By Derek Price
Hyundai is trying extra hard this year to make the Santa Fe Sport live up to its name.
A revised suspension and steering system make the shorter, more nimble version of the Santa Fe feel sportier for 2015. The new electric steering setup uses a microprocessor that lets the driver pick between two modes depending on how sensitive you want the steering to feel.
The suspension is also revised to add more lateral stiffness this year, but it’s a subtle difference. It’s still more comfortable in the highway-cruiser role than the sports-sedan role, and that’s just how I like it.
Still, I wonder whether Hyundai has enough room in its lineup for so many sliced-and-diced crossover vehicles — and whether buyers can tell them all apart.
There’s the Santa Fe that can seat seven people; the closely related Santa Fe Sport, which is what I’m driving, that can seat five; and there’s also the Tucson five-seater.
With all this overlap, I could see buyers getting confused, but choices are always a good thing. Each Hyundai crossover has a different look and feel from the driver’s seat, so a back-to-back test drive would be worthwhile.
Hyundai typically tries to provide a good value with its vehicles, and that focus continues with some new standard equipment on the Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport. Every model gets daytime running lights and one-touch power windows up front this year, and high-end models get a new option that I love.
Hyundai’s Hands-Free Smart Liftgate with Auto Open is a long way of saying “magic door.” If your hands are full, you can simply stand behind the cargo area for a few seconds and the back door will automatically open by itself. You don’t even have to say “open sesame.”
The Santa Fe Sport gives you a choice of two four-cylinder engines: the base 190-horsepower 2.4-liter and a turbocharged 2.0-liter that provides 75 more horses to play with. The bigger Santa Fe gets a 3.3-liter V6 that makes 290 horsepower.
My tester drove exceptionally well, with quick acceleration from the turbo engine and good feedback from the brakes, steering and suspension. Then again, that doesn’t mean much because there’s not a bad driving crossover on the market today. It’s insanely competitive at every brand.
The interior is similarly nice but hardly stands out in this ridiculous marketplace, where a flimsy, cheap-feeling cabin would mean sudden death for any crossover stupid enough to try it. The trim has the same precise, solid, well-built feeling of all modern Hyundais.
Pricing starts at $24,950 for the Santa Fe Sport and $30,150 for the full-size Santa Fe.
At a Glance
What was tested?
2015 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport FWD 2.0T ($31,250). Options: Ultimate package ($4,350), carpeted floor mats ($125). Price as tested (including $875 destination charge): $36,600
Wheelbase: 106.3 in.
Length: 184.6 in.
Width: 74 in.
Height: 66.1 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 (265 hp, 249 lbs.-ft. torque)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Estimated Mileage: 19 city, 26 highway
2015 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport
Why buy it?
It’s a safe, solid, nice-driving family car. It has a good combination of roomy seating and generous cargo space.