Published: August 17, 2014
By: Greg Zyla
Entry Price: $24,950
Price As tested: $33,385
This week, we're driving the front-drive 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, with a "2.0T" designation on its window sicker. The "2.0T" stands for 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbocharged, meaning this Sport packs a solid punch from its diminutive engine dimensions. A non-turbo entry model starts at $24,950 and comes with a 2.4-liter, 190-horse four-cylinder while an AWD Sport Turbo starts at $32,400.
Built in West Point, Georgia, Santa Fe Sport is a five-passenger SUV classified as "standard size" by the EPA. Santa Fe competes in an overly crowded SUV class with some of the biggest names in manufacturing. Along with its larger class brother Santa Fe Limited V6, which is built in Korea on rides on a 3.9-inch longer wheelbase, Santa Fe in either dress offers a solid choice. Be it the smaller Sport or longer wheelbase Limited, passengers will enjoy ample cabin room and enough cargo space to accommodate any family outing or business trip need.
Most notable are recent 2014 Consumer Reports (CR) magazine testing and owner reliability input, which finds Santa Fe Limited receiving the coveted "Best Overall" recommendation while Santa Fe Sport receives a CR "regular recommendation" in midsize and larger SUV classes.
Additionally, only six midsize SUVs received a CR recommendation, with one of them sibling Kia Sorento EX. If you do the math, corporate Hyundai/Kia represents 50-percent of the recommended SUVs, the others being Nissan Murano, Mazda CX-9 and Honda Pilot. Thus, Hyundai continues its perch atop the SUV midsize league thanks to ongoing emphasis on safety, structural integrity and mechanical competence. Add that 10-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty to the mix, and the benefit of Hyundai Santa Fe ownership comes into focus.
As for our tester Santa Fe Sport, it's a fun SUV that's easy to operate. The standard features are many, and come with items that are options on competing models. Under the hood, Santa Fe Sport features the aforementioned 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, developing a stout 264-horsepower and 269 lb. ft. of torque. Numbers like this parallel V6 style engines, as the 3.3-liter V6 in the Limited we recently tested offers up 290-horsepower yet delivers less torque at 252 lb. ft. The result is a much quicker accelerating Sport, along with generating better fuel mileage at 19 city and 27 highway versus 18/25 for the V6, AWD equipped Limited. (The V6 Santa Fe numbers, notably, are very good).
Both the Limited and Sport rely on Hyundai's Shiftronic six-speed automatic with an active Eco button that calibrates transmission shift points and throttle response for enhanced fuel mileage. I've never been convinced any of the "ECO" systems really work that well, and feel the additional MPG one experiences is minimal at best.
On the highway, Santa Fe Sport delivers a comfortable ride and impressive handling for a midsize SUV. However, the adjective "impressive" for SUV handling is not to be confused with "impressive" when describing sports car handling. If you push any SUV into a sharp turn, Sport included, you'll quickly learn that a higher center of gravity impacts the vehicle's cornering abilities. So, don't go overboard or fall into a lull because of Sport and Limited's excellent comfort and secure drive characteristics. As for straight line performance, Sport is outstanding, going zero to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds and running the quarter mile in 14.8 seconds.
All Santa Fe Sports come with 18-inch tires on nice alloy wheels, but our tester came with a $1,750 Navigation Package that adds 19-inch Continental tires on fancier alloys, eight-inch touchscreen navigation, 12-speaker Infinity Logic 550-watt surround sound and carpeted floor mats.
On the safety side, Santa Fe's "5-Star rated" list of standard items include every air bag imaginable, traction and hill start controls, four-wheel ABS disc brakes, blind spot detection, rear backup safety camera, downhill brake assist and more. The suspension is a MacPherson strut front and a multi-link rear design.
Important numbers include a wheelbase of 106.3-inches, from 35.4 to 71.5 cubic feet of cargo space, 35.8 ft. turning diameter, 3,569 lb. curb weight and a 17.4 gallon fuel tank.
Santa Fe is a winner at Hyundai showrooms, where both Limited and Sport models await. Since all receive Test Drive "Best Buys," now is the best time to visit your dealer and check the Hyundai year-end incentives. You'll literally save thousands off the retail price.
Likes: Power, interior, fuel mileage, safety, owner satisfaction.
Dislikes: B-pillar blind spot, not sure Eco really adds much MPG.
(Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist)