The passenger compartment of the Santa Fe is a wholly enjoyable place to log a few hundred miles.

Despite trends in automotive advertising, which would suggest that every car-buyer, real or imagined, is a 24-year-old skydiving supermodel bass player, the majority of new-car shoppers fall into the “post-family” category, which is to say, beyond age 50. And among buyers of Hyundai’s handsome five-passenger Santa Fe Sport, a whopping 71% are post-family. This is not to suggest Hyundai is complaining about its success; the Santa Fe Sport has been selling faster than the company can build them. But clearly, the brand needs to make inroads with another key demographic: families.

Enter the 2013 Santa Fe, the Santa Fe Sport’s family-focused running mate.

The new Santa Fe seats up to seven passengers across three rows. Essentially identical to the Santa Fe Sport from the B-pillar – that vertical brace between the front and rear door – to the grille, the two vehicles nonetheless project unique personalities. Compared with the Sport, the Santa Fe is 8.5in longer over all, with a wheelbase that is stretched by 3.9in — an expansion that yields an extra 1.9in of rear-seat leg room and an additional 5.5cu-ft of cargo space. The Santa Fe arrives in seven-passenger GLS and six-passenger Limited models; the latter swaps a three-abreast second-row bench seat for a pair of captain’s chairs, which provides walk-through access to the two-person third-row bench). Space in the cheap seats is good, if not great; kids will love it, adults will balk.

The Santa Fe replaces the Veracruz in the Hyundai lineup, and it is difficult to imagine tears falling over the succession. The seven-passenger Veracruz, which passed on quietly more than a year ago, was competent in most ways, class-leading in none. The new Santa Fe remedies that. It is quicker, quieter and more buttoned-down than its predecessor, and exudes quality and craftsmanship in ways the Veracruz never could.

The passenger compartment of the Santa Fe is a wholly enjoyable place to log a few hundred miles. It is as spacious as a three-row crossover needs to be, but manages a pleasant cosiness. Material and assembly quality are generally above reproach, save some faux wood trim that looks a touch too faux. Hyundai’s signature blue illumination still seems a little too intense for some eyes, even at minimum brightness, but the electro-chromatic instruments are attractive and easy to read. Seats are firmer than we have come to expect from Hyundai, though not unforgiving in the European idiom.

Limited models get standard leather upholstery, but seats in GLS models wear the very effective YES Essentials fabric, which Hyundai claims has anti-soiling, anti-odor and anti-static properties – perfect for parents of young children, who spend a disproportionate amount of time waging such battles. The tested Limited model featured the $2,900 Technology Package, which nudges the Santa Fe from merely premium to downright posh, adding a touch-screen navigation system, a 550-watt Infinity audio system, a panoramic glass sunroof, rear-seat sunshades and a heated steering wheel. (Heated seats — both first and second rows — are standard on the Limited.)

The Santa Fe’s standard engine is a smooth 3.3-litre V6 with direct fuel injection. This power plant, which is not available in the Santa Fe Sport, produces 290 horsepower and 252 pound-feet of torque — figures that compare favorably with those of such segment stalwarts as the Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot and Nissan Pathfinder. Acceleration is brisk, passing power is ample, and at interstate speeds, the engine is relaxed and whisper-quiet. Noise of all sorts — engine, road and wind — is admirably muffled. The Santa Fe’s strut-type front suspension and multi-link rear setup control body motions well; the ride is plush and handling, if such a term can be applied to a three-row crossover, is much improved from Veracruz days.

Hyundai’s family gambit appears likely to pay off. The company’s so-called Fluidic Sculpture design philosophy is maturing nicely, evident by this handsome crossover. And as ever, Hyundai excels in the value proposition. A well-equipped Santa Fe GLS with front-wheel drive starts at $29,205 (add $1,750 for all-wheel drive). A loaded Limited with all-wheel drive still tucks in below $40,000, several thousand below comparably equipped rivals from Toyota, Honda, Nissan or Ford. And for the Santa Fe’s target buyer, those kinds of savings mean  extra purchasing power for family essentials: road trips to Disney World, orthodontia, summer camp, ponies…

Vital Stats2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited AWD

  • Base price: $35,695, inclusive of $845 destination charge
    As tested: $38,730
  • EPA fuel economy: 18mpg city, 24mpg highway
  • Drivetrain: 290hp, 3.3-litre V6 engine with direct fuel injection; six-speed automatic transmission; all-wheel drive
  • Major options: Technology package ($2,900); carpeted floor mats ($135)