We spend a week in the impressive and, dare we say, sporty compact crossover from Hyundai.
Interior fit and finish
Pricey top line models
2016 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport
Most manufacturers offer only one compact crossover model. Not so Hyundai. Its' Tucson is slightly smaller than most compact crossovers, while the Santa Fe Sport is a bit larger in all dimensions.
Unlike the Elantra-based Tucson, Hyundai Santa Fe models share a platform with the Hyundai Sonata and come in two flavors: the longer-wheelbase Santa Fe, and the smaller Santa Fe Sport. Both share the same cockpit layout as well as body sheetmetal from the front doors forward.
Even though it was all-new for 2014, a number of changes were made for the 2015 model year including new electronics for the steering system for better feel with a retuned "Sport" setting. Suspension changes included stiffer front lower control arm bushings and revised rear suspension geometry and bushings were added to increase lateral body stiffness.
Other changes included adding standard daytime running lights, a new two-tone grille, driver's blind spot mirror, auto up/down for the front passenger window and an optional power hands-free power liftgate that can be actuated merely by standing near the liftgate with the key fob.
Outside, it's as bold and modern as anything in its class, with a high prominent beltline with sweeping angles that accentuate its flowing lines. In front, large LED-trimmed projector headlamp enclosures taper downward towards a three-bar hexagonal front grille. Below that is a lower air intake with a black trim line that sweeps around the lower front air dam, continues over the wheel arches, runs along the lower body and sweeps up around the rear wheel arches where it meets the lower rear bumper trim.
Along the sides, a character line begins just aft of the front wheel arch and sweeps up along the body, bisecting both front and rear door handles. Above the rear door handle a more sculpted character line forms a gentle radius that terminates just above the wraparound taillights. There are also two sculpted lower character lines – one in the sheetmetal and the other in the black lower trim.
In back the taillamps narrow towards the center, while the lower black valance mimics that of the lower front fascia, while the rear window is topped off by a large upper spoiler.
Inside is a slickly-designed cabin notable for its liberal use of soft-touch surfaces and a fit and finish worthy of a luxury vehicle. Although there are no fewer than a half dozen different materials and finishes, they're all executed flawlessly – even down to the rubberized material on the door panels just above the arm rests and window switches.
Up front both the driver and passenger have ample amounts of leg, hip and headroom. The front seats are large and very supportive. The backlit instrumentation is clear and easy to read. Driver visibility is good out the front and sides, but owners pay a price for all that swoopy exterior styling as visibility out the rear three-quarters is hindered by the large C-pillar.
The center stack on our 2.0T tester featured an optional 8-inch touch-screen display with navigation. Improvements in voice recognition and the simple pop-up messages helped me pair an iPhone in record time without having to consult the owner’s manual.
The buttons located just below the screen controlling the on-screen functions are backlit, easy to read and intuitive. The module below this contained controls for the dual-zone climate control system as well as the front and rear defrost and fresh/recirculation functions.
Because the Santa Fe Sport is larger than most compact crossovers, there is more than enough room in the back seat for three adults with the wide rear doors allowing for easy ingress and egress. Cargo volume is 35.4 cubic feet behind the second row seats. With those folded, it expands to a generous 71.5 cubic feet.
Even the base Santa Fe Sport comes with a plethora of standard equipment including 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlight accents, rear spoiler and window wiper, keyless entry and alarm, power windows, locks and mirrors, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, steering wheel-mounted audio, Bluetooth and cruise controls, Sirius satellite radio with USB and aux inputs and Bluetooth iPhone connectivity with streaming audio.
2-liter turbo models like our tester also receive 18-inch alloy wheels, blind spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, lane change assist, a rear view camera, side mirror turn signal indicators, automatic headlight control, proximity key with push-button start, heated power driver and front passenger seats, leather seats, shift knob and steering wheel, auto-dimming rearview mirror, Blue Link telematics, dual automatic climate control, electroluminescent gage cluster, HD radio, HomeLink and rear side window sunshades.
Our tester came equipped with the optional Ultimate Package that includes 19-inch alloy
Wheels, navigation, Infinity audio system, HID headlights, LED taillights, panoramic sunroof, rear parking assist, heated steering wheel, driver's memory seat, ventilated front seats and heated rear seats.
Safety equipment includes a full complement of 7 airbags, ABS, traction control, electronic stability control and downhill brake/hill-start assist control.
Under the hood
The Santa Fe Sport is available with two different engines. The base model is powered by Hyundai’s 2.4-liter direct-injected, normally-aspirated Theta II inline-4 that produces a 190 horsepower and 181 lb.-ft. of peak. 2.0T models are equipped with – you guessed it – a 2.0-liter turbocharged, direct-injected Theta II inline-4 generating 265 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 269 lb.-ft. of torque between 1,750 and 3,000 rpm.
The EPA rates 2-liter AWD-equipped Santa Fe Sports at 18/24/21 city/highway/combined, while our own observed fuel economy turned out to be 25.8 miles per gallon in primarily highway driving (at extralegal speeds, no less!)
On the road
Both around town and on the highway, the suspension does a decent job of soaking up minor road imperfections, although it wasn’t always up to the task when it came to frost-affected pavement strips and potholes. The 2-liter, equipped with a twin-scroll turbocharger, spools up nearly instantaneously. Hitting the accelerator, there is no discernible turbo lag. Merging and passing on the expressway is effortless.
On back roads, its handling is nimble, with very little in the way of the body lean that we've come to expect from most vehicles in this class.
The Santa Fe Sport also comes with a three mode steering system – Normal, Comfort and Sport. With the improvements Hyundai has made, feedback on the most aggressive setting, Sport, is very close to the benchmark of the class, that of the Mazda CX-5.
Braking is also good with no perceptible fade, although there's not much of an initial bite to the pads and feedback through the pedal could be improved.
2016 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport Pricing
2016 Santa Fe Sport prices start at $25,845 for a base front-wheel-drive model equipped with the 2.4-liter normally aspirated engine and can top out at nearly $40,000 for a fully optioned and accessorized AWD 2.0-liter turbo. Our AWD tester came close to that not -cheap-for-the-segment price with a base of $33,000. Add to that the Ultimate Package ($4,350), carpeted front and rear floor mats ($125), plus freight and handling ($895) and that brought its' MSRP to a lofty $38,370.
The Bottom Line
Improvements in latest Santa Fe Sport bring a lot to the table in the compact crossover segment. It has a stylish exterior, there’s plenty of room for five adults in its luxurious interior and improvements in handling mean it's now nearly the best in the segment.
There are, however, still a few drawbacks. That swoopy styling comes at the price of limited rear visibility, the suspension could use more compliance and top line models are hardly what you would consider a bargain.
But all in all, the l2016 Hyundai Santa Fe is one of the best vehicles currently being offered in the compact crossover segment. Buyers would do well to put it at or near the top of their shopping lists.