By on November 28, 2016

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.4 AWD

2.4-liter I4, DOHC, direct injection (185 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm; 178 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm)

Six-speed automatic, all-wheel drive

20 city / 26 highway / 22 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

12.0 city/9.1 highway/10.7 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

Base Price: $26,245 (U.S) / $30,594 (Canada)

Price: $36,695 (U.S.) / $36,894 (Canada)

Prices include $895 delivery charge in the United States and $1,995 for PDI and A/C tax in Canada.

A friend once asked me — jokingly, mind you — what vehicle would be the ride least likely to arouse suspicion from the police. The anti-heat score, if you will. As a proud (multiple) past owner, I knew the correct answer — a grey, ubiquitous, anonymous five- to 10-year-old General Motors sedan. At least, I thought I did.

Well, I take it all back.

Only while driving a Hyundai Santa Fe Sport does one realize that everyone else drives a Hyundai Santa Fe Sport. Everyone. In fact, you’re probably reading this in a Hyundai Santa Fe Sport. Allegedly, Hyundai sells the popular crossover in splashy colors like red, but a shade reminiscent of the slate-grey November sky that murdered the Edmund Fitzgerald’s crew seems to be the go-to choice  for most buyers. Would-be bank robbers, scofflaws and undercover cops, take note.

If you’re one of the few who hasn’t yet signed on the dotted line for the Big Blue H’s lower-midsize crossover — newly refreshed for 2017, in case you weren’t aware — I drove one so you won’t have to.

Now, why does my mind keep returning to the ocean?

Disclaimer: Before you read this review, you need to know something about how Hyundai operates and packages its vehicles in North America. The Canadian and American marketing divisions of Hyundai are wholly independent of one another. Thus, the Santa Fe Sport reviewed here is very different in packaging from any Santa Fe Sport you can buy in the United States. In our quest to include all tested equipment in our U.S. pricing above, the numbers may not make sense on the surface. However, the American vehicle quoted includes a lot more additional equipment than that of the tested vehicle configured for the Canadian market.

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport

Filling the gap

Slotted below its bigger, three-row brother and above the compact Tucson, the Santa Fe Sport straddles the line between compact and midsize — really, it’s a Santa Fe hacked to a more palatable size and price point. Call it the Studebaker Lark of crossovers.

For 2017, Hyundai’s gap-filler went into the shop for a mid-cycle makeover and came out looking, well, a lot like a 2016 Santa Fe Sport. So subtle are the redesigned front fascia, bumpers and taillights, you’ll probably need a “before” picture to squint at before the changes become clear. (LED running light “eyebrows” over the foglights are a dead giveaway.) The nip and tuck pushes the model’s appearance in the direction of the handsome Tucson, but not by much.

This tester boasted an entry-level powertrain that’s adequate for most purposes (and thrilling for none), upgraded “SE” trim, and all-wheel drive for those times when a snowstorm threatens to kibosh your attendance at a niece’s birthday party. It’s the Santa Fe Sport you’re most likely to stumble across in a parking lot.

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport

Now for the bad news: that direct-injected 2.4-liter four-cylinder makes 185 horsepower and 178 lb-ft of torque — great numbers for a compact sedan, but decidedly less so for a 3,900-pound crossover. This allows Santa Fe Sport drivers to remain even more incognito to the long arm of the law.

Moving up to the turbocharged, 240 hp 2.0-liter four and lower aspect ratio tires found in uplevel models might make the “Sport” moniker seem like something less than a joke. In 2.4-liter guise, however, it’s a humorous misnomer. There’s no escaping the reality that this is a crossover, and a very mainstream one at that. No potential buyer expects to hang the tail out in corners on the way to Montessori, but the act of driving this vehicle and experiencing its reaction to human inputs quickly lulls anyone behind the wheel into a muted, emotional purgatory. It’s like sitting in a passenger ferry’s lounge with the heater cranked and the sun, low on the horizon, beaming in.

Perhaps ether emanates from those dashboard vents?

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport

Big softie

Now, keep in mind, this isn’t an uncomfortable ferry — in fact, it’s damn nice place to sit. There’s not a single seating gripe to be heard from this perpetually uncomfortable 6-foot-4 driver. Excellent support and ample front legroom, plus armrests that put the Toyota RAV4 SE‘s to shame. Hyundai’s climate and infotainment controls are General Motors-level easy, so there’s nothing to raise your pulse in a bad way, either.

I could quibble about the slight encroachment into scalp territory of the rear seat headliner, but that’s only because of the panoramic sunroof — an upscale touch that makes owners and occupants alike feel special, and above all, successful. Rear-seat legroom could be improved, though the longer-wheelbase Santa Fe stands ready as a potential knee savior. Overall, fit and finish in this leather-trimmed cabin ranks high in perceived quality, and Hyundai should feel good about that. Just don’t bring a Venti coffee into this rig — the front seat cupholders have as much depth as a campus protester. You’ll be sorry.

It’s too bad about the puny 5-inch touchscreen staring from the center of an otherwise modern dash, but climbing another rung up the trim ladder delivers an 8-inch unit. You’ll also find a doubling of stereo speakers (12) and a push-button ignition, among other niceties. Safety aids like a Blind Spot Detection System, Lane Change Assist and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert appear on all but the lowest trim level.

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport

On the road, the Santa Fe Sport’s entry-level Infinity audio system is robust enough to drown out the intermittent knocks and rattles that emanate from the rear of the cabin when the pavement turns to shell holes. With legs tuned for a soft, relaxing drive, throwing the worst at this particular model reveals its weak knees. Contrast that with the RAV4 SE’s springboard-stiff suspension, which, while bouncy, kept the shock of asphalt crevasses further from my backside when driving through regions that value cheap daycare over road repair.

In corners, though, I’d happily swap the two. The RAV4 SE’s ultra-firm suspension was unnerving in corners and only enhanced the sensation of top-heaviness. When driving a utility vehicle, I’d prefer to let good ol’ fashioned car-like front-end plow and body lean communicate the limits of traction, and not a bowel-loosening feeling of impending upset in a vehicle that would sooner turn turtle than compress a spring. For this, the Santa Fe Sport delivers.

(Note: Exactly zero Santa Fe Sport buyers are concerned with such things.)

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport

We (don’t) got the power

Recognizing this model’s fate as a mild-mannered carrier of kids, the only real letdown is its drivetrain. Hyundai claims both available engines saw efficiency-minded enhancements for 2017, which seems to have sapped power from both. Last year’s specifications put the 2.4’s output at 190 hp and 181 lb-ft. Suffice it to say, my early Christmas gift of extra torque didn’t come wrapped up in a grey box.

The 2.4-liter always sounds like it’s working hard, and is noisy at idle, but the lack of puissance gets no help from a six-speed automatic that pauses to read a book before downshifting (even when asked firmly). There’s always the option of sticking the rig in gear-holding Sport mode, but the uptick in responsiveness comes with a Theta II symphony and poorer fuel economy. It shouldn’t have to be that way.

I keep going back to it, but a 2.5-liter RAV4 with slightly less power and a similar (but more responsive) gearbox feels much quicker, for about the same price.

For all its hard work, the 2.4’s gas mileage didn’t stray into the lawsuit zone, but be prepared to drive on eggshells to make it happen. A far-right-lane 60 mph freeway jaunt — at night, to avoid middle fingers and other expressions of rage — returned 28 mpg, topping EPA numbers by 2 mpg. Still, a week of mixed real-world driving saw the Santa Fe Sport average 21 mpg, not far off the EPA combined figure of 22 mpg. Nothing shady here, but nothing to brag about, either.

Mild road manners, an inoffensive exterior, well-appointed cabin and decent level of content are all things worthy of consideration for buyers who hate drama. But for the moms and dads whose interest in driving hasn’t been entirely leached away by parenthood, well, you might notice something missing.

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport

Hyundai Canada provided the vehicle for the purpose of this review.

[Images: © 2016 Steph Willems/The Truth About Cars]

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33 Comments on “2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.4 AWD Review – Stakeout Special...”


  • avatar
    heavy handle

    I knew guy in the 1990s who was a PI, mostly working on insurance fraud cases (taking pictures of “injured” people shoveling snow, that sort of stuff).
    He told me he always rented either a Taurus or a Caravan. Nobody noticed those, and you wouldn’t find it odd to see one every time you checked your mirror.

    The Santa Fe occupies the same visual blind spot. You can look right at it and not notice it.

    • 0 avatar
      Nick 2012

      A friend’s dad was a cop and they used a Caravan to collect felons with warrants. They’d place a female officer behind the wheel, load up a swat team in the back, and use the dual sliding doors to grab people all sorts of unexpected places with complete surprise. It even had “XXX High School Swim Team” and crap on the back.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        I will testify that a grey-silver-blueish-storm colored CUV is a great “anonymity vehicle”. I have only been busted for speeding when truly flouting the law (like 75 mph in 55 – empty highway, just me and the officer.)

        Even my old pickup truck gets more attention.

  • avatar
    jimf42

    I have owned a 2013 Santa Fe Sport for about a year 2.0T model. It has plenty of power and I average closer to 24-25mpg.

  • avatar
    319583076

    He said, “Fellas, it’s been good to know ya!”

  • avatar
    OldManPants

    Hate and fear the surging AWD-zation of everything CUV.

    Soon, finding an FWD on the lots will be like seeking an MT.

    Even T-Rump is an amateur at playing on irrational fears compared to Subie & Co.

  • avatar
    TDIGuy

    Well at least they are halfway to ending the confusion.

    To add to the note above, up until now, what Hyundai sold as the Santa Fe Sport and Santa Fe in the US were sold as the Santa Fe and Santa Fe XL in Canada, respectively.

    Actually, I believe the bigger iteration of the Santa Fe is changing to a unique name as part of it’s new restyling?

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    “2.4-liter I4, DOHC, direct injection (185 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm; 178 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm)”

    Good grief that must be awful to drive. Two speeds, stopped and to the floor boards as you try to wring some HP & torque out of that little mutt.

  • avatar
    Car Ramrod

    Steph, now that I know you’re 6’4″ I’ll be paying extra attention to all you say on the topic of seat comfort. Nice to know everyone reviewing cars on the internets isn’t under 5’10”.

    Moar sedans please!

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    Well, at least they did the right thing and put the gas filler cap on the driver’s side, like most Toyotas and Hondas. That reduces the chance of head-on crashes when you keep right at the pump island, unless you’re sharing the island with one of those German cars.

    That’s more important than those cup holders. If you need a venti, you should drink it at the *$ before getting behind the wheel. There are way too many groggy drivers out there as it is. Plus, Big Gulps are for kids, and they don’t belong in the front seats anyway.

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    1) That is one heinous side profile. It might be one of the ugliest CUVs sold today.

    2) Hyundai STILL can’t engineer/design/tune a suspension (after some 30+ years of selling vehicles in the North American market). It’s pretty remarkable, actually. Whether in past $7,999 vehicles, or the $16,999 (Elantra MSRP been if they can be had for less) to $60,000-ish upper trim level Genesi (and Equis – Equuis? bad S Class or LS460 knock-off), they still don’t know how to design a suspension that doesn’t unnecessarily wallow on good roads, yet crash & bang on bad ones.

    3) Let’s get the pain over with sooner rather than later and quickly get to the point where 100% of the vehicles on the road are CUV boxes & blobs of varying homogeneity in varying shades of grey.

    • 0 avatar
      RHD

      No need to worry how to make “Equus” into a plural. The only place you are likely to ever see more than one of them is at a Hyundai dealer’s parking lot.

      Did they even sell in plural numbers?

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      “they still don’t know how to design a suspension that doesn’t unnecessarily wallow on good roads, yet crash & bang on bad ones.”

      I don’t find this to be true of my ’15 Sonata. It definitely doesn’t wallow. Its main sin is that it’s a bit more brittle than the Fusion and Accord were – but not egregiously so. And it can even be coaxed into some on-ramp fun if you have a light touch.

      Is the Sonata’s suspension at the absolute best level? Not yet, or it wasn’t in ’15. But I think the whole “Korean suspensions ALL SUCK AND WALLOW!” thing is really turning into a bit of a trope.

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    1) That is one heinous side profile. It might be one of the ugliest CUVs sold today.

    2) Hyundai STILL can’t engineer/design/tune a suspension (after some 30+ years of selling vehicles in the North American market). It’s pretty remarkable, actually. Whether in past $7,999 vehicles, or the $16,999 (Elantra MSRP been if they can be had for less) to $60,000-ish upper trim level Genesi (and Equis – Equuis? bad S Class or LS460 knock-off), they still don’t know how to design a suspension that doesn’t unnecessarily wallow on good roads, yet crash & bang on bad ones.

    3) Let’s get the pain over with sooner rather than later and quickly get to the point where 100% of the vehicles on the road are CUV boxes & blobs of varying homogeneity in varying shades of grey.

    p.s. –

    4) There was a time when Hyundai (and mostly Hyundai-owned & controlled Kia) existed to allow some to buy a new Asian vehicle for 70% the price of a Honda or Toyota, but what’s the justification for doing so now that they’re priced equivalently?

    • 0 avatar

      Very, very true. I can’t remember what spurred it on, but the other day I was thinking just that–that of all Hyundai’s accomplishments, it’s like they just can’t get the suspensions right.

    • 0 avatar

      1) I agree completely. Especially in this trim.
      2) Yep, I got this as a rental and hated every moment.
      …and
      4) Well, Hyundai does make some pretty good vehicles right now, often packaged better than they’re Japanese counterparts (or better made, in the case of Toyota), so there can be good reasons. The Santa Fe Sport does not feature these reasons though, so I suspect that the reason we still see so many of them is price-based.

  • avatar

    “Allegedly, Hyundai sells the popular crossover in splashy colors like red, but a shade reminiscent of the slate-grey November sky that murdered the Edmund Fitzgerald’s crew seems to be the go-to choice for most buyers.”

    Given that it wasn’t too long ago that a body was found on the wreck and the ship’s bell was brought up in a very solemn salvaging op undertaken in front of still-grieving family members, I find this in bad taste.

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    Loving that nice thick tire sidewall.

    • 0 avatar
      OldManPants

      “Loving that nice thick tire sidewall.”

      Eyes on the Prize!

      You always focus on the important stuff. And you’re one of maybe 15, 20 people on the face of the earth who *should* have children. Pass on those Wisdom Genes.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        My ES300 was transformed by a switch from 65 series summer tires to 70 series snow tires mounted on steel wheels. At the cost of steering feel and mushiness in corners, I now bomb down the worst roads unperturbed. Part of that is the softer rubber tread in snow tires I think, but a portion is definitely that cushy sidewall. Helps mask the somewhat tired but serviceable struts.

  • avatar
    levi

    “It’s like sitting in a passenger ferry’s lounge with the heater cranked and the sun, low on the horizon, beaming in.”

    Exciting. My mind drifted to this immediately. Some here would liked to have had a heater.

  • avatar
    namstrap

    In April, I bought a 2006 Accent off the used lot of the dealership I used to work at. It was that same dark grey. It sat there for three months before I noticed it! I have to admit, I love driving it. I’m an old retired guy now, and not so much in a hurry, so I’m happy with the acceleration.

    The local cop shop has an unmarked Tahoe in the same colour. They’ve disguised it further by putting a stick figure family in the back window.

  • avatar
    Higheriq

    After reading through the article, I’m still left wondering why this is called “Sport”. The alloy wheels? The color?

    • 0 avatar
      OldManPants

      “When testosterone levels are low, gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) is released by the hypothalamus, which in turn stimulates the pituitary gland to release FSH and LH. These latter two hormones stimulate the testis to synthesize testosterone.” -Wiki

      And the word “Sport” has been clinically proven to stimulate the hypothalamus’ release of GnRH.

  • avatar
    ACCvsBig10

    I just dont understand how they can use the same 2.4 engine that struggles at times to power their sedans and stick into an suvs that weight 600-800 pounds more before options. Im sure they could obtain the similiar epa ratings with their v6 without making it feel and sound so lackluster

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