Hyundai splits the difference with its Santa Fe Sport.
Despite how good an idea may be, sometimes things don't pan out quite the way we hoped. That was apparently the case for the Hyundai Veracruz, which sounds suspiciously more like a Latin-inspired entrée at a local restaurant, rather than the capable crossover it actually was. Instead, the brand brought an existing nameplate more up-market, and offered two degrees of spiciness.
We just happen to like spicy, and tried the 2015 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T to see if it really offers a kick we can live with. Stomach warming, or break out the Tums? Read on to find out.
What is it?
The 2015 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T is a five-passenger crossover utility vehicle that rides on the same platform as the larger seven-passenger Santa Fe. It is available with the standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 190 hp and 181 pound-feet of torque. In the case of our front-wheel-drive 2.0T model, as the name implies, it is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged and gas direct-injected (GDI) engine that makes 264 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque.
For those requiring the pulling power of a larger engine, they will be confined to the standard seven-passenger Santa Fe, which is offered exclusively with a 3.3-liter V6. Regardless of which model a buyer may choose, these CUVs are all mated to a six-speed electronic automatic transmission, and can be ordered in front- or all-wheel-drive configurations.
New for 2015, the Santa Fe sport features revised electric power steering assistance via a 32-bit microprocessor and a driver selectable steering mode which is the revised sport setting for firmer and more direct steering. Other refinements make their way to the MacPherson strut front- and multilink rear suspension, and in the process, help to minimize side-to-side wallow for a more confident ride.
Less noticeable, but still new, are features including daytime running lights, a driver's blind spot mirror and an auto up/down front passenger power window. And not to be outdone, the Sport included the available "hands-free smart liftgate with auto open function," which automatically opens the rear hatch when you approach with the key fob. Our "ultimate" package included 19-inch alloy wheels, a twelve-speaker Infinity Logic 7 audio system, navigation, as well as heated and ventilated front seats.
What's it up against?
How does it look?
Little has changed to the Santa Fe Sport, which still features its distinct upward window line at the rear of the vehicle's greenhouse. It goes a long way towards imparting the feeling of motion and speed to this vehicle that is nine-inches shorter than the standard Santa Fe. (Wheelbase is now four-inches shorter.)
Lower black cladding that runs the width and length of the vehicle does its part to drop the Santa Fe's mass closer to the ground, while new daylight running lights and a two-tone grille enhance the Sport's front end.
Finishing the Santa Fe Sport off like a cherry atop an ice cream sundae, our sampler included the Ultimate package which was chock-full-of creature comforts including one of the largest panoramic sunroofs we can remember.
And the inside?
The interior was made up of a tri-tone mélange of panels, which featured a mix of soft- and hard-touch materials throughout with several bovine units worth of leather to boot. Faux wood trim added distinction to the dashboard, and with eight-inches being the new six-inches, we were surprised to see an eight-inch touchscreen holding court front and center on the middle console.
We found the rear seat especially comfortable, with plentiful legroom and the ability to recline the seatbacks slightly. The outboard rear seats featured heating for cold northern days, while those same seats could be folded forward in a 60:40 split, which increases cargo capacity from 35.4 cubic ft all the way up to 71.5 cubic ft.
But does it go?
Absolutely! Our Santa Fe Sport was equipped with Hyundai's turbocharged and gas direct-injected inline four-cylinder mill. While not exactly rocket fast, it was still plenty okay. Road noise is almost kept to levels found in luxury SUVs, thanks to sound absorption materials and the Continental CrossContact tires doing their part to help minimize the sound intrusion into the cabin. Hyundai has always played up their "class above" features, and this Santa Fe Sport is clearly punching above its weight. They have spent some time sweating the details and the result is very impressive.
Acceleration is almost effortless except in situations where the traffic or circumstances really require you to hoof it to avoid someone coming right up on your tail. It is only then that you actually realize there is an engine underhood reacting in anger to the pressure from your right foot. We saw zero to 60 in 8.3 seconds which we thought to be good for a vehicle that tips the scales at 3,569-pounds. We were also able to confirm the EPA estimates of 19 city/26 highway, with 22 mpg combined.
Steering is adjustable, via a wheel-mounted button that allows the driver to adjust its feel ranging from Normal to Sport to Comfort modes. While comfort instilled a feeling that was very much effortless, the switch to Sport firmed it up considerably. Obviously not for everyone, drivers will most likely find themselves in Normal mode while our preferences will go towards a more firmed up feel.
We found the Sport's braking to be pretty, er, sporty, as did several other Santa Fe Sport owners, who a year later, still seem to be in love with it. One such owner told us of having his transmission replaced for a "glitch," and even then praised the way the company handled the situation. He pointed out that was one of the highlights of Hyundai's 10-year, 100,000 mile powertrain warranty.
Leftlane's bottom line
Hyundai allows buyers to pick and choose just how many of their friends and family can come along with them. A turbocharged four-cylinder, acting as the little engine that could, along with value pricing, help to make the 2015 Santa Fe Sport a compelling car to consider.
2015 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport base price, $31,250. As tested, $36,600.
Ultimate Package: 19-inch alloy wheels, HID headlights, LED taillights, Panoramic Sunroof, Navigation System with 8-inch touchscreen, 12-speaker Infinity Logic 7 Surround Sound audio system, Rear Parking Assistance Sensors, Heated Steering Wheel, Premium Door Sill Plates, Ultimate liftgate badging, $4,350; Carpeted floor mats, $125; Destination fee $875.
Photos by Mark Elias.
Location assistance courtesy of Camera Copters LLC, Boynton Beach, FL.