Hyundai introduces its third-generation Santa Fe crossover for 2013 by offering room for either five or seven passengers. The five-passenger Santa Fe Sport will begin arriving this month, while the three-row, seven-passenger model will be available in January.

The Sport comes with a 2.4-liter Inline 4-cylinder engine and the long wheel base Santa Fe will have a 3.3-liter V-6. A turbocharged I-4 engine is available on the Sport. Since the Sport will be available soon, we’ll start there.

The new Sport Santa Fe is 266 pounds lighter than its predecessor, which might not sound like all that much. But in the car world, where weight is the enemy of mileage, every pound counts, and 266 of them is a lot. The weight savings come primarily from the use of more high-tensile steel, which also increases the vehicle’s body stiffness by more than 15 percent.

The end result is a tighter package that puts the Sport at the top of the fuel economy list in its segment with 22 miles per gallon in city driving and 33 mpg on the highway. The V-6 is rated at 19 mpg in the city and 26 on the road, while the turbocharged I-4 gets 21 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway. All the above are for the FWD model with a 6-speed automatic transmission with Shiftronic manual control. An AWD version with Hyundai’s Active Cornering Control is available.

The seven-passenger Santa Fe with the V-6 is also dieting, losing a whopping 397 pounds. Hyundai has its own steel plants in South Korea and can design the new high-tensile metals to exact specifications, resulting in the reduction in weights.

Hyundai is aiming squarely at families with the new Santa Fe. The Sport model is for young families just starting out or for empty nesters who might have grandchildren. The long wheel-base version is for full-fledged, soccer-mom-driving, team-toting, pile-the-kids-in family hauling. Standard on all Santa Fe models with cloth seats is a special fabric treatment that is soil, odor and static resistant – perfect for said hauling.

Both models have the same flowing interior, designed for functionality. The longer model provides nearly two inches more legroom in the second row. Passenger volume in the Sport model is 108 cubic feet, while the longer Santa Fe has 146.6 cubic feet of passenger space. Cargo volume in the Sport is 71.5 cubic feet, and the longer Santa Fe has 80 cubic feet behind the front seats.

Convenience features include dual-zone climate control with a clean air ionizer and a cooled glove box, as well as sliding and reclining second-row seats.

Hyundai’s Blue Link connectivity system combines safety, service and infotainment features with voice text messaging and turn-by-turn navigation. Offered in three packages, Blue Link can also assist with remote door locking and unlocking, remote starting of the engine, location sharing, automated diagnostics and maintenance alerts, stolen vehicle slowdown and recovery, speed and curfew alerts, and all manner of navigation assistance ranging from gas station locators, to weather alerts, to restaurant ratings.

The 2012 Santa Fe was a “Top Safety Pick” from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, but the new model has not yet been tested. Standard safety equipment includes a vehicle stability management system, seven airbags including driver’s knee and side curtains with rollover sensors, and four-wheel anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution.

The 2013 Santa Fe Sport with FWD starts at $24,450 and ranges all the way to $29,450 for the AWD turbocharged version. Prices are not yet available on the LWB model.

Hyundai has increased its sales and market share again this year, and rebates and incentives are not flowing as freely as they once were. Still, the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe presents an excellent value. If car companies don’t bring better performance and better fuel efficiency to the table each new model year, they’ll get left behind. This year, Hyundai brings it with the 2013 Santa Fe.

2013 Hyundai Santa Fe

  • Engine: 2.4-liter Inline 4-cylinder or 2.0-liter Turbocharged Inline 4-cylinder
  • Transmission: 6-speed automatic with Shiftronic
  • Horsepower: 190 (2.4-liter) 264 (2.0-liter Turbo)
  • Base price: $24,450
  • EPA mileage rating: 22 mpg city / 33 mpg highway (2.4-liter); 21 mpg city / 31 mpg highway (2.0-liter Turbo)