Hyundai continues to pace the small to mid-size crossover segment with its Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport.
A few years back Hyundai split its Santa Fe crossover lineup with the larger being the Santa Fe and the smaller, sportier model being the Santa Fe Sport. The test drive was a dark metallic blue version of the Sport with AWD and the Ultimate trim level. So this is the top-shelf model and therefore becomes a bit pricey. More on that later.
The Sport Ultimate looks and feels luxurious and features all the electronics you’d expect on a top-level vehicle. But unlike some utes and crossovers, the Sport handles well, rides well and has enough power to make it interesting.
This has the more powerful of Hyundai’s two engines, a 2.0-liter turbocharged I4, which generates 240 horsepower and a torque rating of 260. The base front-drive model features a 2.4-liter normally aspirated engine that creates 185 horses.
At that level the Sport lists at $26,245, but this top-line model starts at $38,250, plus an $895 delivery fee. Add in some options and the test crossover hit $41,355, a bit much in my book.
But there’s plenty of value, even at that.
Start with the power. The I4’s direct injection and turbocharger give you power when you need it, but allow the four-cylinder to work more efficiently when you’re just running errands. So you can get 240 horsepower tromping the gas getting on the highway, but power feels more modest around town.
That translates to decent fuel economy. The test model is rated 19 mpg city and 24 mpg highway and I got 23.9 mpg in about 60% highway driving. That’s better than I’d gotten a couple years back in a similar model. There is an Eco mode button on the dash to help increase fuel economy. Eco slows your acceleration some. Normal mode is fine and there’s also a Sport mode to boost acceleration and firm the steering. But it’s also fine in Normal.
Shifting from the 6-speed Shiftronic automatic tranny was smooth too and Shiftronic also allows the driver to shift manually.
Ride is mostly fine as the Sport rides on a 106.3-inch wheelbase. There are MacPherson struts in the front suspension and a multi-link system in back. Both have gas-filled shocks and stabilizer bars. The Santa Fe handled our area’s rough roads with authority, no chop or jarring to passengers. But ride can become a bit jiggly, almost bouncy, on certain uneven road surfaces.
Handling is on the sporty side in all modes, but naturally more responsive in Sport mode. The Santa Fe corners well too thanks to what Hyundai calls Active Cornering Control that uses torque vectoring and the ABS system to create more stability in corners.
As with most vehicles now, there’s stability control and traction control to complement the AWD. All that gives the Santa Fe better grip in sloppy conditions.
The test vehicle had the requisite black leather interior with gray headliner. The seats are perforated to allow the ventilating system to cool your tushie. Front and rear seats also are heated and the Ultimate has a heated steering wheel, a great feature in winter.
There was chrome trim up front with fake wood on the dash and smoked pewter-look trim on the center stack and center air vents.
The Hyundai’s manual tilt/telescope wheel is wrapped in leather and has a variety of buttons for cruise, phone, radio and trip computer on the hub. There’s also a BlueLink system in the ute, which links up navigation, e-messaging and vehicle information. It’s accessible via a smart phone, which is the way most folks will use this.
Santa Fe’s main gauges are easy to see and read, with blue rings in the center and all dash buttons glow blue at night, which is easy on the eyes. Controls are all well laid out and easy to see and reach. There’s also blind spot detection, but its warning beep is crazy loud and annoying. I hope this will be improved soon.
There are all the usual other electronic safety devices too, a rear cross-traffic alert that warns if a vehicle or person is behind you, and a rearview camera. Everything is easy to see on the big 8-inch dash screen too.
Another plus is the proximity key that not only unlocks the vehicle as you approach it, but allows you to stand behind the power liftgate for just a second or two before it automatically powers up the hatch.
The Ultimate Tech package adds smart cruise control, an engine start/stop feature to save fuel, lane departure warning, automatic high-beam headlights and automatic emergency braking when it detects a person or vehicle in your path. That last item can take you by surprise, but does help avoid rear-end collisions when a vehicle slows suddenly in front of the crossover.
Other pluses inside include a spiffy 40/20/40 split rear seat so you can fold it down in various configurations. Plus that rear seat will move up to five inches or so to allow you to carry more cargo, or create more legroom for rear seat passengers.
Seats are comfy too with moderate bottom cushion contouring, but well-contoured back cushions to provide side support.
This is an interior that would be comfortable for four or five average sized adults with loads of cargo storage behind the rear seat, even before it’s moved. Likewise there is a lot of under-floor storage in back, which can be particularly useful if you are traveling and feel the need to hide some of your luggage.
Overhead is a big sunroof and power shade too, plus the sun visors slide to block side sun.
For the electronically active, Hyundai provides two 12-volt outlets, a USB port and auxiliary plug in the console under the center stack and in front of the shift lever.
Note too that for 2017 Hyundai has updated Santa Fe’s grille and taillights, plus added a dual exhaust to improve the vehicle’s looks.
In short, the Santa Fe Sport just keeps improving on what was already one of the best crossovers on the road.
Hits: Handsome ute with good ride, handling and power, plus AWD and a quiet interior. Comfortable interior with moveable second row seats, well laid out dash, heated/cooled front seats, heated second row seats and steering wheel, plus big sunroof. Three driving modes available.
Misses: Becoming pricey and the blind-spot warning uses a crazy loud beep. Ride can become a big jiggly.
Made in: West Point, Ga.
Engine: 2.0-liter DI 4-cylinder Turbo, 240 hp
Transmission: 6-speed Shiftronic automatic
Weight: 4,107 lbs.
Wheelbase: 106.3 in.
Length: 185 in.
Cargo: 35.4 cu.ft. (71.5 cu.ft. rear seat down)
MPG: 19/24 (EPA)
MPG: 23.9 (tested)
Base Price: $38,250
Dealer’s Price: $37,073 (includes delivery)
Ultimate Tech package (smart cruise control w/stop-start, automatic emergency braking w/pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, electronic park brake, dynamic bending light, high beam assist, auto-leveling headlights), $1,550
Cargo mat, $95
Carpeted floor mats, $125
Cargo cover, $190
Roof rack cross rails, $250
Test vehicle: $41,355
Sources: Hyundai, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage