The upswept style of the new Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport signals a more mature phase of Hyundai design. If you thought the ballsy Sonata was a little too busy, the Santa Fe's calmer lines and the Sport's more cohesive details look like progress.
Now there's a clear family resemblance through the Hyundai crossover lineup, from the brash, bristly Tucson through the very streamlined long-wheelbase Santa Fe. The Sport's the best-looking of the trio, with a right-sized hexagonal grille bracketed in place with coordinated fog lamps and headlamps trimmed with LED lighting. The side sills stand out in relief up and over the rear wheel wells, and the rear door handles sit well back of the rear wheel opening in a way Mazda's now-defunct CX-7 would be proud of. It's all summed up by a simple, balanced treatment of taillights and glass on the tailgate. We can't help but pick out some vague likeness to the new Ford Escape in the rear end and the proportions around the headlights, but Ford's almost-hatchback crossover doesn't quite have the size to play out the curves you'll find on the Santa Fe Sport.
There's less absolutely distinctive about the Santa Fe--some Dodge Durango in the way its rear quarter windows are shaped. Hyundai says it's essentially a minivan replacement, anyway, and we can't think of one three-row crossover with outre styling that's been a big hit.
More conventional than the one in the Tucson, the cockpit in the Santa Fe siblings has grown up, too. It carries a shield of controls at its center, and flanks them with big air vents--a theme that's recurring pretty often in compact-car design, and just happens to go well with the sheetmetal. The dash surface undulates, dipping low in front of passengers and bubbling up for gauges and the center stack, and large knobs control fan speed and audio volume. On crossovers with navigation, an 8-inch screen glows under a matte surface, and electroluminescent gauges toss in a few more subdued lumens.
Some Santa Fe crossovers sport woodgrain trim, while others have a gloss finish that's more appealing and fits more easily with the control-pod theme. Hyundai's found out how two-tone interior treatments can wake up a cabin, and the Santa Fe and Sport offer some earthy colors and trims that link them a little more directly to the crossover world than any of their lines or surfaces.The sides of the Santa Fe are heavily sculpted, as is Hyundai's recent tradition, with an upward swing in the shoulder lending a stylish look that does impede a bit on the airiness of the cockpit.