Santa Fe Sport Close to Perfect

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There are few crossovers that come close to being the perfect blend of car and SUV, yet are comfortable and affordable too — but Hyundai's Santa Fe Sport is pretty close.

Hyundai remodeled its popular Santa Fe crossover lineup a couple years back and split it into two models, the larger and heavier Santa Fe and the Santa Fe Sport, which is smaller and sportier. The latter is the way to go.

My frost pearl white Sport looked luxurious and was loaded with a ton of features, part of the Ultimate Package. At its core it's a high performing midsize crossover for a family of four or five. It handles and rides well and has enough power to make it borderline fun.

The tester was the Sport AWD 2.0T, the upper end Santa Fe Sport with a turbocharged 2.0-liter I4 and all-wheel-drive. It lists at $33,000, plus an $875 delivery fee. The Ultimate Package added $4,350, pushing the tab to $38,350. There is a base model starting at $25,845 including delivery. It touts a 190-horse 2.4-liter I4 and comes with front-wheel drive.

You can move to an AWD model for $27,575, or get a front-drive version with the turbo for $31,250.

The I4 comes with direct injection and a turbocharger to give more power, but allow the four-cylinder to run more efficiently for running errands. That means you get 264 horsepower when entering a highway, but more modest power around town.

The result is decent fuel economy. This model is rated 18 mpg city and 24 mpg highway and I got 19.5 mpg in about a 50/50 split and 26 mpg in all highway. There is an Eco mode button on the dash to help increase that mileage, and I used it fairly regularly around town. It slows your acceleration some. The base 2.4-liter I4 is rated 21 mpg city and 29 highway in front-drive configuration.

The turbo was responsive and the power smooth and well handled by the 6-speed automatic transmission. This is a Shiftronic unit, which allows you to shift manually, but you'll likely find that unnecessary about 95% of the time.

Ride seemed better than in previous models. The Sport rides on a 106.3-inch wheelbase, about perfect for a smooth ride and good handling. There are MacPherson struts in the front suspension and a multi-link system in back. Both have gas-filled shocks and stabilizer bars. The Santa Fe handled rough roads with authority, no chop or jarring to passengers.

Handling is on the sporty side with three driving modes that affect the steering effort. There's Comfort, Normal and Sport, with only the Sport being particularly heavy. Other modes are easy to control and fairly responsive, and Comfort has the lightest touch. Santa Fe corners well thanks to what Hyundai calls Active Cornering Control that uses torque vectoring and the ABS system to create more stability in corners.

There are stability control and traction control systems, and the AWD gives the Santa Fe better grip in snow and slush.

Santa Fe's interior includes a well laid-out dash, good seating and plenty of tech options.

The test SUV had a two-tone brown over tan dash and door trim along with tan perforated leather seats. Trim around the brown console is matte silver, along with a few other trim bits, and this one included fake wood inserts by the air vents on either side of the dash. Those actually looked a bit low-end, but the overall styling is handsome.

The manual tilt/telescope wheel is wrapped in leather and has a variety of buttons for cruise, phone, radio and trip computer on the hub. There's also a Blue Link system which links up navigation, e-messaging and vehicle information. It's accessible via a smartphone.

Hyundai's main gauges are easy to see and read, with blue rings in the center, and all dash buttons glow blue at night, which is pleasant and easy on the eyes. All controls are easy to see and reach, and push-button start is standard.

Standard on the 2.0T is blind spot detection that lights up in the side mirrors, a rear cross-traffic alert that warns if a vehicle or person is behind you, and a rearview camera. Lane change assist also comes on this model.

Another plus is a proximity key that not only unlocks the vehicle as you approach, but allows you to stand behind the power liftgate for just a second or two before it automatically powers up.

Other standard features on the 2.0T include side roof rails, fog lights, a dual climate control system and heated front seats, power driver's seat with power lumbar support and a spiffy 40/20/40 split rear seat.

The Ultimate Package kicks Santa Fe up a few notches. While pricey, it includes 19-inch alloy wheels and 19-inch tires, HID headlights and LED taillights, plus a giant panoramic sunroof, 12-speaker Infinity Logic 7 stereo with surround sound and an 8-inch touch screen, which by the way, actually responds to your touch even when the user is wearing gloves.

The package also includes ventilated front seats and heated rear seats, and a heated steering wheel.

Seating is well formed and comfortable in both the front and second row, plus the rear seats will slide about 5 inches forward to create more storage room. Those seats also recline. I like the manual side window sunshades in back.

There's much to like and little that's off-putting with the Santa Fe Sport. This one may surprise you when you test drive it.

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