Test Drive: 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport

The 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport competes in a fierce battle for ever-increasing sales – that’s life in the “small” crossover category. “Small” is laughable, because these are not small vehicles. But they don’t qualify as mid-size for one reason or another. Key competitors come to mind – the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 are perennial favourites here, and the latter can now be had in hybrid form. But the other players are fine vehicles, and it’s never been harder to make a choice in this class. The bestselling Ford Escape, the Nissan Rogue and the Chevrolet Equinox are all solid crossovers, although you’ll find compromises in each manufacturer’s offering. The Santa Fe Sport has always been competitive and a bit of a value proposition – but its pricing is starting to catch up with the competition.

The Santa Fe Sport has always been competitive and a bit of a value proposition – but its pricing is starting to catch up with the competition.

The Santa Fe Sport, which we originally met in 2013, is still a nice-looking vehicle. It got some refreshed bits for 2017, but you’ll have to look closely to find them. The headlights, grille, bumpers and taillights are all new and LED driving lights are now standard. The overall shape and the “Fluidic Sculpture” design language is aging gracefully, although it is certainly not as surprising as it was in the 2013 model year. It has become a familiar sight – Hyundai has sold a lot of these over the years.

This trim’s 17-inch rims look a bit small, particularly when compared to the stunning 19-inch rims on the upper trims, but overall the Santa Fe Sport’s shape is still a nice departure from the conservative look we often see in the crossover category.

Inside, Hyundai’s materials are pretty nice – a mix of hard and soft plastics with some interesting textures, and some glossy fake wood trim.

We enjoyed the highly comfortable heated leather seats. The driver’s side is 12-way adjustable. There is a smallish 5.0-inch touchscreen in the middle of the dash – it handles the Santa Fe Sport’s phone and audio functions. The standard six-speaker sound system is fine, and comfort is managed via the dual-zone automatic climate control system.

Hyundai adds nice touches like the heated steering wheel and the enormous sunroof overhead. The driver assistance technology is decent in this trim – you get a back-up camera with rear parking sensors and blind-spot monitoring (which comes with lane-change assist), as well as cross-traffic alert. Speaking of technology – it’s a bit limited in the ignition department as you’ll be firing up the Santa Fe Sport in this trim level with an old-school key.

There are excellent storage possibilities around the cabin. An interesting rubberized bin sits under a pop-up lid in the centre of the dash, and under the centre stack, there’s an open bin with two 12V plugs, as well as USB and auxiliary plugs. This is a great place to throw a phone while you’re driving. If that’s not enough, there is a huge bin under the armrest lid.

The roomy Santa Fe Sport’s back seats are very spacious and comfortable. Headroom and legroom are ample and the seats recline for additional comfort. The two outboard passengers will enjoy heated seats, manual window shades and an armrest with cupholders. You will find a 12V charging plug at the back of the centre console.

The Santa Fe Sport’s large 1,003 L trunk with its significant underfloor storage provides outstanding utility. The rear seats split 40/20/40 – fold them all down, and you’ll enjoy a cavernous 2,025 L of cargo space.

My review vehicle came with the 2.4L four-cylinder engine, which puts out 185 hp and 178 lb-ft of torque. Hyundai mates this to a six-speed transmission and the optional on-demand all-wheel drive. Fuel economy is quite reasonable, and gets a city rating of 12.0 L/100 km (20 US mpg) and a highway rating of 9.1 L/100 km (26 US mpg). We averaged a surprisingly good 10.6 L/100 km (22 US mpg) during our week with the Santa Fe Sport.

The base engine in my Santa Fe Sport is not particularly powerful but there’s ample torque to get off the line and it’s just fine during most driving situations. There’s enough power to get any kind of normal driving done, and for things like merging or passing, you just give yourself a second or two longer and you’ll end up in the same place. Of course, the optional turbo engine in the Santa Fe raises the bar quite a bit – it’s a brawny, smooth operator and well worth the upgrade in my opinion.

The transmission in the Santa Fe Sport has always impressed with its smooth-shifting intelligence. It’s slick and nearly always in the right gear. You can manually shift the gears using the shift lever if you’re into that.

Hyundai gives the Santa Fe Sport three drive modes. A dash-mounted button lets you switch between Normal, Eco and Sport modes, which impact the vehicle’s throttle responsiveness, transmission programming and required steering effort. The modes don’t really transform the vehicle much, but they are noticeable.

The really smooth ride is impressive, and the vehicle handles well, although there is plenty of body lean in corners. Combined with an effective and unobtrusive all-wheel drive-system, the Santa Fe proved to have tremendous traction on a variety of surfaces, including some nasty side roads that were covered in ice. We also found that the cabin was impressively quiet in most situations, although you’ll definitely hear that normally aspirated four-cylinder under acceleration.

If you’re doing any kind of towing, the Santa Fe Sport with this engine will tug around 1,270kg (2,800 lb) behind it.

The Santa Fe Sport does everything quite well and is (I’m saying this as a compliment) quite unremarkable in its quiet competence. That is exactly what the average mid-size crossover customer is looking for. Daily ownership with little drama and no surprises.

WAF (Wife Approval Factor) was high. She doesn’t care much about horsepower, and she loved the comfortable ride and interior, and said it looks nice from the outside.

Good value, although not as good as it used to be, decent performance and economy, outstanding comfort and utility. The Santa Fe Sport is a serious competitor in this class and is worthy of consideration. I’d spring for the upgraded turbo engine if it were my money, but there’s plenty of great stuff happening in this nearly base model too.

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.4 SE AWD
Engine displacement: 2.4L
Engine cylinders: 4
Peak horsepower: 185 hp
Peak torque: 178 lb-ft
Fuel economy: 12.0/9.1/10.7 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo space: 1,003 L/ 2,025 L seats down
Pricing: 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.4 SE AWD
Base Price: $34,899
A/C Tax: $100
Destination Fee: $1,895
Price as Tested: $36,894
Optional Equipment: None
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 6.8
7 Styling
6 Powertrain
7 Quality
8 Comfort
7 Practicality
7 Drivability
7 Usability/Ergonomics
6 Fuel Economy
6 Features
7 Value