Ah, MotorWeek. Perhaps most (in?)famous for its crazy take on the importance of econobox smooth shift throws and, to borrow a phrase from Jack Baruth, a review style that can be fairly described as summing up to "everybody's a winner." Seriously, have you ever seen a negative review from MotorWeek? They even gave the Yugo a glowing review. But it looks like even John Davis can be rubbed the wrong way.
I can't blame the MotorWeek staff for praising everything that comes their way - even in the late 80s when the show premiered cars had already come a long way from the Malaise-era and you can almost not go wrong if you're looking for reliable commuter transportation. Of course, MotorWeek is also heavily reliant on corporate funding and sponsorship. "But it's on Public Broadcasting!" you cry out, "the whole point of which is to be free from the clutches of corporate meddling thanks to the support of Viewers Like You©!" Not entirely true - the cars they review come direct from the manufacturers after all, and I wouldn't be surprised if they get a little reimbursement here and there. Given the shoestring budget, it shouldn't be surprising that everything that passes through MotorWeek's garage gets at least a concluding statement as soft as the first Cadillac MW ever reviewed.
And then sometimes manufacturers take a step backwards. What do you do then? Stick to the playbook, of course. But that can only get you so far. With the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe (the 7-seater), even John's patience has been wear thin, at least as much as he's willing to show. When even MW has to admit that "the environs come off as less expensive as both the old Veracruz and newer rivals like the Nissan Pathfinder" and "clearly a step down in image from the Veracruz it replaces," you know someone somewhere screwed up, to the point where not even MW scriptwriters can hide it.
I actually own a 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe SE (the 5-seater; the 7-seat stretch is new for the '13 model year). It was the first model year of the CM, using the then-also-new NF platform from the Sonata. The NF Sonata is arguably the most historic car in Hyundai's lineup - it was the car that launched reviews in every magazine calling Hyundai a credible player and the Koreans "the new Japanese" in the automotive world. In other words, it was the first Hyundai that didn't out-and-out suck. The CM Santa Fe is just like that, except with a tall wagon body and AWD spoiled by extra ground clearance, but a fine SUV nonetheless. The interior fabrics and plastics struck me as being very high quality in nature, not unlike the Volkswagen I had in fact just traded in for it. It came with a nice leather-wrapped steering wheel, and the leather actually felt supple, not like the rock-hard material I'm finding on newer cars (like say on the MKZ).
A few years later I had my Santa Fe in the shop for some routine maintenance (yes, I do that. Yes, I recognize this is possible the most anti-Jalop thing possible) and they gave me a 2010 MY Santa Fe SE as a loaner car. It had a marginally bigger engine, a 3.5, which punched out over 270 HP, which was more than a marginal addition over mine. But the leather on the steering wheel was as hard and awful as everyone else's now. The nice, convenient push-button fuel door release, nestled on the driver's door armrest, was now replaced with a flimsy cheap lever stuck on the floor. And the fabrics were rough and looked as cheap as everything else.
I've also had a Veracruz as a loaner, a base GLS no less, but the interior was still as pleasant and refined as my Santa Fe. I've also had a '12 Sonata 2.0T as a loaner - and yes, it was plenty fast, but it was clear that Hyundai started cheapening out here and there. So I'm not entirely surprised that even MW has caught onto it. Their own comments nicely align with what MotorTrend has to say in their 2014 SOTY comparo, concluding about the Santa Fe: "But when you're not even best in segment, it's impossible to be Sport/Utility of the Year."
I think it's pretty clear that Hyundai has no interest in winning MotorTrend X-OTY contests, but it's sad when they can't make a car that compares to their own outgoing model. General Motors has come a long way from the dark days when they just didn't care, now coming out with some pretty great product, much of it from GM Korea. Hyundai, on the other hand, seems more interested in simply becoming the Korean Old GM.