The Hyundai Santa Fe Sport is a solid two-row, compact SUV with a roomy cockpit front and back, a long warranty, and good fit and finish. It sells well to millennials and to empty-nest boomers, both looking for cars comfortable for two sets of adults going out or traveling together.
Fuel economy isn’t class-leading, however, and only blind spot detection is standard (above the entry trim line), while adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist are optional. You can buy a Santa Fe Sport in the mid-twenties, but the safest model will set you back more than $38,000.
I’ve driven Santa Fe Sports several times since the third-generation arrived as a 2013 model. They were always competent, reasonable vehicles. They fell above the Toyota RAV4 and below the Mazda CX-5 on the excitement scale. This time, driving the top trim line, the Santa Fe Sport felt better and more upscale inside. It’s a fine highway cruiser and capable of traveling long distances safely, even more so with the driver assists enabled. The premium audio sounded good and the center stack was fairly easy to use in testing. On rough roads, the ride was a bit choppy. Four will ride quite comfortably and rear passengers will appreciate the side window shades. Until you’ve been in car with shades built in, you never know how often you’ll use them, and cops won’t write you up the way they do for tinted windows.
With the the panoramic sunroof shade open, the car was light and airy inside, certainly for the front row passengers. The beltline starts to curve upward toward the back of the rear door (photo below), which hampers the side view for kids and short adults. The curve reduces the cargo bay window to something seemingly little larger than a triangular dinner plate, which hurts rearward vision and makes you glad the majority of Santa Fe Sports come with blind spot detection.
Fuel economy ranges from an EPA-rated 20 mpg city, 28 mpg highway, 23 mpg combined for the front-drive base model down to 19/24/21 for the all-wheel-drive Santa Fe Sport 2.0T Ultimate. In short, so-so for a car without breathtaking acceleration. The 4,100-pound weight plays a factor. (I got about 22 mpg in a week of driving.) At least it’s on regular and not premium gasoline; the need for premium is the equivalent of getting 18 percent worse mileage at today’s fuel prices.
Santa Fe Sport Trim Lines
The Santa Fe Sport is Hyundai’s shorter, 185-inch two-row compact-almost-midsize SUV. For 2019 it will be called the Santa Fe when the next-gen model arrives. The longer, three-row version is the 193-inch Santa Fe, and next year that one will be called the Santa Fe XL, as it is now in Canada. This review covers the current Santa Fe Sport.
The base model is the Santa Fe Sport, $24,950 plus $980 freight, or $25,930. It uses a 185-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with a six-speed automatic driving the front wheels. All-wheel-drive adds $1,550 on all three trims. Consumer Reports says the base engine is good enough. Car and Driver says it’s too slow, almost 10 seconds to 60 mph.
There are three options packages. You’ll probably want the $1,900 Value Package with a 7-inch center stack display (otherwise it’s 5 inches), Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, satellite radio and HD radio, the Blue Link telematics system, heated front seats, a proximity key with pushbutton start, and roof rails. The $2,900 Premium Package adds blind spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert, a smart power liftgate, leather seating and steering wheel, and color multi-information LCD in the instrument panel. The $3,250 Tech Package requires the Premium Package and adds a panoramic sunroof, bumps the center stack display to 8 inches, adds navigation, premium audio, rear parking sonar, a heated steering wheel, ventilated front seats, and heated rear seats. Choose all three and you’re in for $33,980. The packages provide many of the amenities of the other two trim lines without adding the cost of the turbo engine. Towing capacity is 2,000 pounds.
The middle trim line is the Santa Fe Sport 2.0T, $32,330. It gets a 240-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged engine with a six-speed automatic. Blind spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert come standard. Lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control are not available. There are no options or packages other than all-wheel-drive. What’s optional on the entry Santa Fe Sport and standard here includes: telematics (Blue Link) with three years free, leather seats and steering wheel, heated front seats, heated side mirrors, LED daytime running lights, proximity key and push button start, a hands-free smart liftgate, sliding second row seats, auto-up (not just down) front side windows, rear side sunshades (very useful), an auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass and garage-door-opener buttons, side roof rails, an EL gauge cluster with color MID, HD Radio, Android Auto / Apple CarPlay (how you’d get navigation), and the 7-inch center stack display.
The top end is the Santa Fe Sport 2.0T Ultimate, $36,630. Standard features include an 8-inch center stack touch screen with navigation, three years of Blue Link operator-assist navigation downloads, 12-speaker premium audio, and a panoramic sunroof. The $1,,600 Tech Package completes the driver-assist features: adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, steerable and self-leveling headlamps, and auto high beam. Combine the Tech Package with all-wheel-drive and you’ve got a a $39,780 compact SUV that’s very well-equipped.
Should You Buy? (Should You Wait?)
The 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport is one compact SUV that isn’t limping across the finish line in the final year of a six-year lifecycle. The two- and three-row Santa Fe models combined sold 133,171 units last year, up 2 percent, and sales this year are up 3 percent. It is a solid performer with an excellent cockpit and very good safety technology as long as you choose the right options packages. The fully loaded price of the 2.0T Ultimate is within $2,500 of an Audi Q5 or BMW X3’s base price. But comparably equipped, a compact German luxury SUV would be priced in the fifties.
The Santa Fe Sport rides and handles well, gets to 60 mph in about 8 seconds with the turbo engine, and has good accommodations front and back for four adult passengers. The six-year, 60,000-mile warranty is a bonus. So is the ability to tow 3,500 pounds; most small SUVs are limited to 1,500.
If you’re looking at Santa Fe Sport, also look at its cousin, the Kia Sorrento. Among compact cars, look at the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, and Subaru Forester; the Mazda CX-5 is the best handler of the bunch, but it’s a bit smaller. Among slightly larger cars, look at the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Nissan Murano, and Ford Edge.
The fourth-generation, 2019 Santa Fe (what the two-row Santa Fe Sport will be called) arrives in the second half of the year. It appears to be a significant step up in standard safety, cockpit amenities, and design. Hyundai joins Honda, Toyota, and soon Ford in in making multiple driver assists standard. Honda (Honda Sensing) and Toyota (TSS) make standard adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning; Ford (Co-Pilot360) starting with a couple 2019 models will make lane departure warning and blind spot detection standard. Hyundai trumps all with Smart Sense:
Hyundai says Smart Sense is on every Santa Fe trim line SE and above, and if we read Hyundai’s press info correctly, SE in 2019 is the entry trim line. The 2019 Santa Fe could join the CX-5 in making a compelling case as a premium car at a mainstream price.
As for the current Santa Fe Sport versus today’s competition: It’s an extremely capable vehicle. If you compare prices, take time to make sure you know all that comes standard with the Santa Fe Sport and what may be optional on competitor SUVs. If you want driver assists, you either need the base Santa Fe with the Premium Package, or to go all in, the Santa Fe Sport 2.0T Ultimate with the Tech Package.
2018 Hyundai Kona Review: Standout New Subcompact SUV
Don't let the price of the Hyundai Kona ultimate fool you. It's loaded with tech features and value, as it should be for $29K. The sub-$25K SEL is a good deal, too.
2019 Hyundai Kona EV: Tesla-Like Range for About $30,000 After Tax Credits
Hyundai's excellent Kona subcompact crossover gets a powerful motor and big battery. Among sub-$50,000 EVs, the only one that tops the Kona EV's range is the base Tesla Model S. Know anybody who actually took delivery of this base Tesla? Us neither.
2019 Hyundai Nexo Review: 380 Miles (on Hydrogen). Can Your EV Go That Far?
Hyundai plays the long game with hydrogen. We're a long way off. But the hydrogen-specific Nexo improves significantly on the Tucson fuel cell variant.