Over a decade ago, South Korean automaker Hyundai launched itself into the sport-utility market with the Santa Fe, an awkward-looking but competent family hauler. Now in its third iteration, the Santa Fe has moved upmarket, in order to compete in a market growing more competitive by the year, making room for the smaller, five-passenger Santa Fe Sport. We recently spent several days with the Santa Fe Sport to directly experience its enhancements and more mature demeanor.
What is it?
Don't let the Sport moniker perplex you: "Sport" designates this model as the smaller of two Santa Fe models, not a performance variant. It replaces the outgoing Santa Fe in terms of size, as the larger, three-row Veracruz was supplanted by the third-generation Santa Fe. (It's also related to the Kia Sorento.) Featuring the latest in Hyundai's bold, shapely styling cues-including a prominent, flat nose and swishes and swoops in the body work-the Santa Fe Sport is a crossover sport-utility vehicle with a predilection toward freeways, not off-road courses.
The big news on this Santa Fe Sport is the optional 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which we tested paired with all-wheel drive.
How does it drive?
With the snappy turbo engine underhood, the Santa Fe Sport 2.0T drives like a taller Volkswagen GTI, which is to say with robust responses. Unlike some carlike SUVs, the Santa Fe Sport 2.0T doesn't wallow through corners or truly feel its size. It makes a convincing case for growing families to move out of their hatchbacks and into an SUV without losing sporty driving characteristics.
The Santa Fe Sport fit into tight parking spots in Brooklyn as well as it did merge into tough traffic situations. Fuel economy with the turbo engine is not much better than the Santa Fe Sport's competition's, although the Active Eco setting presumably helped us save a bit of gas without compromise to driving dynamics.
What's its specialty?
Apologies for restating the trope, but this Hyundai's value-added feature is value itself. Feature content on the Santa Fe Sport is a class above, from available air-conditioned seats to a 550-watt Infinity sound system to a panoramic sunroof.
Does it have competition?
The midsize sport-utility segment is among the most competitive in the business, and there is plenty of competition from General Motors, Ford, Toyota, and others. At close to 38 grand fully optioned, that puts the Santa Fe Sport in line with some heavy-hitting SUVs, including the Volkswagen Tiguan
The turbocharged hatchback now has a sequel.
The touchscreen navigation and entertainment screen-part of the Ultimate package-cannot be beaten for its speed, utility, and voice-activated functionality.
The steering, in all of its modes, could benefit from less dialed-in weight. Even Sport mode feels a little artificially heavy.
By the numbers: 2015 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T
MSRP: $33,875 (includes $875 destination charge)
Power / drive wheels: 2.0-liter, 264-hp turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine / front- or all-wheel drive
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
EPA fuel economy: 18 city / 24 highway mpg (Sport 2.0T AWD, as tested)
In showrooms: Now