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Crossover Utility Vehicle of the Year: Roomy 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe is a winner

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2014 Hyundai Santa Fe
2014 Hyundai Santa Fe Photo by Kevin McCauley
2014 Hyundai Santa Fe
Santa Fe's panoramic roof really opens the cabin space, giving an airy feeling. Courtesy of Hyundai Motor America
2014 Hyundai Santa Fe
Available are second-row captain's chairs for a luxurious configuration for six passengers that also provides easy access to the third row. Hyundai Motor America
2014 Hyundai Santa Fe
Thoughtful details include under-cargo floor storage and a 50/50 split folding third row seat. Hyundai Motor America
2014 Fiat 500L
FIAT 500L in Lux (left) and Trekking (right) trims. Courtesy of Chrysler Group
2014 Fiat 500L
The rear of the 500L attempts to embody the spirit of the tiny 500 city car. Courtesy of Chrysler Group
2014 Fiat 500L
Flexible seating adds to the multimission design of the 500L with a flat-front-folding passenger seat. Courtesy of Chrysler Group
2014 Fiat 500L
Interior and exterior color and finish combinations abound; the 500L comes in more than 30 combinations. Courtesy of Chrysler Group
2014 Fiat 500L
Trekking trim stylistically lends itself to the multipurpose nature of the 500L, making it look "more the part" to us. Photo by Nic Phillips
2014 Hyundai Santa Fe
2014 Hyundai Santa Fe
2014 Hyundai Santa Fe
2014 Hyundai Santa Fe
2014 Fiat 500L
2014 Fiat 500L
2014 Fiat 500L
2014 Fiat 500L
2014 Fiat 500L

Editor's note: In the second annual CultureMap Auto Awards, our automotive correspondents Nic Philllps 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.

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