If you happen to be looking for a small to mid-size crossover vehicle for the family, I have two words for you: Good luck! The continued proliferation of these vehicles, many of them very similar, keeps making the choice more difficult. Nevertheless, let me make a case for the 2015 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T.
But, let’s agree right at the start that this Santa Fe, complete with the optional Ultimate equipment package, will not fit the bill for everyone, and it obviously is not for anyone who needs three-row seating.
The Santa Fe Sport —- not to be confused with its larger, seven-passenger sibling, the Hyundai Santa Fe —- can fit only five people comfortably, it is not the least expensive in its category and it is not really intended for off-road use, especially in the front-wheel-drive configuration of the test vehicle.
It may stand out,however, for drivers who enjoy a little pleasure with their practicality; who appreciate the solid, almost Teutonic feel of the driving dynamics; who like a generous amount of cargo space; and who value a handsome exterior, quality interior and many upscale amenities. Let’s not forget the generous warranty, either.
The base engine is a 2.4-liter, 4-cylinder engine that generates 190 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque, but the upscale test car is powered by a turbocharged 2-liter, 4-cylinder engine that produces 264 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque.
The engine is remarkably smooth all the way to the upper reaches of its power band with almost no discernible turbo lag, and it offers much the same satisfaction as a V-6 engine. It is teamed with a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission. Together, they give the 3,569-pound, front-wheel-drive Santa Fe Sport satisfactory acceleration, including a 0-60 mph sprint of less than 7 seconds.
According to the EPA, the front-wheel-drive 2015 Santa Fe Sport 2.0T Ultimate will return 19 miles per gallon of regular grade gasoline in the city, 26 mpg on the open road, and a combined 22 mpg. I did better in my travels, which included a 200-mile weekend journey on level four-lane highways. My fuel consumption ranged from 21mpg to 28 mpg, with an average of nearly 25 mpg.
Those are important figures, but perhaps the more significant numbers are the ones that could seal a buyer’s choice. Consider these: 35.4 cubic feet of space behind the second-row seats, 71.5 cubic feet of space with the second-row seatbacks folded forward, 3,500-pound towing capacity.
A glance at the exterior shows that Hyundai’s design cues give the Santa Fe Sport a cohesive , modern-looking exterior. Inside, the crossover treats passengers to a refined, quiet ambience with comfortable leather seating surfaces and quality materials throughout. Second-row seating, split 40-20-40, can be moved back and forth about 5 inches, and the seatbacks recline The driver will find user-friendly instruments and controls.
For the 2015 model year, the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport features refinements to the steering and suspension systems and a handful of new features.
As before, the electric steering has three modes: Comfort, Normal and Sport. In 2015 models, the microprocessor has been upgraded and front wheel bushings have been retuned.
Comfort may work well in heavy urban traffic, but I did not like the the overall light feel in varied driving situations. Likewise, the Normal mode lacked a strong on-center feel in highway driving and I found myself needing to make repeated small corrections to keep the Hyundai on its intended path.
And that left me with Sport, which has benefitted most from the upgrade and offers a firmer, more responsive steering feel. I simply left the Sport setting engaged throughout my travels and had no complaints.
Improvements to the suspension —- MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link setup at the rear —- give the Hyundai less body roll in corners and contribute to its somewhat sporty driving dynamics.
But don’t get me wrong here. Sporty is a relative term and when applied to a tall utility vehicle it does not have the same confidence-inspiring meaning as it would in a sedan. Suffice it to say that the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport’ is more enjoyable to drive on the two-lane back roads than many of the vehicles in its class.
Buyers who choose the optional all-wheel drive for an extra $1,750 will get a system that further improves handling by monitoring road surfaces and automatically adjusting engine and braking forces to any of the wheels to improve cornering. Of course, it’s an obvious must-have for anyone living in a region where winter weather brings snow.
Standard safety features include seven airbags; stability and traction control; and four-wheel disc brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, emergency brake assist, hill-start assist and downhill brake control, blind-spot detection, rearview camera, rear cross-traffic alert and lane-change assist.
Among standard features included in the $31,250 base price are a liftgate that opens automatically when the key fob is in the vicinity, keyless entry and ignition, dual-zone climate control, Blue Link telematics system, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, trip computer and a 6-speaker sound system with USB, Ipod and satellite radio integration.
Adding the $4,350 Ultimate package gets 19-inch alloy wheels, high-intensity-discharge headlights, panoramic sunroof, navigation system, ventilated front seats and heated rear seats, rear parking sensors, and a 12-speaker surround-sound audio system.
Factor in floor mats and the delivery charge and the manufacturer’s suggested retail price is $36,600.
As I said at the start, choosing the right sport-utility or crossover vehicle can be a difficult endeavor. A prospective buyer might be able to make the best choice by trying out the 2015 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T and then comparing it to other vehicles on the shopping list.
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