Don't let the name fool you: The Hyundai Santa Fe Sport isn't a mere trim level of the Santa Fe, but a crossover with a distinct design -- one that bridges the gap between the Tucson and the "large" Santa Fe. In other words, "Sport" means "smaller" here, rather than sporty.
The Sport itself is available with two engines and in three trim levels; the junior model in the range uses a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter four-cylinder good for 185 hp and 178 lb-ft of torque. But the 2.0T Ultimate, the range-topping version, is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged gasoline four producing 240 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque; this Santa Fe Sport does indeed have some power, if not much actual sporting ability, with a six-speed automatic doing the shifting.
Hyundai updated both versions of the Santa Fe a year ago, giving the range plenty of standard equipment, including blind-spot indicators, LED headlights accents, a rearview camera, a touchscreen radio and three driving modes: eco, sport and standard.
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The 240 horses propel the Sport without much noise or drama, and Hyundai has done a good job of keeping tire and wind noise at bay. Acceleration comes with moderate nose lift, but dive on hard braking is well controlled -- about on par with the smaller Tucson.
Hyundai's interiors and ergonomics have taken a turn for the better in recent years, and the logical layout of the center stack is a reflection of this. If you are a fan of buttons instead of menu-spelunking, you'll be happy in the driver's seat of the Santa Fe Sport -- there are buttons with easy-to-read labels everywhere. It takes no time at all to get used to all the controls; this is one of those vehicles where everything is right where you expect it. That's no small achievement in an industry still filled with many systems of varying levels of complexity. The user interface of the Santa Fe Sport is a welcome dose of ease and simplicity.
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Fuel economy figures are pretty close together across the three trim levels, so the question of picking the engine comes down to how much money you'd like to spend: The 2.0T Ultimate is approximately $11,000 more than the base Sport with the 2.4-liter. That's a lot of money for the stouter engine and extra features and puts the 2.0T Ultimate well into larger Santa Fe territory.
The Sport with the 2.0-liter turbo actually starts at $32,595, but with the addition of the Ultimate trim, which includes pretty much all the equipment offered, you can be looking at an out-the-door price north of $38,000; the vehicle I drove was optioned up to $40,820, at which point it makes more sense to just buy the regular Santa Fe or head for a Tucson for substantial savings.
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