Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2015 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport

AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car

After spending a wintery week in a $34,999 2015 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.4 Luxury AWD (now that’s a mouthful), I can see why just over 27,500 Canucks ponied up for this handsome five-passenger crossover in 2014. Respectable numbers indeed, although with the Ford Escape nearly doubling that figure, and the Santa Fe fifth in the small crossover standings (behind Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Nissan Rogue) I’m sure there are plans afoot in the Hyundai war room.

Then again, if you classify the Santa Fe as a midsize crossover, it’s at the top of the heap, beating out second place Ford Edge.

One thing the Santa Fe has over its immediate competitors in the small crossover category is size.

This generation Georgia-built Santa Fe Sport has been with us since 2013, and for 2015 it sees a few tweaks – notably better steering feel and some suspension tuning to improve lateral stability. These are both areas where the Santa Fe needed some attention. The 2015 model also gets a new two-tone grill.

The Santa Fe Sport is available with two direct-injection engines – a 2.4L naturally aspirated four that makes 190 hp and 181 lb-ft, and a more robust 2.0L turbo unit kicking out 265 hp and 269 lb-ft from 1,750 rpm. Both get a six-speed auto. Pricing ranges from $26,899 for the base 2.4 front-drive model to the jazzed-up 2.0T Limited AWD at $39,649.

In Canada, take rate is about a 50/50 split between the 2.4 and 2.0T models.

One thing the Santa Fe has over its immediate competitors in the small crossover category is size. This translates to generous cargo space and a commodious back seat. In fact, second row passengers in this Luxury model have it pretty darned good. The seats are nicely contoured, heated, slide for and aft on a 5.2 inch track, and recline to an “Easy on the bumps, Jeeves” angle.

As we are used to a generous amount of kit from the folks at Hyundai, let’s see what else this top trim 2.4 Luxury AWD is packin’.

Keyless entry with pushbutton start, leather, rear park sensors, cruise, driver’s seat lumbar, heated steering wheel, USB, Bluetooth, dual zone climate control, auto headlamps, huge sunroof, powered liftgate, rear-view camera, 17-inch alloys, auto-dimming rear-view mirror with compass, Homelink, trailer tow pre-wiring and memory for the driver’s seat and mirror position.

On the safety front there is standard hill start and downhill assist, seven airbags (including driver’s knee) along with blind spot warning that includes a supplemental system called lane-change assist which measures the closing speed of the car in the adjacent lane, then warns if it's too high. I got to see this in action when a limo, obviously speeding, zoomed up on me when I was changing lanes.

What we don’t get is navigation, HID headlights, upgraded audio or ventilated front seats. That stuff is found only in the $39,649 2.0T Limited AWD.

Slide into the comfy and well-bolstered driver’s seat and you’re facing a pleasingly logical and stylish dash layout. It’s built to a pretty high standard and the buttons are large and well-marked. There are rotary knobs for radio volume and tuning, and a small rectangular screen in the lower console displays HVAC info. Flanking the shifter are two glove-friendly buttons for the three-stage seat heaters. Having a heated steering wheel during this deep freeze of a winter confirms my belief that this gizmo is the best thing since the beer helmet.

However, the 4.3-inch touchscreen is unfashionably petite. Small screen equals small icons, thus requiring American Sniper-like marksmanship to hit the radio presets with your digit. A couple of times I used my middle finger. It didn’t make the task any easier but I did feel much better about it. The six-speaker audio system is just okay, and the pinched rear windows and thick D-pillars make for limited rear visibility.

On the road, the Santa Fe Sport feels substantial and well put together. The doors close with a reassuring thud and cabin is well isolated.

Hyundai has not been taking criticism of its electric power steering systems lightly - the new calibration has done wonders for steering feel. There are still three steering weights selectable by a button on the wheel – Comfort, Normal and Sport – but now they feel better connected. The previous spooky on-centre vagueness has been banished.

The Santa Fe’s ride is generally good, although certain surface irregularities register more than expected. Handling is competent, if a bit on the ponderous side. Those seeking a sharper driving experience in this segment will look to the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape or Mazda CX-5.

The 190 hp 2.4L provides adequate motivation and Hyundai’s in-house six-speed auto does its business smoothly and competently. Fuel economy for the AWD Santa Fe with 2.4L four is pegged by Natural Resources Canada at 9.3 L/100 km highway and 12.5 city. On extended highway jaunts I saw 8.6 L/100 km and the wintry week concluded with 11.0 L/100 km.

The Santa Fe Sport AWD runs in front-drive mode until front wheel slip is detected, then torque is sent aft. The transfer case with multi-plate wet clutch (built by Canadian parts giant Magna Engineering) is controlled by an electro-hydraulic actuation system that gets its orders from a very smart control unit. Acceleration forces, steering angle, and yaw rate among other things are continually processed with the aim of anticipating and reacting to road conditions. With the transferal of power to the rear wheels being seamless and essentially instant, the driver is unaware of all these goings on. Which is how it should be.

The system also uses brake-activated rear wheel torque-vectoring (dubbed Active Cornering Control) that brakes the inside rear wheel when accelerating through a corner to help maintain path control.

The Santa Fe Sport offers plenty of cargo flexibility. Thanks to that sliding 40/20/40 rear bench, the depth of the cargo space behind said seat exceeds that of the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 (no slouches in their own right). The seat backs fold down nearly flat and there is a useful storage bin under the load floor.

The 2015 Santa Fe Sport 2.4 Luxury AWD impressed me as being a nicely well-rounded vehicle. It certainly won’t inspire any kind of passion as its power is modest and its handling stodgy, but as a roomy and comfortable conveyance with a lashing of luxury and a dash of style, it makes for a pretty convincing argument. As does its industry-leading warranty.

5 years/100,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 5 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 5 years/unlimited distance 24-hour roadside assistance

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Model Tested 2015 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.4 Luxury AWD
Base Price $34,999
A/C Tax
Destination Fee $1795
Price as Tested $36,894
Optional Equipment