The Santa Fe Sport’s size places the SUV in a no man’s land. It’s larger than most compacts but smaller than many midsize SUVs. It doesn’t provide much more space than the average compact SUV but the larger size surely helps the ride quality and safety profile.
Hyundai made some mid-cycle updates for 2017 and one in particular plagued many owners. An overly obtrusive Traction Control System is the source of much consternation. The system kicks on when turning and driving at low speeds and causes a disconcerting lag in acceleration.
We delve deep into the issue in the reliability section of this review. Spoiler alert: there’s an easy fix. As a result, we think the Santa Fe Sport is a competent SUV with compelling qualities at a modest price.
The Hyundai brand is a synonym for value at this point. They’ve raised standards across the auto market by including many features in their competitively priced lineup that before were only found in luxury vehicles.
The Santa Fe Sport follows suit by embodying the qualities most sought after in an SUV: decent driving dynamics, a stylish exterior, useful interior, and modern convenience features.
We’d recommend the Santa Fe Sport to the value-concerned, but there are some strong competitors like the Ford Escape and Honda CR-V.
Adding Sport to the Santa Fe moniker may be a bit of a misnomer. It’s really just a smaller, two-row version of the larger Santa Fe with smaller engine options. In lieu of the larger ute’s V6, there is either a 2.4 Liter nonaspirated inline 4 cylinder standard or a turbocharged 2 Liter inline 4.
Both deliver adequate performance but not the kind of prowess a name like “Sport” might imply. The stock engine is good for an 8 second zero to sixty sprint, while the turbo cuts that down to 7 seconds. The turbo delivers better passing power due to its wider power band with 250 lb-ft of torque available at 1,450 rpm. This engine is less efficient with 19 mpg city and 24 mpg highway EPA rating to the standard engine’s 21 mpg city and 27 mpg highway.
The ride quality is surprisingly good for the price. Body motions are well controlled without the suspension being too firm to absorb rough roads. The only thing preventing this SUV from being a particularly “sporty” contender is its rather vague steering.
The electrically assisted power steering has three modes that adjust steering sensitivity but they all lack feedback, making turns a bit of a guessing game until you’ve grown accustomed to this SUV. However, this is a minor gripe that most drivers won’t notice unless they’ve driven a wide variety vehicles. The overall performance of the Santa Fe Sport exceeds the class average, it’s a capable SUV for the money.
Like the outside, the interior of the Santa Fe Sport is pleasing to the eye. High-quality material dress the dash and controls are simple and functional. Higher trims receive additional touches like wood trim and leather seating surfaces.
Our main gripe is the standard 5-inch display system, which features no rearview camera, a must have with the oversized C pillars limiting rearward visibility. Beyond that, you get comfortable seating for five, with rear seats that recline and fold to provide flexibility as you need it. We’d opt for the Value Package to replace the standard audio display with a 7-inch display that features Android Auto and Apple Carplay. You also get heated front seats, Hyundai Blue LInk, a proximity key, fog lights, and other features that are well worth the $1,900 extra.
Upgrading to the 2.0T will automatically include these features as well. Wind and road noise are well isolated, especially when compared to the direct competitors. Cargo capacity is impressive at 35.4 cubes behind the second row and 71 cubic feet overall, higher than average. The Santa Fe Sport provides a spacious interior with all the utility you need and modern conveniences you expect in a well-designed package at an affordable price.
It’s no secret that Hyundai has been designing some stunning vehicles lately and the Santa Fe Sport is no exception. It looks like a more expensive luxury SUV in a segment where many competitors feature conservative, bland designs.
The front fascia is sharp and tidy, with a chrome grille that wears the Hyundai badge. Projector beam headlights wrap around the front corners and are trimmed with LED running lamps. Below, some models have fog lights and yet more LEDs.
Aerodynamic lines slope upward from the front to the C pillars at the rear, giving this SUV an athletic side profile. The rear is widest at the bottom and body lines get narrower as they ascend towards the roofline, where a roof spoiler provides a nice touch to the sporty design. The Santa Fe Sport is an impressive looking SUV for the money.
The Santa Fe Sport gets a 5-star overall safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The only category where it doesn’t receive a perfect score is rollover, which is rated 4 stars, common for SUVs. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rates the Santa Fe Sport a “Top Safety Pick,’ with all “GOOD” scores in crashworthiness testing. Additionally, the available front crash prevention system is ranked “SUPERIOR,” the highest available.
The headlights draw a “POOR” rating, common for the segment but some competitors’ rank higher. The active driver assistance technology is only available by purchasing a $1,600 package on the top trim level, which brings the total to over $38,000. Some competitors, like the Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot, make these features standard or accessible for less money. Still, the Santa Fe Sport offers above average safety characteristics, sure to secure you and your loved ones.
The Santa Fe Sport received a predicted reliability rating of 3.5 out of 5 from JD Power. Consumer Reports offers an exceptional 5 out of 5 predicted reliability rating. However, our research turned up a rather perplexing problem which we’ll attempt to flesh out.
There are over a hundred complaints filed with the NHTSA for the 2017 model alone, but not nearly as many for earlier year models. So, what happened? Well, the 2017 model received updated engines that should have improved the useable power band yet a majority of the complaints are for a stumbling, a lack of acceleration.
Reading the complaints would have you believe it’s a transmission problem. We don’t think that’s the case. The 2017 model has the same automatic transmission in earlier models. Most of the owners complain the power loss happens most often when turning, the engine revs but the power hesitates a few seconds before transferring to the wheels.
Transmission, right? Wrong, we think it’s an overly obtrusive stability control system. These systems work by adjusting the amount of power delivered to the wheels or completely cutting it all together.We suspect the problem is related to an overly sensitive Traction Control System sensor. When these drivers are turning, the system thinks the vehicle has lost control and temporarily cuts power to the wheels. No amount of hammering on the accelerator will overcome the issue.
Instead, these owners should try turning the stability control off and see if that remedies the issue before demanding the dealer replace the transmission, which won’t fix the problem. In fact, we’ve discovered a Technical Service Bulletin (NHTSA 10115233) that instructs dealers to update the TCS(Traction Control System) logic to “reduce unnecessary TCS engagement during low speed/dry road acceleration,” confirming this is a traction control issue and not a transmission or engine issue.
The TSB was only recently issued, July 12th, 2017, so it’s likely many dealers misdiagnosed the problem and misinformed the owners. We’re assuming there’s a software update that should fix this issue at this time. If not, one can simply deactivate stability control upon starting the vehicle, weather permitting. That’s the only issue we’re concerned about and since it can be fixed rather simply, we’d rate the Santa Fe Sport as a highly reliable SUV. Furthermore, we’d also recommend earlier models as a solid buy in the used market.
The Ford Escape is an SUV you should consider cross-shopping. It’s one of our favorite compact SUVs. It is smaller than the Santa Fe Sport, but matches its cargo capacity behind the rear row and only has 6 less cubic feet overall.
The Escape is available with three different engine options, all of which are more efficient than the Hyundais. The twin scroll turbocharged 2.0 Liter EcoBoost delivers best in class performance and is available on the SE trim for a total of $26,595, about the same price as the base Santa Fe Sport with the Value Package.
For the money, you get more SUV with features that cost over 30k in a comparable Hyundai: 10-way power driver’s seat, LED taillamps, fog lamps, blind spot monitoring and others that aren’t available like paddle shifters and voice recognition technology.
If you move further up the trims to the fully loaded platinum trim, you get even more features for a price less than the mid-level Santa Fe Sport like a ten-speaker Sony audio system, remote start, 110V power inverter, LED ambient lighting, hands-free power liftgate, and more. We think the Ford Escape delivers better performance and more refinement for less money than the Santa Fe Sport. It makes more sense at every price point. Some may prefer the smoothness of the Hyundai’s added heft and its higher safety and reliability ratings, so drive both and let us know which you prefer.
The Santa Fe Sport starts at $24,950 with a 2.4 Liter inline 4 cylinder that makes 185 horsepower and 178 lb-ft of torque. The engine features Dual Overhead Cams, gasoline direct injection, and 16 valves with continuously variable valve timing. A six-speed automatic transmission with SHIFTRONIC technology provides that power to the front wheels or all wheels, if so equipped. A drive mode select system makes throttle and transmission adjustments to suit your needs. The chassis is constructed with a unibody design and is supported by MacPherson struts with gas filled dampers and stabilizer bar at the front and multi-link rear suspension with gas shock absorbers and stabilizer bar. A rearview camera provides excellent rearward visibility when parking. A vehicle stability management system, electronic stability control, and traction control system work harmoniously to keep your SUV on the road. A 4 channel anti-lock braking system with electronic brake force distribution and brake assist provide the brakes stopping power. Seven airbags are standard: a driver’s knee airbag, a driver and a front passenger advanced airbag, 2 front seat-mounted side impact airbags, and 2 roof mounted side curtain airbags with rollover sensors. A remote keyless entry system with alarm keeps unwanted intruders from entering your vehicle.
The exterior is enhanced by chrome door handles, rear privacy glass, automatic headlight control, and a bodycolor rear spoiler with LED center high mount stop light. To light your way, projector headlights with LED accents are standard. Inside, there’s standard air conditioning, YES Essentials stain-resistant cloth seating for five, seatback pockets, center armrest with storage compartment, cargo area underfloor storage, tilt and telescopic steering wheel, steering wheel mounted cruise and audio controls, sun visors with illuminated vanity mirrors, a Bluetooth hands-free phone system, a six-speaker audio system, smartphone USB and auxiliary input jacks, and a 5 inch LCD infotainment display. All Wheel Drive is available for $1,550. The $1,900 Value Package equips heated dual power side mirrors with turn signal indicators, proximity key with push-button start, 7 inch audio display with Android Auto and Apple Carplay, dual automatic temperature control with CleanAir ionizer, Hyundai Blue Link connected car system, power driver seat with lumbar support, heated front seats, LED daytime running lights, front fog lights, roof side rails, and a premium lower front fascia. The Premium Package installs Blind Spot Detection, rear cross traffic alert, lane change assist, a hands-free smart liftgate with auto open, leather-wrapped steering wheel, leather wrapped shift knob, leather seating surfaces, power passenger seat, sliding second-row seats with cargo area releases, electroluminescent gauge cluster with LCD driver information display, auto-dimming inside rearview mirror with HomeLink transceiver and compass, manual rear side window sunshades, door sill plates, and premium wood-finish interior trim for $2,900. The $3,250 Tech Package provides a panoramic sunroof, 8-inch touchscreen navigation system with Android Auto and APple CarPlay, a multi-view camera system, an Infinity premium audio system with QuantumLogic surround and Clari-Fi music restoration technology, rear parking sensors, a heated steering wheel, an integrated memory system for driver seat and side mirrors, ventilated front seats, and heated rear seats.
The Sport 2.0T trim begins at $31,350 with a turbocharged 2 Liter inline 4 cylinder that generates 240 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. The same transmission is attached but employs a different final drive ratio. The Sport’s 17-inch alloys are replaced with 18-inch alloy wheels. Blind spot detection rear cross traffic alert, and lane change assist are all standard, as are heated side mirrors with turn signal indicators. This trim also equips LED daytime running lights, proximity key entry with push button start, a hands-free smart liftgate with auto open, dual zone climate control, leather seating surfaces, power front seats with driver lumbar support, heated front seats, premium door sill plates, premium wood-finish interior trim, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink, Blue Link telematics system, electroluminescent gauge cluster with LCD driver information display, HD radio, SiriusXM, and 7 inch infotainment display. All Wheel Drive costs $1,550 and no additional packages are available.
The Sport 2.0T Ultimate trim has an MSRP of $36,650 and furnishes 19 inch alloy wheels, rear parking sensors, a multi-view camera system, HID headlights with LED accents, LED taillights, panoramic sunroof, integrated memory system for driver seat and mirrors, ventilated front seats, heated second row seats, and heated steering wheel. Additionally, an 8-inch touchscreen navigation system with BlueLink Guidance is standard, complemented by a 12 speaker Infinity premium audio system with QuantumLogic surround and Clari-Fi music restoration technology. For $1,550, All Wheel Drive can be equipped. The $1,600 Tech Package adds Smart Cruise Control with stop/start, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, electronic parking brake with automatic vehicle hold, dynamic bending light, high beam assist, and auto-leveling headlights.