If the 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport crossover SUV could express emotion, it would start by breathing a huge sigh of relief. That's because Hyundai has finally blessed the Santa Fe with the company's distinctive fluidic-sculpture design language. Until last year, the poor Santa Fe had to stand by and watch as one Hyundai after another was treated to dramatic new duds. Even the pipsqueak Tucson crossover, a size smaller than the Santa Fe, got its extreme makeover first.
But now it's the Santa Fe Sport's turn, and we think this is one of the best-looking Hyundais yet -- a sleekly sophisticated vehicle in a segment better known for boxiness. The revolution continues inside, where a curvaceous dashboard and quality materials give the Santa Fe Sport a surprisingly premium feel, especially relative to its generic predecessor.
As expected from Hyundai, the standard features are plentiful, including iPod/Bluetooth connectivity and the Blue Link telematics suite with features such as voice text messaging, a local business search and turn-by-turn navigation. Less expected, but certainly welcome, is the optional turbocharged engine, which isn't the most refined engine in its class but delivers plenty of passing power.
Hyundai's lineup is top-to-bottom impressive these days, but the 2014 Santa Fe Sport stands out even among its distinguished relatives. If rival crossover SUVs could express emotion, they'd be none too pleased about Hyundai's latest.
What's New for 2014?
Following its redesign last year, the Santa Fe Sport is largely unchanged.
What We Like
Upscale styling inside and out; spacious interior; tons of features; available turbocharged power; great crash-test scores
What We Don't
Uneven power delivery from 2.0T engine; can get rather pricey for a Hyundai crossover
All Santa Fe models come with a responsive 6-speed automatic transmission and are available with either front-wheel drive (FWD) or all-wheel drive (AWD).
Standard on the base Santa Fe Sport is a 2.4-liter inline-4 rated at 190 horsepower and 181 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy is a pedestrian 20 mpg city/27 mpg highway with FWD and 19 mpg city/25 mpg hwy with AWD.
The 2.0T boasts a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 good for 264 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque. Happily, fuel economy doesn't suffer much, checking in at 19 mpg city/27 mpg hwy with FWD and 18 mpg city/24 mpg hwy with AWD.
Standard Features & Options
The 2-row Santa Fe Sport is offered in base or 2.0T trim.
Feature highlights for the base Sport ($25,605) include a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine, 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlight and taillight accents, a rear spoiler, air conditioning, electronically adjustable steering effort, power accessories, a tilt/telescopic steering wheel, cruise control, a trip computer, Bluetooth, and a 6-speaker audio system with satellite radio and iPod/USB connectivity.
The Sport 2.0T ($31,305) adds a high-powered 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, dual exhaust outlets, 18-in alloy wheels (19-inchers are available), heated exterior mirrors, a blind spot monitoring system, automatic headlights, fog lights, keyless entry with push-button ignition, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, an electroluminescent gauge cluster with a color LCD information screen, a 4.3-in touchscreen audio display with a rearview camera, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, leather upholstery, a sliding back seat, dual-zone automatic climate control and power heated front seats with driver lumbar.
The base Sport can be optionally equipped with many of the 2.0T model's standard features. Other notable options, depending on trim, include xenon headlights, LED taillights, a panoramic sunroof, a navigation system with an 8-in touchscreen, ventilated front seats, heated back seats, a 10-speaker Dimension audio system (base Sport only) and a 12-speaker Infinity audio system (2.0T only).
On the hauling front, the Sport offers 35.4 cu ft of cargo space behind the back seat and 71.5 cu ft with the rear seat backs folded. That's a lot of cubes at this price point.
A properly equipped Santa Fe Sport can tow up to 3,500 pounds.
The 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, active front head restraints and seven airbags (front, front side, driver knee and full-length side curtain).
In government crash tests, the Santa Fe Sport received a perfect 5-star rating across the board. Likewise, the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the Santa Fe Sport its top rating of Good in all tested categories.
Behind the Wheel
In our interior evaluation, we found the Santa Fe Sport's front seats to be notably more supportive than last year's forgettably flat offerings. As ever, the seats are mounted high, so you get that SUV-style commanding view of the road that many shoppers want. Thankfully, the Santa Fe Sport comes standard with a tilt/telescopic steering wheel (not all Hyundais do), so you can adjust the wheel for reach as well as angle. There's even some wood-grain trim sprinkled around the cabin that adds a touch of class. Its overall materials quality has improved, as well.
The Santa Fe Sport's dashboard is full of appealing angles and curves, while the deeply hooded gauges with available electroluminescent backlighting further attest to the Santa Fe Sport's suaveness. Fortunately, the controls remain straightforward and easy to use despite the dramatically different look.
The back seat has a pleasantly elevated bottom cushion and ample room for adult passengers. Hyundai emphasizes that even the 2-row Sport is considerably larger than rivals such as the Ford Escape, and that's evident in the airy feel inside. We're also pleased that a sliding back seat is available.
Under the hood, the base 2.4-liter engine is all most folks will need. Blessed with a broad power band and good manners, this is largely the same engine that we've lauded in the Sonata midsize sedan, and it's satisfying here, too. But if satisfying isn't enough, the turbocharged 2.0T delivers a pretty serious punch, with one caveat: The power comes on rather suddenly around 2,500 rpm or so, with relatively modest get-up-and-go off the line.
On the road, the Santa Fe Sport is about as good as it gets for a crossover at this price. The highway ride is quiet and smooth, while bumps are dispatched with impressive poise. The handling isn't bad either, and AWD models even have what Hyundai calls Torque Vectoring Cornering Control, a system that can send either extra torque or braking power to individual wheels.
Other Cars to Consider
Ford Escape -- The Escape might be smaller than the Santa Fe Sport, but its back seat can still accommodate a couple of adults with ease, and you can get one with a 2.0-liter turbo and MyFord Touch to match the Santa Fe Sport 2.0T with navigation.
Kia Sorento -- Distantly related to the Santa Fe, the Sorento lets you have V6 power in a 2-row package and 4-cylinder power in a 3-row package -- combinations that the Santa Fe Sport can't provide.
Mazda CX-5 -- Mazda's do-it-all crossover is capable of better fuel economy than the Santa Fe. It also feels tighter and more dynamic on the road.
Despite its somewhat nonlinear acceleration, our pick would be the Sport 2.0T. The little turbo delivers big performance, and it comes with a lot of standard equipment to boot.