The Hyundai Santa Fe Sport is a five-passenger crossover SUV, smaller then the seven-passenger Santa Fe and powered by a choice of two engines. Attractive styling mixes with an abundance of standard features to make the Santa Fe Sport a contender against some of America’s best-selling vehicles, led by the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, and Ford Escape.
Slotted between the recently redesigned Tucson at the compact end of the scale, and the larger three-row Santa Fe, the Santa Fe Sport gets our vote as the best of the three Hyundai models. Santa Fe Sport was launched as a 2013 model, along with the longer Santa Fe. Little has changed for the 2016 model year.
The 2016 Santa Fe Sport comes as one trim level, with a choice of two engines. A normally aspirated 2.4-liter four-cylinder makes 190 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque. The turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder produces 264 horsepower and 259 pound-feet. The turbo delivers capable acceleration, with little loss in highway gas mileage.
Fuel economy for the standard 2.4-liter engine is EPA-rated at 20/27 mpg City/Highway, versus 19/27 mpg for the turbo. For drivers who relish performance even in a utility vehicle, the turbo offers an acceptable trade-off.
Each direct-injected engine mates with a well-behaved 6-speed automatic transmission. Front-drive and all-wheel drive layouts are available. All-wheel drive exacts a gas mileage penalty: 19/25 mpg City/Highway for the 2.4-liter, and 18/24 mpg for the turbo. An all-wheel-drive Honda CR-V, in contrast, is EPA-rated at 31 mpg Highway driving.
Crossovers need to emphasize space and utility, and the Santa Fe Sport complies. Space is ample for five passengers. The available sliding second-row bench can move 5.2 inches fore and aft, increasing either cargo or passenger space, as in a Chevrolet Equinox.
The front seats offer good support. The 40/20/40 split second-row seat reclines and folds, to carry longer objects.
Ride quality may be the Santa Fe Sport’s prime attribute. On the highway or around town, it’s nearly always calm and collected. Three-mode steering isn’t so helpful. We prefer Normal or Sport, because Comfort responds too slowly.
Powertrains are well-muted, and the driving experience is largely smooth and effortless. At times, the automatic transmission responds slowly when gear changes are called for.
Hyundai’s standard BlueLink telematics system incorporates Bluetooth streaming for apps, and turn-by-turn navigation, working in conjunction with a smartphone.
Crash-test scores from the federal government are good. The Santa Fe Sport earned a five-star overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The 2016 Santa Fe Sport comes with a choice of two engines and front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. (All prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
Santa Fe Sport 2.4 ($24,950) comes with the 2.4-liter engine; air conditioning; tilt/telescoping steering column; steering-wheel audio/phone controls; and 17-inch wheels. Six-speaker audio includes a CD player, satellite radio, USB/auxiliary ports, and Bluetooth. Premium and Technology Packages add many items that are standard on the turbocharged 2.0T, including a panoramic sunroof, hands-free tailgate, and navigation.
Santa Fe Sport 2.0T ($31,250) gets the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine plus many additional features, including leather upholstery, power heated front seats, power tailgate, a sliding second-row bench, rearview camera, blind-spot and lane-change assist, cross-traffic alert, and 18-inch wheels. An Ultimate Package adds Infinity surround-sound audio, 19-inch wheels, heated rear seats.
All-wheel drive ($1,750) is available with either engine.
Safety features include the usual airbags plus a driver’s knee airbag. Rearview camera, blind-spot warning and lane-change assist, cross-traffic alert are optional.
The Santa Fe Sport is the best-looking member of Hyundai’s crossover-SUV trio. Exuding an attractive mainstream charm, the Santa Fe Sport possesses all the appropriate crossover-SUV cues, assembled in an appealing manner. Sharp edges and tight sheetmetal creases wrap around the amply-glassed body in a variety of ways. Up front, the grille presents a handsome hexagonal face, balanced by the headlights and foglamps.
Detail work includes side sills that stand out in relief, stretching up and over the rear wheel wells. Rear door handles sit well back from the wheel openings. Overall, the Sport’s shape has a modern look. Ground clearance is a middling 7.3 inches.
The cockpit has improved greatly since its last generation. Large air vents flank the controls, and big knobs operate audio volume and fan speed. Some textured plastic appears behind the steering wheel, lacking the richness of the rest of the dashboard.
With navigation installed, an eight-inch touchscreen glows beneath a matte surface. Electro-luminescent gauges are standard in turbo models. The infotainment system is capable and easy to operate.
With more interior space than a Ford Escape, the Santa Fe Sport offers good knee and leg room, adequate for tall drivers. Bottom cushions are well-bolstered, and backrests nicely shaped. In turbo models, the second-row seat reclines and slides forward/back on a track.
With rear seats raised, the Sport has 35.4 cubic feet of cargo; with seats down, the hold grows to 71.5 cubic feet. A cargo bin provides shallow, under-floor storage, only accessible when the cargo area is empty.
Cockpit isolation excels. Suspension noise has been muted, and drivetrains emit little more than a distant whir.
Ride comfort and acceleration from the optional turbocharged engine acceleration are the high points, but the steering is not as sharp as it might be.
The base 2.4-liter engine is less satisfying, lacking power for much beyond single-passenger commuter duty. For a significantly more pleasant driving experience, we recommend the 2.0T turbocharged engine. An Active ECO mode blurs throttle and shift responses, saving just a bit of gas.
A manual-shift mode for the transmission is actuated by the shift lever. Shift points and quality are well-chosen, and appropriate most of the time. Push hard on the gas pedal and, after a short pause, the transmission shifts down eagerly.
Electric power steering can be toggled through Comfort, Normal, and Sport modes. The Sport setting helps the vehicle track better on the highway. Comfort delivers a slow, light feel, for drivers who prefer a relaxed experience.
Optional all-wheel drive distributes power from the front wheels to the rear wheels when traction needs arise. It’s not meant for off-road traction, but simply for all-weather capability. All-wheel-drive models have Active Cornering Control.
Suspension design yields a calm, quiet ride. The Sport feels absorbent and largely controlled, even over mildly broken surfaces. On a rutted gravel path, the Santa Fe Sport manages to retain its easygoing attitude.
As always, Hyundai focuses on value. With a total base price near $26,000, the Santa Fe Sport is well-equipped to compete with better-known rivals. It costs more than a base Escape or CR-V, but when comparably equipped, the Santa Fe Sport is a strong value. Even though the 2.0T turbo model costs $6,300 more, its additional equipment is worth considering.
Driving impressions by Marty Padgett, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.