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2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport Test Drive Review
Go ahead. Try to formulate a credible argument against buying a 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport. I dare you.
Look and Feel
Form and Function
Equipped with good looks, a comfortable interior, a roomy cargo area, and an affordable price, the 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport easily deserves your consideration. Then, you realize how safe it is, how technologically advanced it is, how quick it is, how it is built in the good old U.S.A., and how Hyundai virtually guarantees that it won’t break anytime soon, and you start to want one. What’s that? You need a third-row seat and more cargo space? Hyundai has a solution for that.
Look and Feel
Hyundai sells two distinctly different Santa Fe models. The first, called the Santa Fe, is a 3-row, 7-passenger crossover SUV that is equipped with a standard V6 engine. The second, called the Santa Fe Sport, is a 2-row, 5-passenger crossover SUV equipped with a choice between a 4-cylinder and a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine.
Styling themes are similar on the outside and essentially identical on the inside, and they’re constructed around a shared architecture with two different wheelbase lengths. Naturally, the larger Santa Fe is more expensive than the smaller Santa Fe Sport.
Other car companies take a similar approach: think Ford Edge and Ford Explorer, and Nissan Murano and Nissan Pathfinder. Doing so allows them to address different types of midsize crossover SUV buyers, because not everyone wants a larger model with a third-row seat.
This review covers the Santa Fe Sport, which is priced from $25,350. My test vehicle, the turbocharged 2.0T with the Ultimate Package, came decked out with nearly all the options, lacking only all-wheel drive and a handful of dealer-installed accessories. The price was $39,410, and that included the $895 shipping charge to get it from the factory in Georgia to the dealership.
For 2017, Hyundai updates the Santa Fe Sport with revised styling, minor interior modifications, new infotainment systems, and a long list of new driver-assistance and safety technologies. Most important, however, are the structural changes that allow both the standard Santa Fe and the Santa Fe Sport to earn a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Painted in a new-for-2017 color called Nightfall Blue, my Santa Fe Sport’s exterior design is fundamentally attractive, but this year you’ve got no choice but to accept a dark-finish grille and wheels. At least they have a silver sheen to them, helping to retain visual contrast.
Inside, a layered 2-tone cabin awaits, employing a multitude of tones, textures, and patterns and presenting a busy, jumbled, and garish appearance. The thoughtfully laid out controls are not the problem here. The visual cacophony is.
On a positive note, for 2017 Hyundai replaced the previous fake wood trim, which resembled that found inside a 20-year-old Lexus, with a darker and more modern finish.
Hyundai makes good on the “Sport” part of this SUV’s name in more ways than just the styling.
Upgrade from the base trim and its 185-horsepower, 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine and you’re rewarded with a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder that makes an impressive 240 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 260 lb-ft of torque from 1,450 rpm to 3,500 rpm. A 6-speed automatic transmission powers the front wheels, and an intuitively mapped manual shift gate helps the driver to take command over gear selection. All-wheel drive is an option.
Drive Mode Select is standard for 2017, supplying a choice between Eco, Normal, and Sport driving modes that calibrate the drivetrain and electric steering accordingly. My favorite of the three modes was Normal, because I found the engine and transmission acceptably responsive in that mode and I preferred the heft and feel of the steering. Perhaps I should have used the Eco mode for at least a portion of my evaluation, though, because the Santa Fe Sport averaged 21.5 mpg on my test loop, falling short of the EPA’s estimate of 23 mpg in combined driving.
Even though a loaded Santa Fe Sport 2.0T Ultimate, like my test vehicle, weighs nearly two tons, the turbocharged engine provides plenty of power. Acceleration is brisk, the Santa Fe Sport effortlessly passes slower vehicles and climbs mountain grades, and I have no complaints about the brakes, either.
Two years ago, for 2015, Hyundai re-tuned the Santa Fe Sport’s steering and suspension, resolving to a large degree complaints about the SUV’s ride and handling. Today, it continues to provide secure, trustworthy driving dynamics. Better tires would certainly help it to take corners with more speed, but otherwise there's nothing to complain about.
Unfortunately, the problem with the sportiest version of the Santa Fe Sport is that aside from speedy acceleration and a transmission that always seems to be in the right gear at the right time, there isn’t much to get excited about, either. In other words, the Santa Fe Sport goes fast, but it isn’t much fun.
Form and Function
Putting sticky tires on this SUV might help in the handling department, but the front seats lack side bolstering and already have a hard enough time holding the driver behind the wheel when threading S-curves with speed.
Get the Santa Fe Sport onto a straight road or high-speed highway, and the leather-wrapped front seats are mighty comfortable. The front passenger’s seat even has a power height adjuster, which is new for 2017 and reflects a recent trend in Hyundai products that I wholeheartedly applaud.
With leather, front-seat heating is standard. The Ultimate Package adds seat ventilation and a heated steering wheel, along with a huge panoramic glass sunroof, a premium sound system, navigation, and an impressive multi-view camera system.
Rear-seat occupants will be comfortable. It’s easy to get into and out of the Santa Fe Sport, and my Ultimate model included manual side window shades, a feature that parents of smaller children always appreciate, even with the dark tinted rear privacy glass.
Around back, my test vehicle had Hyundai’s Smart Tailgate. Sometimes, it seems dumb, though. It senses the proximity of the key fob, so if you’re hanging around talking to other parents after the soccer game, and you get too close to the back of your Santa Fe Sport, the tailgate might open even if you don’t want it to and spill your gear all over the parking lot. Don’t worry, though. You can turn this feature off if you want, and then turn it back on when you anticipate you might need it.
Cargo space is a little tight for a vehicle pitched as a midsize SUV. It measures 35.4 cubic feet behind the rear seat and 71.5 cubic feet with the rear seat folded down. Those numbers are in the same ballpark with those of several other compact crossovers. Hyundai does provide handy storage bins beneath the cargo floor, though, and levers to fold the rear seats from the cargo area.
For 2017, Hyundai offers new infotainment systems for the Santa Fe Sport, and versions with navigation benefit from an 8-inch touchscreen display, an upgrade over the 7-inch screen in models without navigation. Both systems include Android Auto smartphone projection capability, but not Apple CarPlay. A next-generation version of the company’s Blue Link subscription services is also available.
In terms of its operation, I found the top-shelf infotainment system inside my test vehicle both intuitive and easy to use, and the company thoughtfully provides both a stereo volume knob and a tuning knob in addition to buttons that supply easy access to the radio and map displays.
It was paired with a new Infinity Surround Sound audio system featuring Clari-Fi music restoration technology. Primarily, I listen to alternative rock on SiriusXM’s Alt Nation, but occasionally delve into pop, '80s, reggae, and down-tempo house music. No matter the genre, the speakers delivered rich, clear sound.
Because crossover SUVs are often purchased to serve family duty, rest assured that the Santa Fe Sport is a safe vehicle.
First, it's offered with several driver-assistance and collision-avoidance technologies, including important ones like forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot warning, and rear cross-traffic alert. In addition to pedestrian detection and automatic braking, new features for 2017 include lane-departure warning, automatic high-beam headlights, dynamic headlights that help the driver to see around dark corners, and a truly impressive multi-view camera system.
Second, Blue Link provides access to features like SOS emergency assistance, automatic collision notification, and safe teen-driver features like speed and curfew alerts. All are free for a trial period and then require a subscription.
Third, the Santa Fe Sport gets a 5-star crash-test rating from the federal government, and a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). It doesn’t get better than that.
Would I put my own kids in this SUV? You bet.
By nearly all measurements of value, the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport excels. Granted, my test vehicle did not return the fuel economy promised by the EPA, but given the power and practicality of this package I’m not about to quibble with 21.5 mpg.
Let’s start with one obvious argument in favor of a Santa Fe Sport, namely the warranty. For more than 15 years, Hyundai has been offering the best total warranty package in the industry (along with Kia, which is part of Hyundai Motor Group). For more than 15 years, Hyundai has also been growing, increasing sales, and increasing market share. If the vehicles were junk, that warranty would have bankrupted the company by now. Instead, the vehicles are engineered to exceed the warranty, which spells value for you.
Next, let’s talk price. My test vehicle had every option except for a few dealer-installed accessories, and its sticker price did not exceed $40,000 even with the destination charge. You’re not going to pay that much for this SUV, though. During the week I evaluated the SUV, Hyundai was offering a $2,500 cash rebate, or 0.9% financing for 60 months plus $1,750 in cash to sweeten the deal.
Finally, let’s talk value to the country. As the recent election underscored, Americans want jobs. Hyundai is providing them, building the Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport in Georgia and Alabama. If you’re really concerned about keeping America working, confirm it with your checkbook.
This all sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? The question is, then, do you actually want a Hyundai Santa Fe Sport? If you like the way it looks, and you find it to be comfortable, and it offers enough passenger and cargo space, and you don’t need more than 7.3 inches of ground clearance, then yes, you probably want a Santa Fe Sport.
You see, the Santa Fe Sport is hard to criticize, because it doesn’t make promises it can’t keep. Certainly, practical reasons to buy this crossover outweigh emotional reasons, but there really isn’t anything wrong with this SUV. And that means making a decision about buying one is purely dependent upon your own personal preferences.
If it matters to you, I give it my stamp of approval.
Christian Wardlaw has nearly two decades of experience reviewing cars, and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, Autobytel, and J.D. Power and Associates. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.
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