- Easy-to-use infotainment system
- Plenty of standard features
- Attractive styling
- Good cargo space
- Very good fuel economy
- Sliding second-row seat option
- All-wheel drive exacts bigger gas mileage penalty
- Steering feel isn't sharp
- V-6 only on long-wheelbase Sante Fe, not the Sport
The 2016 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport hits a sweet spot in the crossover-SUV realm, especially when fitted with a sliding second-row seat.
The Hyundai Santa Fe Sport straddles the middle of the South Korean automaker's crossover SUV lineup, between the smart new Tucson at the small end, and the big Santa Fe three-row utility vehicle at the pricey point of the spectrum. It's the best of the three, with ample space for five passengers, a nifty available sliding second-row option for more cargo and passenger configurations, and a simple, capable infotainment system.
As such, it's a rival for some of the best-selling vehicles in America—everything from the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 to the Ford Escape.
The Sport's greeting point is an attractive shape that looks modern, and grown-up, compared to the vehicle it replaced back in the 2013 model year. Its sharp edges and tight creases wrap around the glassy wagon body in interesting ways, and the grille presents a handsome hexagonal face, bracketed and balanced by headlamps and foglamps. The interior is another bar raised for Hyundai, with a shield of controls surrounded by the usual swoops and fluid curves. It's all trimmed in two-tone materials, an upscale touch that looks better when it's capped in glossy trim than in faux wood.
The Sport gets power from either a normally aspirated inline-4, with 190 horsepower, or a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 with 264 hp. The turbo drops only a couple of miles per gallon on the highway while turning in very capable acceleration, making the trade-off of economy for performance pretty worthwhile. Both engines feature direct injection for better fuel economy and more power—33 mpg or 29 mpg highway, respectively. They're backed by a well-sorted 6-speed automatic transmission, with front- and all-wheel drive configurations available.
The Santa Fe Sport driving experience is mostly effortless and smooth. The powertrains are muted well, though sometimes the automatic gets caught napping when gear changes are dialed up. Ride quality is probably the Santa Fe Sport's best feature—it's almost always calm and collected—but its three-mode steering is mostly there for technological flourish. We'd just as soon leave it in Normal or Sport, because Comfort is just too slow to respond.
Crossovers are all about room and utility, and both Santa Fe models fit that bill. The front seats are a step up from the most recent Hyundai vintage, with better support built into the bottom cushion. But the second row is where the action is: on some models, the second row slides on a 5.2-inch track for better flexibility, in the same way the seat in the Chevy Equinox moves. The seat also reclines and folds on a 40/20/40 split, making way for longer objects while preserving four seating positions. There's also some storage space below the cargo floor and even some space for a handbag ahead of the shift lever, though that'll block access to the audio ports.
The Santa Fe and Sport have the usual airbags (including a driver knee airbag) and stability control. Bluetooth is standard and a rearview camera is an option on all but the base model. Blind-spot monitors and parking sensors were new options for 2014, and the former is now standard as of the 2015 model year. The shorter-wheelbase Santa Fe Sport earned a five-star overall rating from the NHTSA and similar ratings from the IIHS in all but the difficult small overlap frontal crash test.
With a base price of about $26,000, the Sport makes the usual Hyundai case for value. It gets power windows, locks, and mirrors; air conditioning; cruise control; tilt/telescoping steering; steering-wheel audio and phone controls; and 17-inch wheels. Daytime running lights and an auto up/down front passenger window are now standard across the lineup. The standard audio system is an AM/FM/CD player with satellite radio, USB and auxiliary ports, Bluetooth with audio streaming, and six speakers. A panoramic sunroof, Infinity audio, a hands-free tailgate, and an improved navigation system lift the Santa Fe Sport to a higher price plateau.
The Santa Fe duo also gets Hyundai's BlueLink telematics system as standard equipment. This OnStar-like system incorporates turn-by-turn navigation and Bluetooth streaming for apps such as Pandora, and works in conjunction with your smartphone and an owner website to set up functions like speed limits and geofencing—setting up boundaries for where the car can be driven. A BlueLink app for the iPhone is available, giving owners the ability to lock and unlock and to start the Santa Fe Sport by remote, too.
The base Santa Fe Sport with the 2.4-liter inline-4 and front-wheel drive is rated at 20 mpg city, 27 highway, 23 combined on the EPA cycle. With all-wheel drive, the mileage pegged at 19/25/21 mpg. There isn't much of a penalty for choosing the turbocharged Santa Fe Sport, especially since it can also run on regular gasoline. It's rated at 19/27/22 mpg for front-drive models, and 18/24/21 mpg for those with all-wheel-drive.
2016 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport
Blessed with a handsome mainstream appeal, the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport hits all the right crossover-SUV cues.
The Santa Fe was one of the first Hyundai products to move to a more mature styling language. Since it was introduced, the Genesis and Sonata have followed suit—and the smaller Hyundai Tucson's all but cloned the look.
The cockpit in the Santa Fe Sport has made enormous strides since its last generation. 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. 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 8.0-inch screen glows under a matte surface, and electroluminescent gauges toss in a few more subdued lumens. Hyundai's discovered how two-tone interior treatments can wake up a cabin, and the Santa Fe Sport offers some earthy colors and trims that link them a little more directly to the crossover world than any of their lines or surfaces.
The Sport is the best-looking of the Hyundai crossover-SUV 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.
2016 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport
The Santa Fe Sport's ride and turbo acceleration are high points; the steering, less so.
With the Santa Fe Sport, drivers have a choice between turbocharged and normally aspirated 4-cylinder engines.
The base engine is predictably less satisfying, though our exposure to it has been less than the turbo-4. The base 2.4-liter inline-4 makes 190 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque, output nearly identical to other applications like the Hyundai Sonata sedan. It's equipped with direct injection, which helps fuel economy reach up to 20 mpg on the EPA city cycle. That and price are its big benefits: otherwise, when teamed with Hyundai's 6-speed automatic, the base four doesn't summon enough power for more than single-passenger commuter duty.
For an altogether more pleasant driving experience, we recommend the turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4. Also shared with the Sonata, it builds up 264 hp and 259 lb-ft of torque. Using the same 6-speed, its top fuel-economy ratings are lower, at 27 mpg in front-wheel-drive form. An Active ECO mode will blur over shifts and throttle responses, saving very small amounts of gas at the same time. Since it's relatively lean, at 3,459 pounds, the turbo Santa Fe Sport is a solid straight-line performer, with acceleration to 60 mph in the 7-second range.
With either engine, the 6-speed offers a manual shift mode that's actuated by the shift lever, not the paddle switches that we prefer; but the transmission's shift points and quality are well-chosen and well-sorted most of the time. Step into the gas fully from a light throttle, and after a brief pause, the automatic shifts down eagerly, with a mild rebound felt through the drivetrain. You don't have to concentrate on being a smoother driver for the Santa Fe or the Sport to behave smoothly, though.
Electric power steering has been a learning curve for all automakers, and Hyundai's path has taken it from the Sonata to the Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport with incremental improvements in feel and design. All these vehicles use a column-mounted motor, but the Santa Fe and Sport have the latest three-mode, driver-selectable steering that toggles through comfort, normal, and sport modes at the tap of a switch. In the Sport, the "sport" setting's increased effort helps it track better on the highway, and all-wheel-drive models soak up some more on-center vagueness. We'd leave Comfort's slow, light feel to anyone who thinks the last Santa Fe was a little too daring and sporty.
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.
All Santa Fe crossovers have a suspension design that creates a calm, quiet ride that's obvious after just a few miles of driving. The front struts and multiple links in the rear are fitted with bigger bushings and packaged more precisely inside the wheel wells than in the past, which Hyundai says frees up more cargo space and helps improve wheel control. The physics don't have to elude you—the silence from the wheel wells is proof enough, and the Sport feels absorbent and mostly controlled over freshly paved interstates and mildly broken back roads. When the gravel path gets really rutted, the Santa Fe Sport doesn't really lose its laid-back attitude, but rather lets its wheels (17-inchers are standard; 19-inchers are optional) rebound with a slightly firm thump.
2016 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport
Comfort & Quality
With its optional sliding second-row seat, the Santa Fe Sport makes the most of good passenger and cargo space.
The Santa Fe Sport may not have the third-row seat of the longer-wheelbase Santa Fe, but it has some nifty passenger and cargo-space tricks of its own.
Compared to its rivals, the Santa Fe Sport is right in the middle of the pack. It's packaged with more space than the Ford Escape, and is close in most major dimensions to the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, and Chevy Equinox. The spec sheet quotes it at 74 inches wide, 184.6 inches long, with a 106.3-inch wheelbase.
The Santa Fe's advantage over small crossover SUVs is clear from the driver seat. It has good leg room and knee room, with just enough for tall drivers if the optional panoramic sunroof is installed. The seats have good bolstering on the bottom cushion, and have well-shaped backrests. A power seat is standard on most versions, while power for the passenger seat and heating for both is an option.
Between the driver and front passenger, there's a deep console with two cupholders. Ahead of the shift lever, there's a big bin that can hold smartphones near the USB and auxiliary ports. The door pockets have molded-in storage for water bottles.
The rear seat splits and folds to flex its available space—and it slides, too. The seatback is made of three sections: 40/20/40 if you have the tape measure out, which means you can lower the middle section for narrow objects and still leave enough seats in place for four passengers. On Santa Fe Sports with leather seating, the second-row seat also slides back and forth on a 5.2-inch track. It's a handy feature that allows variable storage or passenger space. The same sliding bench also has reclining seatbacks, a great feature we've grown to appreciate on long-distance trips where we're not in total control.
When cargo is the mission, the Santa Fe Sport's front passenger seat folds flat, for carrying very long objects. With the rear seats raised, the Santa Fe Sport can hold 35.4 cubic feet of stuff; with the rear seats all down, the cargo hold grows to 71.5 cubic feet—about 8 cubic feet more than the Chevy Equinox. The Santa Fe Sport's cargo bin has shallow, under-floor storage that's perfect for holding laptop bags securely out of sight, which can be accessed only when the cargo area is empty. A cargo cover is also included, standard.
The textures and materials inside the Santa Fe Sport are generally of a high quality. There's some textured plastic behind the steering wheel that doesn't look as rich as the rest of the dash, and the lower center console buttresses snap together in obvious ways during assembly—but from a driver's perspective, the cockpit's never looked better, and moves the needle authoritatively in the right direction, from the standard set by the Sonata, improved on by the Elantra.
Hyundai's gone to more effort in this Santa Fe Sport to damp out noise and vibration. Suspension noise has been tamed with better isolation, and the turbocharged drivetrain hardly makes a sound as it climbs through the revs. The isolation in the cockpit is a magnitude better than in the last Sonata sedan with nearly identical powertrains.
2016 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport
Crash-test scores from the feds are good, but the IIHS gave it a worrying "Marginal" on small-overlap safety.
The Hyundai Santa Fe earns very good crash-test scores from the federal safety agency. The NHTSA gives it an overall rating of five stars, with the same score on most sub-tests except rollover resistance, where it earns four stars.
The IIHS reports fairly good overall scores for the Santa Fe Sport, including top "Good" marks in all categories except the notoriously difficult small overlap frontal crash, where the crossover earned a "Marginal" report. The small overlap crash result has kept the Sport from receiving the agency's Top Safety Pick status.
All models have the usual standard front, side, and curtain airbags, as well as a driver knee airbag, for a total of seven. Hill-start and downhill assist also are standard, along with anti-lock brakes, stability and traction control.
On the technology front, Bluetooth is standard across the lineup. A rearview camera is offered on models with leather seats, where it displays on a 4.3-inch LCD screen. On navigation-equipped Santa Fe Sports, the camera sends its output to the navigation's 8.0-inch screen. However, on vehicles without leather, there's no rearview camera at all. Blind-spot monitors and parking sensors are available.
2016 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport
It's more expensive than a base Escape or CR-V, but when they're comparably equipped, the Santa Fe Sport is a strong value.
With a base price of about $26,000, the Santa Fe Sport is well-equipped to compete with rivals. All versions come with power features; cruise control; air conditioning; tilt/telescoping steering; 17-inch wheels; and steering-wheel audio and phone controls. For audio, the Santa Fe Sport comes with an AM/FM/XM/CD player with auxiliary and USB ports, Bluetooth with audio streaming, and six speakers. Last year, Hyundai added standard express-up-and-down front windows and daytime running lights as standard equipment.
With either the normally aspirated or turbocharged Santa Fe Sport, options packages add more equipment, rather than trim levels.
A leather/premium package adds a power front passenger seat; proximity-based keyless ignition; a slide-and-recline second-row seat with heating; a rearview camera with a 4.3-inch screen; and HD Radio.
A technology package brings a panoramic sunroof with a sliding fabric sunshade, a navigation system, a heated steering wheel, and sunshades for the rear passenger windows. There's a slight difference in audio systems on this latter set of features: base crossovers get an in-house Dimension audio system with 10 speakers, while those with the turbocharged engine roll with a powerful 550-watt, 12-speaker Infinity system with surround sound (it's optional on the three-row Santa Fe, too).
On the options list, there's a hands-free tailgate which opens the rear hatch when the proximity key is held nearby for three seconds.
Hyundai's latest navigation system, the one found in some Santa Fe Sports, has better displays and functionality than previous efforts. It has speed-limit signs on its display and voice recognition, as well as SD card slot for simpler map updates. Pairing a phone to Bluetooth is easier, with pop-up commands, too.
2016 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport
The Santa Fe Sport's fuel economy ratings are mostly average.
With front-wheel drive, the 2016 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport turns in unremarkable gas-mileage figures within its crossover niche. The base Santa Fe Sport with the 2.4-liter inline-4 and front-wheel drive is rated at 20 mpg city, 27 highway, 23 combined on the EPA cycle. With all-wheel drive, the mileage pegged at 19/25/21 mpg.
A base Honda CR-V, meanwhile, earns up to 34 mpg on the EPA highway run.
There isn't much of a penalty for choosing the turbocharged Santa Fe Sport, especially since it can also run on regular unleaded gasoline. It's rated at 19/27/22 mpg for front-drive models, and 18/24/21 mpg for those with all-wheel-drive.