Editor's note: In the second annual CultureMap Auto Awards, our automotive correspondents Nic Phillips and Kevin McCauley bestow honors in 10 categories for the top cars and trucks of 2013/2014. Next up:
Crossover Utility Vehicle of the Year: 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe
We were big fans of Hyundai's all-new Santa Fe Sport last year, awarding it runner-up in this category. This year Hyundai brought us the longer wheelbase, "full-size Santa Fe," and bigger proves to be better in crossovers.
Not that Santa Fe is huge; it's less than 10 inches longer than the Sport, but we think it's sized right, with three rows of seating and a spacious, airy interior that, at 160.0 cubic feet, is one of the largest interior volumes in its class.
The Santa Fe is sized right, with three rows of seating and a spacious, airy interior that is one of the largest interior volumes in its class.
The Santa Fe is handsomely styled inside and out, successfully bridging the gap between bland economy people movers and far more expensive luxury options without giving up too much. Available are a panoramic power glass roof, proximity smart key access, Hyundai blueLink telematics, heated and cooled leather seats in four tasteful colors, and a choice of a 40/20/40 split-folding bench seat or captain's chairs for the second-row seating.
Even base models come well-equipped with heated cloth seats trimmed in innovative YES Essentials®, stain-resistant, anti-static fabric; color audio display; and rearview camera.
Also new is a standard 3.3L V-6 engine with direct fuel injection that gives it a class-leading 290 horsepower. Mated to a smooth-shifting, 6-speed automatic, it's EPA rated to 25 mpg highway. That fuel economy is mid-pack in the segment, but weighing some 400 pounds less than its competitors, the Santa Fe drives more nimbly with less heft to shift about.
Starting just under $30,000 and backed by a 5-year/60,000-mile new-vehicle warranty and a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, Santa Fe is a clear value winner.
CUV of the Year Runner-up: 2014 FIAT 500L
In keeping with the bigger-but-not-too-much-bigger theme, our runner-up in the crossover utility category isn't really a crossover at all. Or is it?
The 500L is FIAT's answer to a larger, more passenger- and stuff-friendly version of the stylish super-sub-compact 500, and it's an interesting package. Outside it's nearly two feet longer than the 500 but remains short overall, more than 10 inches shorter than a Toyota RAV4 or Ford Escape CUV.
Yet inside the 500L is a 100-cubic-foot cavern slotting right between the conventional RAV's 101 and Escape's 98 cubic-feet volumes.
It's shape may look a little funny, but we chalk that up to the "Italian Cinquecento charm" of the 500. It's a breath of fresh air in a generally boring box utility vehicle space.
Driving the 500L is equally unique, with all models getting the growly 1.4L MultiAir turbo 4-cylinder engine from the 500 Abarth hot hatch and a 6-speed manual option. Although top heavy, it's about driving character that is, well, fun! There are four trims, with the "Trekking" model taking on a more utilitarian outfitting befitting its boxy profile.
Pricing starts at just $19,995; in the mid-$20s, you get all the options. Also consider that EPA estimates fuel economy at 25 mpg city/33 highway, easily besting more conventional CUV's.