Think of the new Hyundai Santa Fe siblings like the Nissan Murano/Pathfinder. The Santa Fe Sport is a five-seater with a wheelbase five inches shorter than the big seven-seat Santa Fe.
The Santa Fe Sport and Santa Fe deviate from the Nissan offering with custom powertrains by vehicle size: the Sport’s uplevel engine is a 2.0-liter turbo, while the jumbo Santa Fe offers a V6 powertrain as a step up from the standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder.
Spending time in both SUVs helps shed light on the differences the Sport’s new engine and chassis setup – with the turbo engine exclusive in the Santa Fe range.
The Santa Fe Sport’s competitive set is huge: everything from the Toyota RAV4 to the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Lincoln MKC fall into a similar price or size class — with the Santa Fe Sport bringing the biggest, widest dimensions in its $27,000 base price bracket.
So overall the Santa Fe Sport is an interesting look at Hyundai’s take on the BMW X5, but with X1 pricing. How does the latest Hyundai crossover fare over a week of hard-throttle test driving?
Let’s dive in with Exterior, Interior, Performance, Pricing and Summary headings. Also included in this review are two HD drive review videos.
HD Drive Review Video Part 1
First things first: acronyms. Shortening this chic Hyundai’s name to SFS — short for Santa Fe Sport.
The SFS arrives with a real premium appeal with its Ultimate trim package upping the Sport 2.0T’s base price by $4350 and including all the goodies most people demand, outside and in.
The Ultimate SFS makes a strong first impression with HID low-beams, 19-inch wheels and LED taillights that all feel far more premium and expensive than the base Santa Fe Sport. The standard LED DRL’s live in the top of the lamps, but unfortunately cannot create a cool LEDs-only look. At least from our intensive fiddling, the only way we could have the white LED portion illuminated was with the highbeam DRLs or with the low-beams on. A detail thing but disappointing nonetheless.
The nose is a clean and premium look with a pinched six-sided grille lined with three thick chrome bars. The SFS wears its halogen foglights proudly in the outer edges of a black-plastic honeycomb mesh, and a silver-accent pseudo-skidplate is the final nose detail in the lower bumper.
Overall, it is a premium style but one that is very plastic-intensive. A bit like a base X5 than the M Sport, that is for sure.
The grey plastic fender edges extend the look around to the profile of the Hyundai, where again the lowest 8 inches of the car is durable and scratch-resistant. The SFS really nails its profile coolness up top, with a much racier roofline and glasshouse than the LWB Santa Fe. The side glass starts a steep climb from the middle of the back doors up toward a sharp point near the roof/D-pillar intersection.
The overhang is tight in back of the SFS, keeping the tail looking pert and youthful. Those Ultimate-pack LED taillamps are well worth it for their upscale design, which also draws the eye to the Sport’s sexy rear shoulder crease. This giant fender flare is a deep stamp of metal bulging from the top of the brake lights to loop around the rear door handles.
The overall style impression of the Santa Fe Sport is a solid B+. We really wish the body was available fully painted, which would help make the Santa Fe Sport really feel as classy as its dimensional competitors, like the X5, outside.
HD Drive Review Video Part 2
The cabin of the Santa Fe Sport is a huge hit. It is fantastic inside here from both rows. There is a terrific sense of quality in the assembly and materials, while the infotainment tech is top-notch as well.
A handful of seriously desirable features in the Ultimate pack for the interior, making a comfortable place a seriously well-specced and innovative as well. Every passenger will be shocked by the size of the Ultimate-pack’s panoramic moonroof first and foremost. It is HUGE. Literally the full length and width of the roof is glass, perfect for seeing the stars with its power retractable shade open. During the day, the light tint of the moonroof glass is a double-edged sword. In Charleston, SC heat, the glass makes the second row feel very airy, but also pretty hot and bright. The shade can be stopped at any place along its path, though, so you can customize the visible glass to a full blackout shade level.
Just the front portion of the moonroof opens up to the outside, but slides itself above the roof for no loss of headroom. A wind baffle in the front of the glass keeps things serene when open, even at highway speeds.
But is it all about a moonroof?! No, there’s much more shock/awe tech and comfort inside.
Hyundai has gone bonkers on cabin engineering. Every fitting is luxurious and most are soft-touch and designed with zero flex or panel movement. Nothing is moving inside this rock-solid cabin. The dashboard is a rubberized and artfully textured shape that shrink-wraps itself low into the nose. Just the center stack and instrument clusters bulge forward to meet you — the rest of the front cockpit feels airy, spacious and relaxed thanks to this design.
The Ultimate pack includes the eight-inch touchscreen with navigation and 12-speaker Logic7 audio system. The base SFS comes with a 4.3-inch touchscreen audio setup, but all are standard with Hyundai BlueLink telematics, BT phone calls and other app-based goodies. All Santa Fe’s also come with HD radio and a trial of SXM radio for three months.
Final Ultimate goodies are the excellent cooled front seats, heated steering wheel and heated seat controls for both rows. Rear parking sensors also come with the Ultimate pack, but the standard Santa Fe Sport 2.0T already comes with a generous level of equipment. Things like leather seats, proximity keys, power tailgate, rear climate control, electroluminescent gauges, electrochromic dimming mirror and even sun-shades for the side windows in back.
The end result is a crossover that feels incredible rigid and unflappable inside at speed, where there is almost no engine or wind noise whatsoever.
The Santa Fe Sport has a slightly tight ride quality that brings some road choppiness inside, but overall feels worth it when chucking the truck around two-lane roads.
Driving SUVs and crossovers hard like sports cars is setting most of them up for disappointment at best, and big failure at worst. This applies even more to front-drive crossovers. To make up for their tall centers of gravity, SUVs greatly benefit from AWD or 4×4 handling. Without it, there can be an abundance of wheelspin and tons of body lurch and lean when you are at full throttle.
The Santa Fe Sport is one of the best in its segment for playfulness and fun handling as a front-drive model. Thanks to its lightweight turbo engine up front, the nose feels eager to pivot and very responsive to quick steering inputs. 262 horsepower comes on steam at 6,000-rpm, while the full 269-pound-feet of torque hits from just 1,750 revs.
So there is great shove off the line and the Santa Fe Sport spools itself to max power almost instantly. No turbo whoosh or much engine growl at all in the isolated cabin, but speed builds with vigor and the six-speed auto pops off fairly quick upshifts. This SFS 2.0T turbo is the fastest Santa Fe ever, and about 2.0-seconds quicker to 60-mph than the base Santa Fe Sport. The 0-60-mph run for the turbo is about 6.8-seconds versus 8.8-seconds for the base 190-horsepower engine.
The Santa Fe Sport’s turbo really pulls hard and feels much more potent than it did in the Sonata Sport, if we’re honest.
The steering of the SFS has adjustable modes, and all are pretty good. Light and fairly accurate in Comfort up to tight and heavy in Sport — offering much better feel and control than most electronic power steering systems. We’d love to sample the AWD model, which should offer a more-neutral chassis and handling feel than any front-drive model.
One downside of the turbo engine is that the fuel economy of 19/26-mpg can really be knocked down if you drive with a heavy foot, but this is the price of big, addictive horsepower!
The Santa Fe Sport bases from $24,950 in 2.4-liter, FWD configuration up to $26,700 for the standard-engine and AWD.
The Sport 2.0T bases from $31,250 up to $33,000 for the AWD turbo.
|Starting MSRP (Front Wheel Drive)||$24,950||$31,250|
|Starting MSRP (All Wheel Drive)||$26,700||$33,000|
Our test truck came in at $36,600 with its Ultimate pack, floormats and $875 destination charge. This is great value — compare it to the 2015 CR-V Touring from $33,500 to the Lincoln MKC Black Label at $58,000. For comparison, the BMW X5 starts from $54k.
Ultimate Package for Sport 2.0T – $4,350
19-inch alloy wheels
HID Xenon headlights
LED tail lights
Rear Parking Assistance System
Navigation system with 8-inch touchscreen
Infinity® Logic 7® surround sound 12-speaker with subwoofer (550 watts)
Heated steering wheel
Integrated Memory System (IMS) for driver seat and side mirrors
Ventilated front seats
Heated rear seats
Premium door sill plates
Hyundai is still improving so rapidly, you might predict total automotive domination from Seoul in just a few more generations of cars. This Santa Fe marks a watershed moment: when the core offering of class-above roominess is paired with actual engineering and design excellence.
The Santa Fe Sport 2.0T is an excellent overall package for shoppers seeking X5-levels of crossover style and space. That much we know.
But it also delivers X5 levels of interior comfort, tech and even luxury with this Ultimate package.
Is it a sports-car? Not really. But the Sport Turbo is fast and fun, quicker than the Lexus NX200t and loves to surge ahead til its last RPM gasp.
For that, it makes the new Nissan Murano seem soft and floaty, makes the BMW and Lexus seem overpriced, and makes the Lincoln MKC Black Label feel not-so-lux.
Perhaps the best compliment the Santa Fe Sport earns?
Beating both its real-life price competitors and its image/size aspirational competitors!
One last thing though, Hyundai: who can we speak to about painting all the lower trims body-color and LED-only headlamp settings?
Build your Santa Fe Sport over at the below link!
Tom Burkart is the founder and managing editor of Car-Revs-Daily.com, an innovative and rapidly-expanding automotive news magazine.
He holds a Journalism JBA degree from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Tom currently resides in Charleston, South Carolina with his two amazing dogs, Drake and Tank.
Mr. Burkart is available for all questions and concerns by email Tom(at)car-revs-daily.com.