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2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport Review

2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport Review
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The 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport still does what good crossover SUVs do best: it delivers flexible space, decent performance, and great value.

The 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport lives up to its name—just in time to lose it. It'll be just the "Santa Fe" from now on, and shoppers shouldn't mind: all its value isn't lost by giving up one syllable.

Opt in for the higher-output turbo-4 and its meaty power and you'll see what they meant by "Sport."

Wedged between the smaller Tucson and bigger Santa Fe, the 2018 Santa Fe Sport both resembles and looks better than both. Last year Hyundai tweaked it with new front and rear ends, but didn’t really change much. Smart move, since the Santa Fe Sport strikes with deadly accuracy at the crossover-SUV styling median.

Since you’re already interested in our opinion, believe us when we say to skip the base engine. It’s not much less expensive. Its 185-hp output strains to meet the need of a couple of passengers and their stuff. Instead, take the turbo-4 and 6-speed automatic; there’s more than enough boost to push the Sport along quite briskly, even if all-wheel drive is on board, adding all its extra weight, even when it’s dry and sunny outside. Its 240 hp only cost a little more money and a mile per gallon or so.

Don’t expect brilliant handling, but don’t expect the Sport to make egregious road blunders, either. The steering could use a better sense of straight-ahead, but the Sport’s tuned to damp out bumps rather well, and the transmission dips into the power eagerly.

Sized like a Cherokee or CR-V, the Santa Fe Sport lays out lots of room for four adults, enough for five. Some models have a highly recommended sliding second-row seat that reclines. Either way, the seat folds down to boost cargo space into the mini-moving-van range.

Safety scores could only get better with better headlights, and some models offer forward-collision warnings and automatic emergency braking. All Santa Fe Sports have extensive standard equipment, and the usual options–leather, navigation, touchscreen infotainment–appear in mid-priced models.

Styling
The 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport perfectly blends the automaker's SUV styling themes into a compact offering.

Hyundai put a lot of effort into updating the Santa Fe Sport’s look last year. You may not have noticed, because for all the change, the Sport still nails the consensus school of SUV designs.

Last year’s update included new bumpers and headlights, new taillights, and a reshaped grille. It’s still the best-looking Hyundai SUV, with its LED-trimmed headlights and curt rear doors and balanced rear end.
A lot has changed, but it hasn’t really. The Sport still has a close kinship with the smaller Tucson and bigger Santa Fe—and beyond that, with the Ford Edge, the Subaru Outback, et al. There’s nothing wrong with a little groupthink in this class, we think, and Hyundai seems to agree.

Inside, the Sport’s cockpit wears a shield of controls banked by big air vents. That recurring theme works well for it. Uncluttered controls live on the undulating dash, and big knobs take care of the essential volume and fan-speed tasks. On ritzy models, the gauges glow with electroluminescence (think original Lexus LS) and the dash focuses on an 8.0-inch touchscreen.

Performance
The turbo-4 leads the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport pack, but performance is squarely aimed at the average.

The Santa Fe Sport draws power from 4-cylinder engines, with or without a turbo. Given the big power gap and slight gas-mileage disadvantage, we’d stick with the turbo-4.

In that configuration, the Sport lives up to its potential.

A 2.4-liter inline-4 slots into the base Hyundai Santa Fe Sport. It’s something of a weakling. It turns in 185 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque, and it does so in a busy, breathless way. The same engine works much better in the Sonata sedan, which usually carries less weight than the 3,739-pound Santa Fe Sport.

Stick instead with the 2.0-liter turbo-4, also available in the Sonata. In the Santa Fe Sport, it’s rated at 240 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. Shifts stream out from a 6-speed automatic with slightly taller gearing, and power builds quickly at low revs. This Sport has confident acceleration, and drops only a single mpg to the non-turbocharged engine while it hands off towing ratings of up to 3,500 pounds.

The 6-speed automatic benefits from well-sorted shifts and well-chosen ratios, but paddles? You’re thinking another brand. The Sport relies on a hefty jab at the gas, at which point it takes a half-beat before it shifts eagerly into the low gears. It does so smoothly: you don’t have to concentrate to come off as a skilled driver here.

The Sport’s electric power steering now has three modes, and it’s incrementally better than older versions of the same rack. That said, Hyundai uses a column-mounted motor that doesn’t deliver precise steering feel. The Sport wanders a bit on interstates; setting steering to Sport mode adds weight, and that helps it track more cleanly.

The Santa Fe Sport can be fitted with an optional all-wheel-drive system that uses an open center differential to distribute power from the front wheels to the rears when traction needs arise, and leans on anti-lock control to clamp down on wheelspin. It's not meant for ultimate off-road traction, but for on-road, all-weather capability.

All-wheel-drive models also have torque vectoring control on the rear wheels via the same means; to aid cornering, the inside rear wheel gets some braking applied automatically. All the electronics can be shut off, for times when wheelspin is your ally.

Ground clearance is 7.3 inches—not Subaru Outback territory, but not Sonata sedan, either.

Comfort & Quality
The 2018 Santa Fe Sport elevates its mundane mission by surrounding passengers with great space and putting them on good seats.

The Santa Fe Sport seat five people in two rows. Any more, and you should look instead at the larger 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe.

You’re in the right place? Good. Now we can tell you the Sport earns an 8 for comfort and utility. It uses its footprint well, and offers up a decently sized cargo hold.

The Sport’s comfortably sized in the middle of its class, among the Cherokees and CR-Vs of the world. By the numbers, it’s 184.6 inches long, rides on a 106.3-inch wheelbase, and sits 74 inches wide.

Those numbers translate into interior room that betters some of the Sport’s key rivals. In front, the driver and passenger have well-bolstered seats with soft bottom cushions and well-shaped backrests. Knee and leg room fare well. Most heads will slip just beneath the optional sunroof. Hyundai configures the front seats with cloth, leather, power adjustments, heat and ventilation, depending on the model.

A deep console divides the front passengers. It splits them with twin cupholders, a smartphone bin that sits in front of the shift lever. The Sport’s door pockets have molded-in storage for water bottles.

Space is fine in back, too, and the second-row bench splits, folds, and even slides to boost flexibility. The middle section can fold down on its own, leaving two seats and enough space for long cargo. Leather-equipped Sports have the sliding second row, which moves on a 5.2-inch track; its seatbacks also recline for snoozeworthy trips.

Thoughtful touches add to the Sport’s convenience. The front passenger seat folds flat to carry very long objects. With the rear seats down it swallows 71.5 cubes of gear; with the rear seats up, it carries 35.4 cubic feet of stuff. Hidden under the cargo floor is a shallow bin made for stowing laptop bags securely out of sight.

Safety
Great crash-test scores make the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport an easy recommendation.

The crash-test gods have smiled on the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport.

This year the Sport got five stars overall from the NHTSA, and earned a Top Safety Pick+ award from the IIHS.

Along with a standard rearview camera, the Sport has hill-start control and downhill assist. A surround-view camera system, active lane control, forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking, and adaptive cruise control are optional, but not on every model. We expect a remedy to that when the Santa Fe Sport gets replaced in the next model year or two.

Features
The Hyundai Santa Fe Sport has value in its corner, along with some nice upscale touches.

Priced from around $26,000, the 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport has most of the features we expect in a five-seat crossover SUV.

We give it an 8 here, for its good standard and optional features and for a solid touchscreen interface. 

Every Santa Fe Sport has power features, cruise control, 17-inch wheels, LED taillights, and keyless entry. An AM/FM/XM/CD player comes standard with six speakers, auxiliary and USB ports, and Bluetooth with audio streaming.

Options on base models include all-wheel drive, a 7.0-inch infotainment screen, an 8.0-inch touchscreen with navigation, a surround-view camera system, rear parking sensors, a power driver seat, leather, a hands-free tailgate, keyless ignition, heated and cooled seats, and blind-spot monitors.

Turbo-4 Santa Fe Sports increase the price and the content. They get standard power, leather, and heated driver and passenger seats; 18-inch wheels; dual-zone automatic climate control; keyless ignition; hands-free rear liftgate; blind-spot monitors; the 7.0-inch touchscreen; Hyundai's Blue Link telematics service; and pre-wiring for trailer towing.

Ultimate models top it off with a panoramic sunroof, the 8.0-inch touchscreen, premium audio, a heated steering wheel and heated rear seats, 19-inch wheels, and a surround-view camera. An optional Technology package includes lane-departure warnings, adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warnings and automatic emergency braking.

Fuel Economy
The 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport posts middling fuel economy figures.
The Hyundai Santa Fe Sport lags its main rivals for fuel economy. We give it a 6, based on the combined score of its more popular versions.

Base models get power from a 2.4-liter inline-4. The EPA rates front-drive models at 21 mpg city, 27 highway, 24 combined. With all-wheel drive, this base model checks in at 20/26/22 mpg.

With the turbo-4, the Santa Fe Sport with front-wheel drive gets 20/28/23 mpg. With AWD, it’s rated at 19/26/22 mpg. Ultimate models lose 1 or 2 mpg due to heavyweight standard features.

Consider the Honda CR-V’s 33-mpg highway economy, and it’s clear the Santa Fe Sport could use more gears, less weight, or both.

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