Test car came equipped with: Leather & Premium Equipment Package, carpeted floor mats, cargo net, cargo cover. Total MSRP with $825 destination = $33,025.
Powertrain: 264-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, 6-speed automatic, all-wheel drive.
Acceleration: This turbo-four produces impressive power and torque for its size. In fact, it packs more ponies than Ford’s similar 2.0 EcoBoost. At least with just me aboard, the Santa Fe Sport 2.0T is pretty peppy overall—I’d guess 0-60 mph in well under 7 seconds—and driveability is excellent, what with the crisp throttle response and virtually undetectable turbo lag. But full credit to the 6-speed automatic transmission, which is no less refined than the engine and partners with it very well. So here’s another case where less—in this case, engine displacement—really can be more.
Fuel Economy: Yours Truly averaged 18.2 mpg in Phoenix-area driving that was biased about 65 percent to fast freeway driving. That’s in line with the EPA’s 19-mpg city estimate—revised from Hyundai’s earlier inflated figure—but disappointing versus the feds’ 24-mpg highway rating (ditto).
Ride Quality: The tester arrived on all-season 235/55R19-101H Continental Cross LX Sport tires. Some suspension retuning might reduce the minor jiggle and thump, as the springs here felt a trifle too firm and the shock absorbers a bit soft. I’d also replace the 19-inch tires, mandatory on 2.0Ts, with the base model’s 17s to get the extra cushioning of taller sidewalls. Too bad 18s aren’t available, as they might offer the best compromise between ride comfort and handling control.
Steering/handling/braking: Guess I need my eyes checked, because I completely missed the selectable-steering-assist button. Sorry about that. However, I’d guess that none of the three modes does anything to cure the system’s dull on-center feel and the rather excessive effort needed to move the wheel off-center. As a result, I found it hard to make minor course corrections without “overshooting” and thus weaving a little, which gets tiresome on the highway, especially in gusty conditions. Otherwise, the Santa Fe Sport is a pleasant drive. It’s not up for aggressive cornering or banzai slaloming, but it’s predictable and more than competent, backed up by fine brakes.
Quietness: Coarse-surface tire drone pretty much part and parcel of modern vehicles with stiff unibody structures. It’s almost impossible to eliminate entirely, especially in SUVs that have no sound-deadening bulkhead between the passengers and cargo. Still, this tester had only a modest amount of thrumming, at least on the tires fitted.
Controls: The tester’s Leather & Premium Equipment suite includes a 4.3-inch color display for audio-system info and a rearview camera that’s also part of the package. Trouble is, that screen size makes the camera image too small to be very useful, at least for these senior eyes. Too bad Hyundai couldn’t see its way clear to standardize the 8-inch screen that goes with the navigation system in the Technology Package. The Santa Fe Sport’s control station is quite user-friendly.
Details: The 2.0T cabin is attractive and very well put together, yet it doesn’t strike me as particularly special. It’s just good, contemporary Asian design and execution. It would be nice if the dashtop were at least partly foam-padded, rather than covered entirely in hard, though nice-looking, textured plastic, but that’s probably expecting too much at this price level—and/or from Hyundai.
Room/comfort (front): Visibility dead-astern isn’t that great, as the rear headrests get in the way and the actual liftgate-window opening isn’t as large as it looks from outside.
Room/comfort (rear): Cabin width might make three adults feel a little too close for comfort. But there’s impressive space for two in every dimension, especially with the bench seat pushed all the way back.
Cargo room: Rearmost underfloor storage bin is designed to store the roller-blind cargo cover when not in use, a very thoughtful touch that other SUVs should copy.
CP Says . . . I’m particularly impressed by its quietness and mechanical couth. The steering and suspension still need a little honing, but in other respects the Santa Fe Sport strikes me as being the equal of most any class competitor, even the vaunted Honda CR-V. Don’t buy anything else until you’ve driven one of these.