2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport First Test: Big on Value

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As a spacious five-passenger crossover, the 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport lives in weirdly sized segment. It’s positioned between the Hyundai Tucson and the Hyundai Santa Fe, but it doesn’t have a third row like its older sibling. That two-row midsize crossover shape has brought little competition to Hyundai, only wrestling against the Ford Edge and Nissan Murano. The Korean automaker offers two engine options and a big difference in packaging, and like we discovered in this First Test, the difference between them is outstanding.

The Hyundai Santa Fe Sport’s base engine is a 2.4–liter four-cylinder that delivers 185 hp and 178 lb-ft of torque. The available 2.0-liter turbo-four engine produces 240 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque and, like the naturally aspirated base engine it’s mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Two-wheel drive comes standard, but all-wheel drive is available in any of the four trims. Before the Santa Fe Sport got its midcycle refresh for the 2017 model year, the SUV produced 25 hp and 9 lb-ft of torque more in its 2.0-liter engine, while the 2.4-liter naturally aspirated engine generated an additional 5 hp and 3 lb-ft of torque. We were able to test both engines in two complete different trims (base model and top-of-the-line)—the two-wheel drive Santa Fe Sport 2.4 and the Santa Fe Sport 2.0T Ultimate with all-wheel drive.

As big as the difference in power and torque looks, the naturally aspirated Santa Fe was actually quicker than the turbo in our own testing. The 2.4-liter variant went from 0 to 60 mph in 8.3 seconds—the turbo model took 8.4 seconds. This was a great improvement for the turbo because the 2015 model that we last tested completed the 0-60-mph test in 9.3 seconds. A quick look at our spec sheet indicates a weight difference of 429 pounds—that’s including the all-wheel-drive system that our turbo tester had. The Santa Fe Sport 2.4 was also quicker to complete the quarter-mile test, taking 16.4 seconds versus the 16.5 seconds it took the 2.0-liter. Both models completed the figure-eight course in 28.4 seconds at 0.58 g. Braking from 60 to 0 mph for the naturally aspirated engine took 139 feet, while the turbo completed the task in 145 feet. Keep in mind, however, that the test surface we used for this review was different from what we’re used to, showing longer stopping distances and less grip than we typically record and report.

Although the testing numbers don’t show a big contrast between the two engines, all of our editors preferred the turbo engine. “This is definitely the engine to get,” said features editor Christian Seabaugh. “It’s not the smoothest engine ever but much nicer than the 2.4-liter in the base car.” On the track, the Santa Fe Ultimate 2.0 also was more fun to drive, and the all-wheel-drive system made a lot of difference. “Of the two variants, the all-wheel drive with the 2.0-liter turbo was by far the better to drive,” said international bureau chief Angus Mackenzie. “The rear wheel traction helped to keep the car steadier on the entry into corners and pushed it out on the exits, keeping the safety nannies from intervening.”

On the other hand, the 2.4-liter had a lot of tire squeal and understeer on the same winding track. Technical director Frank Markus and associate editor Scott Evans noted a better reaction from the engine with Sport mode activated, but both also complained about how the transmission doesn’t really like working with this mode. “Sport mode does seem to sharpen throttle response, but it doesn’t do very much for transmission programming that I was able to detect,” Markus said. While driving on the Los Angeles freeways, we noted a bouncy ride and wind noise coming into the cabin. The 2.0-liter showed a better response when merging onto freeway speeds.

We also had a chance to take both variants on a mild off-road course with sand and hills—a place where the all-wheel-drive system shined. “The car never came close to getting stuck, though I feel like the traction control was cutting power considerably,” Markus said. Although there’s no Off-road mode, the Santa Fe Sport AWD was able to keep a good pace despite the deep sand that we found in some places of our track. “The street tires did fairly well in the deep sand, and the car acquitted itself fine,” Evans said. “If you live in snowy areas or live down a muddy dirt road, you definitely want to spring for the all-wheel-drive model.”. On the other hand, the two-wheel-drive model didn’t receive good comments. “As expected, it was pretty terrible off-road,” said editor in chief Ed Loh. “Almost got stuck in the sand, and I drove it before the deep ruts set in.”

At the end, it was the interior where the Santa Fe Sport received the most praises. The base model had a contrasting two-tone interior that looked fancy for a car that carries a price tag of $26,310. “For a base model, the Santa Fe is surprisingly nice to look at,” Evans said. “I like the color and the interplay of different materials and textures in the interior. The materials are obviously less expensive, and the light brown parts look pretty cheap, but at the price point, it’s not bad. That said, the steering wheel doesn’t feel very nice.” With a 7.0-inch infotainment screen, the Santa Fe 2.0 Ultimate is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but our tester carried a hefty price of $40,160. The loaded model also came equipped with heated and ventilated front seats, a driver’s seat with lumbar support, and a faux wood trim on the dashboard that added a nice touch to the interior. Space in the second row was more than enough, and everyone liked its very spacious trunk. “This is a must-have for the outdoorsman who has really bulky weekend accouterment,” said executive editor Mark Rechtin.

All in all, the 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport is a great car for its value. Whether it’s a $26,000 model or a more-equipped trim, the Santa Fe Sport does its job fine. We’d still like to see a better suspension and a more powerful drivetrain that brings more emotion to the driver.

Because the test surface we used for this review is a mere month old (and still curing), our braking and handling results show longer stopping distances and less grip than we typically record and report. With that in mind, this vehicle’s numbers are not necessarily comparable with previous or future test results.

2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T Ultimate AWD
BASE PRICE/TESTED PRICE $38,095/$40,160
DRIVETRAIN Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 2.0L/240-hp/260-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4,018 lb (57/43%)
WHEELBASE 106.3 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 185.0 x 74.0 x 66.1 in
0-60 MPH 8.4 sec
QUARTER MILE 16.5 sec @ 85.1 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 145 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.73 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 28.4 sec @ 0.58 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 19/24/21 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 177/140 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.93 lb/mile

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