We originally tested the Santa Fe Sport after the model’s introduction in 2013. Since then, little has changed, aside from some minor equipment, suspension and aesthetic tweaks. Does it still measure up against the rest of the midsize crossover field? Read on to find out.
The five-seater version of Hyundai’s midsize crossover, the sport in Santa Fe Sport refers more to its looks and cargo capacity than any real off-road or corner carving ability. No matter; it was recently voted the best family car at any price by a well-known automotive website. It’s easy to see why – these CUVs have gotten so good, it’s tough to see why a family of moderate size would even consider going with a comparable sedan, even taking into account the modest price premium the 5-door commands.
For those with greater space needs, the standard Santa Fe offers a third row and two more seatbelts, plus an additional 38 cu. ft. of passenger space and at least 364 pounds more heft at the scales, depending on trim level. As a result, that ute is offered solely with a 3.3-liter V6 making 290 horsepower and 252 lb-ft of torque. Our smaller Sport tester straddles the line between compact CUVs like the RAV4 and CR-V, and midsizers like the Edge and Pilot. The Sport is offered with a pair of four-cylinders, a 2.4-liter naturally aspirated unit with 190 hp and 181 lb-ft, and the turbocharged 2-liter seen here, with 264 horses and 269 lb-ft. A six-speed automatic is standard equipment across the board, and all-wheel drive is a $1,750 option regardless of which engine or model you choose.
The Santa Fe’s won multiple accolades since this generation’s introduction back in 2013, and after spending some time with it, it’s pretty easy to see why. It delivers the kind of no-brainer comfort and ease of operation that buyers in this class have come to expect; the ride is unflappably smooth and quiet, wind noise is hushed, and the interior earns high marks for its ergonomics and overall comfort.
That interior is a nice place to spend time – although the design has been around for three model years, you wouldn’t know it. It feels like a well screwed-together environment, as well. Feature content is typically Korean: strong. Our Ultimate Package tester came loaded with 19” alloys, HID headlights, a panoramic sunroof, navigation and an Infinity sound system (yep, Infinity is still around), heated/cooled front and heated rear seats, park assist, and a heated steering wheel – in addition to a slew of standard equipment, for around $36 grand. This value-for-money approach is a long-time Hyundai tenet, of course, but the simplified option packaging (likely taking a page from Honda’s book) also makes things easy on the customer when it comes time to find a car on the lot.
The rest of the driving experience largely mirrors that of the 2013 Santa Fe Sport model we drove a while back, which was nearly identical in spec to this one (including color) aside from being all-wheel drive. This front-drive model was a tad lighter at the scales, and as a result, the 2-liter turbo powerplant felt a bit perkier. The 6-speed auto shifts snappily enough in manual mode, though to be honest, there’s little point in taking control of gear changes in this type of vehicle anyway, and in full auto, shifts are smooth to the point of being nearly imperceptible.
If there’s a criticism to be leveled at the Santa Fe, it’s an area that Hyundai actually spent some time developing since the last time we mentioned it, and that’s the electric power steering. In this type of vehicle, I don’t expect the helm to be a paragon of feel and communication, but I had noted in my last drive of the Santa Fe that the variable-resistance electric power steering system never really felt natural in any of its three settings. Hyundai did their best to rectify the situation with the 2015 model, changing the steering system’s microprocessor as well as the front wheel bearings in an attempt to improve feel. Revised control arm bushings in the front and suspension geometry changes in the rear were also brought in to improve handling, although I found little issue with the ride and handling balance back in 2013, anyway. While steering feel has been slightly improved, the numb tiller still feels like the only aspect that lets the Santa Fe down, especially since the rest of the package is so well thought out.
Although the steering feel disappoints, it’s hard to argue against the Santa Fe’s solid raft of other virtues. It’s a strong competitor in the crossover/family car marketplace, and it certainly deserves a look from anyone shopping the segment.
2015 Hyundai Santa Fe FWD 2.0T
Base price: $32,125
Price as tested: $36,600
Options on test car: Ultimate Package ($4,350), Carpeted floor mats ($125)
Powertrain: 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, 6-speed automatic transmission, front-wheel drive – 264 horsepower, 269 lb-ft torque
S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 22.1 mpg
Hyundai provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the author.