2013 Ford Explorer vs 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe

By Staff Contributor.

Crossing over from the old king to the new thing n the Sport Utility Vehicle is nearly dead. I don’t take pleasure in this fact, and it’s nice to know some automakers haven’t fully embraced the car-like world of the Crossover or CUV. If you have the coin, you can still get a rough-and-tumble Range Rover or a Jeep Grand Cherokee. Automakers would be foolish not to notice, however, that car shoppers love crossovers, as they’ve become the automotive equivalent of the proverbial hotcake.

One of the original SUV kings has made the switch to CUV country. Ford kicked off a major SUV love affair in this country when it introduced the Explorer. No more need to shuttle kids, pets, and groceries around in a wagon, and you now had a vehicle that could also handle rough roads and bad weather with ease. Buyers tastes changed as fuel prices rose, and the Explorer was forced to ditch its underpinnings for a car-based platform. The result? An Explorer that is ready to do battle competitively in the segment, achieves solid fuel economy numbers, and appears poised to remain a figure among the mid-size three-row family hauler segment.

2013 Ford Explorer

Still, other automakers have already jumped on to the crossover country bandwagon. Hyundai has been producing a few examples for years now, and it’s best just went through a complete redesign. The Hyundai Santa Fe is all-new for 2013, and it might just be one of the best vehicles in the Korean automaker’s entire lineup. It’s stylish, competitively priced, and jam-packed with top-notch interior amenities and features.

2013 Hyundai Santa Fe

Each vehicle offers seating setups for up to six or seven passengers, depending on if you splurge and outfit the second rows with captain’s chairs. Both vehicles also boast strong V6 engines and smooth six-speed automatic gearboxes. In the Explorer, you’re standard mill is a 3.5-liter V6 that produces 290 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque. A 3.3-liter engine is used on the Santa Fe, and this motor churns out 290 horsepower and 252 pound-feet of torque. As you can see, this match-up is rather close. Except for the fact that the Santa Fe weighs nearly 700 pounds less, can tow 5,000 pounds (compared to just 2,000 pounds for the Explorer), and returns one mile per gallon better in both city and highway driving.

2013 Hyundai Santa Fe

Despite that weight deficit, it’s the 2013 Ford Explorer that is actually the better car in terms of delivering the driving experience to the person in the left front seat. Hyundai is still figuring out the world of electronic power steering tuning, and, as a result, I’m left driving a vehicle that offers little to no feedback through the steering wheel. The amount of effort required to turn the wheel can be adjusted through a driver selectable button, but it doesn’t make the experience any more enjoyable. Driving the Explorer provides far more sensation, and that is something I look forward to in any vehicle.

So we’re left looking at two crossovers that cater to the needs of families requiring three rows of seating. Both are evenly matched in the engine department, and the prices are both just a tick over $30,000 to start. Who is the winner here? It’s the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe because, despite the handling issue, the rest of the car is excellent. The seats are comfortable and supportive, the center stack is fitted with an eight-inch touchscreen that works way better than the Sync system offered in the Ford Explorer, and the class-leading 10-year/100,000 mile warranty trumps the five-year/60,000 mile warranty offered by Ford.

Put the “W” in the Hyundai column… it’s the cooler crossover here.

(Note: All vehicles provided by manufacturers for comparison test purposes. Photos provided by Ford and Hyundai.)