The Hyundai Santa Fe Sport is a crossover SUV smaller than the midsize Santa Fe but larger than the compact Tucson.
Introduced as a 2014 model, Santa Fe Sport benefitted from a major freshening for 2017, with new front and rear styling, a better ride, and a cabin sprucing. There are no major changes for 2018.
Rivals include the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue, Ford Escape, and Chevrolet Equinox.
The base engine is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder with direct injection, making 185 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque, less than some rivals. With its six-speed automatic transmission, it gets 21/27/24 miles per gallon, less than some rivals. The all-wheel drive gets two less, or 22 mpg combined.
The upgrade engine is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo making 240 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. The six-speed automatic uses gears more appropriate for the quick takeoffs. It gets one less mile per gallon.
Front-wheel drive is standard, while all-wheel drive is available for every Santa Fe Sport. With the 2.0 turbo engine, it can tow 3500 pounds (the regular Santa Fe, with its V6 engine, can tow 5000 pounds).
The crash-test scores are excellent. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the Sport five stars, while the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the top scores for its crash tests, including the challenging small-overlap collision, which simulates hitting a pole or tree. Rearview camera is standard. Equipped with optional forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, the Sport rates Top Safety Pick Plus from the IIHS.
The 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport ($24,950) comes with the 2.4-liter engine, fabric upholstery, cruise control, remote keyless entry, daytime running lights, LED-accented projector headlights, cargo cover, and 17-inch alloy wheels. Seven airbags are standard, including a driver’s knee airbag. The AM/FM/SiriusXM/CD player has auxiliary and USB ports, Bluetooth with audio streaming, and six speakers.
Santa Fe Sport 2.0T ($31,350) with the 2.0-liter turbo gets heated leather seats, dual-zone automatic climate control; keyless ignition; hands-free liftgate; blind-spot monitors; 7.0-inch touchscreen; Hyundai’s Blue Link telematics; 18-inch wheels; and trailer wiring.
Santa Fe Sport 2.0T Ultimate ($35,650) adds a panoramic sunroof, 8.0-inch touchscreen, premium sound system, heated steering wheel and heated rear seats, 19-inch wheels, and a surround-view camera. An optional Technology package includes lane-departure warnings, adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warnings and automatic emergency braking.
All-wheel drive ($1,550) is available on all models. (All prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
For a compact crossover, the Santa Fe Sport has looks that are quite appealing. It represents a successful blend and sharp application of the best modern Hyundai styling themes.
An hexagonal grille is flanked by foglamps and LED-accented headlamps. The side sills span largely from front to rear wheelwell. The rear end looks balanced in the layout of glass and taillamps.
Dual tailpipes exit at the right rear, maybe an attempt to be masculine. The ground clearance is 7.3 inches, more than a sedan but less than a Subaru Outback.
The cabin is roomier than most rivals, especially in front. It’s practical and uses quality materials. The dashboard undulates over controls flanked by large climate vents. Big knobs adjust the audio and fan. The available panoramic sunroof can open the cabin to the sky, but lowers headroom.
The bolstering in the front seat cushions is sufficient, and the backrests are nicely shaped.
The rear seat splits and folds, and slides more than five inches fore and aft, in all models except the base with fabric upholstery. The seatbacks recline, as well.
Behind the rear seat, there’s a solid 35.4 cubic feet of cargo space, and with the seat folded the volume grows to 71.5 cubic feet. There’s a spot under the floor that can contain a laptop. A cargo cover is standard.
Best of all, the front passenger seat folds flat, to open worlds of versatility.
The standard 2.4-liter engine doesn’t cut it for us; it feels breathless and overtaxed, especially when carrying passengers.
It takes the 2.0-liter turbo to get to 60 mph in seven seconds, which is a respectable and more livable performance, while its fuel mileage is just one mpg less. But the main thing is the confidence and safety in passing, with the 2.0t.
The six-speed automatic is programmed with effective shift points, and a manual mode is available to shift at the lever on the console.
Every Santa Fe Sport has Drive Mode with three settings: Sport, Eco, and Normal. Sport mode delivers the most precise handling, but that isn’t really saying a lot, as the steering isn’t very sharp to start with.
The all-wheel-drive system uses an open center differential to move power from the front wheels to the rears when traction is needed. It’s not an off-road system, but definitely improves driving in snow, ice and mud. Also on dry pavement in corners, since the system torque vectoring to add precision to the grip.
We’ve ruled out the base engine because it’s lame, now the problem is that the better engine, the 2.0t, costs $6400 more, so there goes the bargain. However the 2.0t has many more features, including heated leather seats, but you’re still looking at $34k with freight for an all-wheel drive model, and still not the Ultimate. The fuel mileage and handling are not reasons to buy. There are many worthy contenders, so it’s hard to find a reason to call the Santa Fe Sport the best value.
Sam Moses contributed to this review, with staff reports.