The mid-size 2013 Santa Fe Sport crossover has rakish new styling similar to that of Hyundai Sonata and Elantra sedans. It also has carlike road manners and plenty of room.
The Santa Fe Sport should do well, even though it’s up against rivals such as the Honda Pilot, Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Edge, Nissan Murano and Toyota Highlander.
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The five-passenger, two-row Santa Fe Sport should not be confused with the costlier, longer-wheelbase seven-passenger, three-row Santa Fe, which has replaced Hyundai’s underachieving 7-passenger Veracruz. That Santa Fe lacks the word “Sport” in its name, but comes with a 3.3-liter, 290-horsepower V-6.
The solidly built Santa Fe Sport lists from $24,450 to $29,450 and comes with either front- or all-wheel drive (AWD). It weighs 3,459 to 3,706 pounds, depending on the drive system.
You can’t get the Sport with the longer Santa Fe’s V-6. Rather, power comes from a 2.4-liter, 190-horsepower four-cylinder or a turbocharged, direct injection 2-liter four-cylinder with 264 horsepower.
Both engines work with a responsive six-speed automatic transmission.
I recommend the turbo engine. It reminded me of the Volkswagen/Audi turbo 2-liter in that it operated smoothly, provided fast acceleration and acted like a larger engine.
Estimated fuel economy of the 190-horsepower engine with front-drive is 21 mpg in the city and 29 on highways, or 20 and 26 with all-wheel drive. Figures for the turbo engine with front-drive are 20 city and 27 highway—and 19 and 24 with with all-wheel drive.
I tested Hyundai’s $27,700 higher-line Sport 2.0T model with the turbo engine and front-wheel drive and found it to be carlike and—typical of Hyundais—packed with a good amount of standard equipment.
Standard items for the 2.0T include heated front seats, power driver’s seat, proximity key entry with pushbutton start, automatic headlight control, AM/FM/MP3 sound system, steering-wheel-mounted cruise, audio and phone controls, electroluminescent gauge cluster and split-folding rear seatbacks. There also are a sporty chrome twin-tip exhaust and front fog lights, besides 19-inch silver alloy wheels.
There also are stability and traction controls, a vehicle stability management feature, anti-lock brakes with brake-force assist and distribution, downhill and hillstart assist controls—with the usual airbags, including a driver’s knee bag.
Rear visibility through the back window is poor. Large outside mirrors help. But if you’ve got the bucks, I’d recommend the optional rearview camera, which comes in a $2,450 option package that also contains leather seating surfaces, power front passenger seat, heated rear seats, dual-automatic temperature control and an easily read 4.3-inch color audio display.
A $2,900 “technology package” has a panoramic sunroof with tilt-and-slide features, navigation system with an 8-inch touchscreen, upscale audio system and a heated steering wheel, a blessing during cold Chicago winter days.
Too bad for your bank account the optional packages must be ordered to get the rearview camera, sunroof, power front passenger seat, upscale audio and navigaton systems and the heated wheel. But Hyundai isn’t the only automaker to put desirable items in fairly expensive “option packages.” Some just put them in higher-scale models.
My test Sport’s automatic transmission had an easily used manual shift feature. The quick steering felt somewhat numb, but the Sport tracked well at highway speeds, which will help make it a good long-distance interstate cruiser.
The ride was rather firm, but supple, and handling was pretty good for a 66.1-inch-high vehicle in which occupants sit high. The brake pedal had a nice progressive action.
The driver’s seat in the quiet interior has decent side support during spirited driving and is comfortable, as are the Sport’s other seats. However, the center of the backseat is too stiff for comfort.
Climate controls are large, and sound system controls are easy to use, as are the optional front-seat heat controls. The console has nicely placed dual front cupholders and a deep covered storage bin. Large front door pockets contribute to interior storage. There’s a good amount of interior plastic, but it doesn’t look cheap.
The opening for the large cargo area is low and wide, and rear seatbacks easily flip forward for more cargo room, with a large pass-through area from the regular cargo area to the rear-seat area. The hatch opens smoothly on hydraulic struts and has a handy, hefty interior pull-down bar.
The hood has an interior lining for sound control and smoothly swings up via twin struts to reveal a surgically neat engine compartment.
The Sport has Hyundai’s 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, which helped save its reputation years ago, and a 5-year/60,000-mile new vehicle warranty.
“Good styling sells,” as the saying goes. So the Santa Fe Sport’s new styling and features should help attract a larger number of buyers and further increase Hyundai’s already impressive U.S. sales.
Pros: Sleeker styling. Roomy. Fast with turbo engine. Agile. Decent fuel economy. Available all-wheel drive.
Cons: Numb steering. Poor rear vision. Desirable items in option packages.
Bottom Line: The Santa Fe Sport crossover provides strong performance and good utility.
Dan Jedlicka, an automotive journalist for nearly 45 years, is editor/publisher of the new and vintage car review site site www.danjedlicka.com.