Styling is still fresh since the Santa Fe Sport made its debut for the 2013 model year. The look is a blend of Hyundai’s first and second wave of what they call “Fluidic Sculpture” styling, meaning the Santa Fe has blockier and a bit more hard edged forms than before.
The grille is prominent and angular stretched headlamps really add a sense of sportiness to the look. With black plastic cladding along the lower half of the Santa Fe, you get some extra protection out here in the dirt as well as a more off-road centric look.
The rear quarter view has a more fastly raked rear side glass than the larger Santa Fe three-row crossover, giving the Sport that extra bit of flair. An integrated spoiler over the rear window finishes up the look cleanly as does a set of traditional round exhaust pipe tips.
What I like about the Santa Fe Sport is that while its styling is decidedly Asian in character, it doesn’t have the lumpy silhouette or design details that some of its competitors do. It remains athletic in stance and as you will see, backs that up in capability.
Inside the Santa Fe is a cabin which impresses most with its consistent fit and finish as well as high quality materials. Everything from switch gear to the steering wheel and shift lever feels and looks as if they are all cut from the same cloth.
While the design itself isn’t as dramatic as some, it’s a clean and tidy look with controls laid out perfectly for getting the business of driving done. The infotainment touch screen is placed well for ease of use and is shielded adequately from sunlight glare.
Controls for the HVAC, audio and optioned navigation system were all within easy reach – intuitive to learn and operate while driving. Functions for the navigation system as well as top level audio controls work well via the touch screen with no glitches to report.
The tilt and telescoping steering wheel has a healthy list of controls on board which include audio functions as well as the instrument cluster trip computer. The texture of the leather wrap was distinctly soft and buttery too.
Our optioned heated leather seats were plenty comfortable both for support as well as to the touch. In our tester the driver seat was power adjustable, the passenger seat manual. The rear seats have a reclining function for additional adjustment range.
Hyundai got the seating position right, offering up a nice SUV commanding view but without perching you so high you feel exposed. Rear seats also seem to strike a balance in leg room as well as just the right height.
The rear cargo area is sizable as expected even though the Sport’s raked roof-line cuts into it a little. With 40/20/40 split folding seat backs you can expand the cargo area in a variety of configurations to fit your needs easily.
While these details are all important, we came out to the desert to see how well the Santa Fe Sport can perform in the dirt. The first stop was our off-road test area where we navigated a number of small challenges that test clearances and the suspension’s ability to articulate terrain.
But alas, the Santa Fe Sport isn’t really meant to be a Rubicon warrior. It’s all-wheel drive and traction system is really aimed at the driver who needs the ability to navigate occasional snow, ice, and muddy roads in the course of their daily drive. It’s not meant for off-road hobbyists.
On the highway the Santa Fe exhibits exemplary road manners, with a refined and taut chassis free of top heaviness. Steering is light but direct in feel with a nice on center weight.
Power from the turbocharged engine makes the Santa Fe downright fun to drive, with an enthusiastic power curve. There is a hint of turbo lag, but it’s very minor. The best part of the power delivery is that there is little or no torque steer.
That engine is Hyundai’s 2.0 liter direct-injected turbocharged four-cylinder with 264 horsepower and 269 lb.-ft of torque. Standard with a six-speed automatic transmission, it’s EPA rated in our all-wheel drive tester at 19 mpg city, 25 mpg highway, and 21 mpg combined. We found that the published fuel economy was pretty easy to beat, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
We also brought the Santa Fe out to our wash-board test road which separates the men from the boys so to speak. The vibrating surface is a great way to see how solidly built the chassis and body structure of a crossover SUV really is.
Here the Santa Fe Sport shined like a diamond with excellent suspension isolation over the surface ruts and bumps. Doors were solid in their frames and there were no rattles in the dash or interior trim work. Best of all the steering didn’t offer up any kickback or shudders.
The Santa Fe Sport indeed showed this week it can enthusiastically navigate terrain that some of its competitors would rather not. Best of all it does so with poise and comfort that is surprising at this price point.