide more storage than before. The Expedition remains the only full-size SUV to offer adjustable pedals that help drivers of all sizes maintain a comfortable and safe driving position. A CD-based navigation system is a new option for 2003, another first in its class. The screen is placed high in the dash for easy viewing, and we found the controls simple to use, but we're a little disappointed that Ford didn't opt for a more advanced DVD-based system, as those systems typically provide more detailed maps and only require a single disc to cover the entire country.

Second-row accommodations remain spacious, with plenty of room for three adults to ride comfortably. Buyers can also opt for captain's chairs in the second row that drops seating capacity to seven, but affords more room in the middle row and easier access to the rearmost seats. The Expedition's new independent rear suspension not only provides a much smoother ride, it also makes way for more room in the third row. Ford claims best-in-class leg- and hiproom, and, after a quick stint on the 60/40-split bench, we would have to agree that it's one of the more comfortable third-row seats available. The Expedition also offers best-in-class cargo space thanks to second- and third-row seats that fold completely flat, another one of the Expedition's exclusive new features.

More innovations come in the way of the optional Safety Canopy side-curtain airbag system that not only provides protection in the event of a side-impact collision, it also includes a segment-exclusive rollover protection system. If the vehicle's sensors detect an imminent rollover, the airbag curtain will remain inflated for up to 6 seconds to help protect passengers who may get thrown about the cabin. Ford's Personal Safety System provides frontal impact protection for the driver and front passenger through the use of dual-stage airbags, seatbelt pre-tensioners and seat-track sensors that match airbag deployment to driver size and crash severity.

The list of improvements goes on and on, but by now you probably get the picture. Ford claims that the Expedition is better in every way, and our initial test drive seemed to verify the company's assertions. It's not going to knock your socks off with its power, but it will certainly coddle you and your family with its refined ride, quiet interior and numerous features. Add in the advanced safety equipment, best-in-class passenger space and extremely capable four-wheel-drive system and the Expedition makes a strong case for itself as the best full-size sport-ute on the market.

2013 Subaru BRZ Limited Automatic

From the outside there's no apparent difference between a BRZ with the manual transmission and one with the automatic. So no one will make fun of you.
Some roads are built strictly for entertainment.
Everything a Subaru has never before been.
2013 Subaru BRZ Limited Automatic

They've been on the market only a few weeks, but already there's a high church of the Subaru BRZ and Scion FR-S sport coupes. The 200-horsepower twins are venerated as both saviors and saints: a sinless return to sports car purity. A purity that includes lightweight construction, a straightforward suspension, precise steering and, of course, a six-speed manual transmission. But heresy is on the option sheet in the form of a six-speed automatic.

From a strictly orthodox perspective, an automatic-equipped BRZ is a total betrayal of everything the 2013 Subaru BRZ is supposed to stand for. It interferes with the driver's communion with the road, cracks apart the shifting ritual and generally screws with the divine communication. A BRZ automatic may as well be a Buick, yet thankfully, it's not.
2013 Subaru BRZ Limited Automatic

Not Beyond Dual Clutch
With its quick manual shifts and aggressive operation changing gears on its own, it's natural to assume the BRZ's six-speed automatic transmission is a dual-clutch device like the setup found in various Audi, Porsche and VW products. It even feels
like a dual clutch. But it's not.
It's actually a rather ordinary automatic with an unremarkable torque converter. What makes it work so well are the algorithms embedded into its electronic controls that elevate it to a whole new level of responsiveness for this type of conventional transmission.

The software here is optimized for spirited driving. It's not trying to be squishy soft around town during commutes; even in its laziest setting it still shifts firmer and more suddenly than most average drivers would find comfortable. In reality, it's not very Buick-ish at all.

Bull Shift
The floor shifter sits just aft of the start button and looks impressively mechanical. It runs in a conventional PRNDL pattern down the right and tugs over to the left for manual operation — push forward for upshifts, pull back for downshifts. Not our preferred setup, but it does have a leather-wrapped shifter that's shaped to fit the driver's palm.

It may only be an electronic switch, but the shifter operates with a mechanical feel that matches its looks. The detents for each gear need to be muscled through, and when shifting manually it requires a firm push or pull. The only automatic shifter that feels better is the PDK in the new Porsche 911.

Paddles mounted behind the steering wheel can also be used to trigger shifts even when the transmission itself is left in automatic mode. The paddles are plastic but also well weighted, with quick positive action that simulates actual mechanical connection.

OK, it's all simulated mechanics. But it's solid fakery.

2013 Subaru BRZ Limited Automatic
The Differences It Doesn't Make
According to Inside Line
's scales, the silver 2013 Subaru BRZ Limited automatic weighs in at 2,800 pounds even. That's 66 pounds more than the blue BRZ Premium manual IL tested in March. Subaru's specifications have the two cars 60 pounds apart, with 46 or 47 pounds of that in transmission weight. The rest is the equipment — leather heated seats, dual-zone ventilation and such — that separates the Premium (which is the base car) and the Limited (which is the sole upgrade trim).
The additional heft of the automatic transmission does also slightly shift the weight balance of the BRZ. Once again according to IL
's scales, the BRZ Premium manual carries 55.7 percent of its weight on the front wheels and the BRZ Limited automatic has 56 percent of its mass on the front tires. A distilled and frozen concentrated version of Sebastian Vettel couldn't tell the difference.
Otherwise, except that the automatic adds $1,100 to the price, the manual and automatic versions of the BRZ are the same. That includes the 200-hp, 2.0-liter, direct-injection Subaru flat-4 under the hood, the perfectly stiff tuning of the all-independent suspension, the outstanding electric power rack-and-pinion steering and the 215/45R17 Michelin Primacy HP tires. It's all delicious stuff. OK, the tires aren't, but they work just fine.

The BRZ automatic's 117-foot braking performance from 60 mph, 0.89g skid pad orbit and 67.2-mph blast through the slalom are all close enough to what the manual-transmission car recorded to be within the realm of car-to-car production variation.

Torque Converted
This BRZ may have a torque converter, but it doesn't have a lot of torque. According to Subaru the engine peaks at a maximum of 151 pound-feet while spinning at 6,400 rpm. So it takes a moment for the engine to get that converter going for a good launch.

The result is a rather chunky 0-60-mph time of 7.9 seconds with the traction control off (7.6 seconds with 1 foot of rollout as on a drag strip). And that's with the driver doing the shifting. The best run through the quarter-mile was 15.8 seconds at 91.3 mph.

In comparison, the manual-transmission-equipped BRZ traipsed from zero to 60 mph in 7.3 seconds (7.0 seconds with rollout) with traction control off. Its best time through the quarter-mile was 15.3 seconds at 92.1 mph.

So drag racers ought to opt for the manual-transmission BRZ. Actually, they should opt for a different car entirely, but that's a whole other subject. If anything, a closer look at the acceleration times indicates that you should think twice before assuming the manual is always better.

For instance, with the traction control on, the manual transmission car uses 2.8 seconds to run from 45 mph to 60 mph, while under the same conditions it takes the automatic car 2.6 seconds to perform the same trick. Meanwhile, with traction control turned off, both the automatic and manual cars need 2.5 seconds to get from 45 mph to 60 mph.

Those intermediate acceleration times indicate that the manual transmission car's speed advantage isn't clear-cut once both cars are already moving. That was particularly apparent during the photo shoot on a California mountain road, where the automatic BRZ never seemed strained climbing through the tight corners. Or at least no more strained than the manual version. In fact with its firm shifts, for some drivers it may be easier and more fun to drive quickly in the automatic car than the manual.

Three-Way Tranny
Besides the traction and stability control systems every 2013 Subaru BRZ has, the automatic transmission can operate in three different modes of its own. There's a regular mode, which still shifts with satisfying heft, and Sport mode, which brings harsher, quicker shifting either when left on its own or shifted manually. The third mode, "Snow," is for gingerly slogging through grim weather and went untested by Inside Line
while driving during June and July in Southern California.
For the most part, the car felt most responsive when wired up with the Sport transmission setting. Dive into a corner with the nannies off, hit the left paddle to downshift into 2nd and the transmission holds the gear through the corner as the tail gracefully drifts out. Hit the right paddle to shift up and the BRZ straightens itself out and heads to the next corner as if it were actually fueled by apexes.

Around town, the Normal mode was better. It's not lazy, just a little less in your face. Sometimes a car just needs to be a car.

The Thrill of Agony
In an ideal world, every Subaru BRZ owner would have a second car for commuting and a third one for hauling the family. The BRZ would be saved strictly for those days when twisty roads beckon or the local road course is offering volume discounts on laps.

But it's likely that most BRZ owners will be buying it as their sole vehicle, and it's in that context that the BRZ automatic becomes so attractive. Except for the shifting, everything that's great about the BRZ with a manual transmission is the same with an automatic.

This is a tiny car that practically dances on its modestly sized tires; it has the best reflexes available on any car that costs less than $35K and is vastly more nimble than the 2-ton behemoths the German brands are passing off as sport sedans these days. It's so low that Civics tower over it, and with its flat-4 it has a center of gravity down beneath the Earth's mantle. There are plenty of anonymous front-drive boxes that will be more comfortable commuters, but none that come near the BRZ's athleticism.

The automatic ultimately lets the $29,365 2013 Subaru BRZ Limited more convincingly pretend it's a normal car, that it's just another corpuscle in the traffic stream. But it's a pretense. This is one of the world's best sports cars, even when it's shifting itself.

This car, with this transmission, is still that good. The faith is restored.

The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.

2013 Subaru BRZ Limited Automatic

2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport

A new, lighter chassis helps with fuel economy.

Black cladding reduces visual bulk, a neat stylist's trick.

New sheet metal makes for a familial look...

Hyundai's product assault has been incessant over the past few years. In rolling out the new third-generation 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe, the company completes a product overhaul as comprehensive and logistically complex as the recent Mars rover landing.

The launch of Hyundai's new midsize tall wagon-cum-CUV is, appropriately, no less convoluted. After all, this compact SUV will serve double duty in the automaker's lineup, poised to do battle with roughly a dozen competitors. Here's how the Santa Fe plans to do it.

2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport
Several Variants
The 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, seating five, replaces the current Santa Fe. In a few months, a longer-wheelbase version of the Santa Fe with three rows of seating will replace the larger Hyundai Veracruz.

Like the existing Santa Fe, the new Santa Fe Sport will be available with two engines. A 2.4-liter normally aspirated direct-injected four is the base engine, while a turbocharged and direct-injected 2.0-liter four replaces the V6. Either engine can be had with front- or all-wheel drive, while a six-speed automatic is the only transmission offered. The long-wheelbase version of the new vehicle — known simply as the 2013 Santa Fe, sans Sport designation — will be available only with a 3.3-liter V6. Clear as mud?

Generating 264 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, the 2.0T cranks out 10 fewer ponies than this same engine in the Hyundai Sonata. The difference is chalked up to revised intake and exhaust routing and a unique engine calibration. More importantly, the Santa Fe delivers 269 pound-feet of torque between 1,750 and 3,000 rpm, so the shove is in the right place for a family hauler such as this one. In fact, the turbo engine generates more torque than the outgoing V6.

Though the new Santa Fe Sport carries nearly the same dimensions as the outgoing trucklet, it's stiffer and weighs considerably less — some 266 pounds were shaved by sweating the details of the chassis' design and expanded use of high-strength steels. Struts underpin the front end and a compact multilink suspension is found at the rear so as not to intrude on cabin space.

No Shortness of Breath
We drove a 2.0T-equipped AWD Sport through woodsy, hilly Park City, Utah, notable for its power-sapping 8,300-foot elevation. The thin air didn't faze the Santa Fe. Turbocharged engines generate their own atmosphere, so there was plenty of reserve thrust and immediate response any time the car was in motion. The 2.0T is a capable engine, doing its business without a lick of fuss or noise, convincingly nailing the coffin shut on the idea that a V6 is a requirement. As for the 2.4-liter engine, well, we didn't get to drive one of those, or a front-drive 2.0T.

On our drive, the Santa Fe was notable for its quietness. Aside from a faint wind rustle at the A-pillars, little noise comes between you and a conversation with passengers while at freeway speeds. The new chassis feels solid on the road, though the wide C- and D-pillars form a blind spot the size of Oklahoma. A caveat — the roads in this area are generally smooth, so we'll withhold final judgments on ride and noise suppression until we've wheeled this new CUV locally.

Curiously, the electric power steering has three calibrations that can be selected via a button on the steering wheel, all of which are fairly numb. While it could be argued that steering feel isn't high on the priority list of shoppers in the Santa Fe's bread-and-butter segment, we'll point out that the steering-feel-havin' Mazda CX-5 exists and feels considerably more precise from behind the wheel.

Part of our drive route included a loose gravel dirt road to show off the Santa Fe's new more capable AWD hardware. It operates transparently, aiding corner entry and exit by adjusting the amount of torque apportioned to the rear wheels. Still, like most modern crossovers, the Santa Fe is pavement-biased and will be found almost exclusively on freeways and in parking lots. It's no rock crawler, and that's OK.

More Efficient
Fuel economy is the payoff of the lighter chassis, improved aerodynamics and engines. Base 2.4-liter models return 22/33 city/highway mpg (21/28 with AWD), while the 2.0T models deliver 21/31 mpg (20/27 mpg with AWD).

The 4-5 mpg drop for AWD models in freeway conditions is odd, as the AWD system can completely disconnect power to the rear wheels in such conditions and adds just 137 pounds over the front-drive model. Nevertheless, the fuel economy of the new Santa Fe improves on that of the outgoing model in every guise and is among the more frugal in its class.

More Than Clever Math
Inside, the cabin is similarly sharply styled, with improved appointments. There's plenty of space in either row of seating, and the front seats offer respectable long-haul comfort, though the sliding, tilting backseat is on the flat side to accommodate its 40/20/40 folding ability.

In typical Hyundai fashion, features abound. Beyond the long list of standard equipment, options include navigation, a heated steering wheel, panoramic sunroof, dual-zone climate control, a rearview camera, even heated rear seats.

Prices with destination start at $25,275 for a base 2.4 and $28,525 for the 2.0T — add $1,750 for AWD — and rise quickly from there. Adding navigation or the panoramic sunroof to a 2.4-liter model requires three packages totaling $6,600 (or two packages totaling $5,350 on 2.0T variants). There are a lot of other features included in the packages, but flexibility is not one of them.

At this price point, the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport lines up directly with segment leaders like the Ford Escape and Honda CR-V. The former also offers a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, while the latter simply does everything well. The newer, cleverer 2013 Santa Fe measures up favorably to both. If it can deliver on its excellent mileage numbers and remain as quiet as it did on the roads of rural Utah, this Santa Fe could be yet another well-executed piece of Hyundai's grand plan to compete head on with its foreign and domestic rivals.


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