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A blog about the cars I drive

Little Hyundai crossover offers big value proposition

This review first appeared in The Spokesman-Review.

Hyundai Santa Fe Sport interior

The Santa Fe Sport receives engine-room tweaks that reduce total output of its up-level in favor of stronger low-end power and greater efficiency.

For purely selfish reasons, I wish Hyundai would revise its crossover naming strategy.

Just last weekend, I found myself trying to explain the differences between the Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport. In a nutshell:

  • The midsize Santa Fe (from $31,695, including transportation) accommodates as many as seven in up to three rows of seats.
    The five-passenger Santa Fe Sport ($26,245) is smaller and more nimble than the Santa Fe, but not sportier in any meaningful sense.

The two rigs share platforms, production cycles and stylish looks. For 2017, each receives a mild facelift, infotainment system upgrades and newly available safety and driver-assist technology.

Hyundai Santa Fe Sport interior

A 5-inch touchscreen is standard on all Santa Fes, and new 7- and 8-inch screen are available. Traditional knobs and switches augment the user-friendly touchscreens.

The Sport also receives engine-room tweaks that reduce total output of its up-level in favor of stronger low-end power and greater efficiency. The turbocharged, 2.0-liter four makes 250 horsepower and 259 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque, down 19 and 9 respectively.

Acceleration falls, though the Sport is still quick off the line and moves out sharply in passing situations. Efficiency gains are marginal, with a 1-mpg uptick in combined driving (23 vs last year’s 22). The base engine, a 185-horsepower 2.4-liter four, loses 5 hp, and FWD trims register an estimated 24/21/27.

Many find that the Sport’s overall value proposition offsets its lackluster efficiency. No longer driven to compete on price exclusively, Hyundai offers abundant standard content — the Sport’s list includes automatic headlights, heated mirrors, rear privacy glass, air-conditioning, Bluetooth, rearview camera, windshield wiper deicer on AWD models, more — and makes available such upscale amenities as a hands-free power liftgate and adaptive cruise, with automatic emergency braking.

Moreover, those engines are mated to a conventional six-speed automatic and not a more efficient but less satisfying CVT. This year, the automatic adds three driver-selectable modes.

Ride and handling is a mixed bag. At highway speeds, the Sport is stable and its cabin quiet. Body lean during fast cornering is well controlled but cornering limits are modest. The electrically assisted power steering has good on-center feel and communicates more road-surface information than many competitive systems.

On irregular surfaces — little-used county roads, for example — the ride can grow choppy. Thick C-pillars inhibit over-the-shoulder visibility.

The Sport is a little larger than other compact crossovers, but not substantially roomier. Its front seats are comfortable and supportive and the rear seats offer class-appropriate leg- and headroom. Upper trims include slide-and-recline rear seats and rear side-window sunshades.

A 5-inch touchscreen is standard on all Santa Fes, and new 7- and 8-inch screen are available. Traditional knobs and switches augment the user-friendly touchscreens.

Our top-of-the-line tester, a Santa Fe Ultimate 2.0T AWD (from $37,395) brought the turbocharged four, high-intensity-discharge headlights and Hyundai’s full-zoot infotainment system.

A $1,550 Tech Package added adaptive cruise, emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning and adaptive [”bending”] headlights with automatic high-beams.

An available 360-degree rear camera proves invaluable in confined spaces and high-traffic parking lots.

As for the pesky matter of nomenclature, just count the heads you plan to cart and it all sorts itself out.

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T Ultimate AWD
Vehicle base price: $25,350
Trim level base price: $38,250
As tested: $40,820
Optional equipment included intelligent cruise control; emergency braking with pedestrian detection; lane-departure warning; electronic parking brake with auto-hold; dynamic (“bending”) headlights; automatic high beams; auto-leveling headlights; carpeted floor mats.
Tow rating: 2,000 pounds
EPA rating: 21 combined/19 city/24 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

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