By Jim Bray
It may not be particularly sporting when stacked up against the likes of the Porsche Macan and Jaguar F-Pace, but Hyundai's 2017 Santa Fe Sport costs a lot less and still manages to offer a lot of good stuff - including some fun - to its potential buyers.
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The Sport - a moniker that distinguishes the two row, five seat Santa Fe from the three row XL version - is said to have "over 350 all-new parts with new features" as well as 11 per cent better fuel mileage and, of course, new standard equipment.
There's plenty that isn't new, of course, but that isn't because Hyundai has become cheap (well, I really don't know their motivation) but because the Santa Fe's current generation is a pretty darn compelling vehicle already - a vehicle that, like the company that builds it, has earned its success.
Still available with two engine choices, Hyundai Canada's sample Santa Fe Sport came with the smaller but more interesting of the two engines available. It's a two litre four cylinder unit that's turbocharged and therefore offers more horses and torque (240/260 respectively) than the 2.4 litre four banger that's the other engine choice (185/178 hp/torque). Now, there's nothing wrong with the 2.4 litre unit, but in a "largish" vehicle such as this it doesn't provide as good a driving experience - let alone lane changing/passing/merging performance - as the turbo does.
And the turbo does! This little four banger puts out more poop than the V6 in my sport wagon (which is really quite annoying in some ways) and, while I'll take my little blue wagon as a personal choice any day (I'm more of a car guy than an SUV one), the Santa Fe is a darn fine ride nonetheless.
Hyundai claims the 2017 model year's tweaks represent approximately 25 per cent of the vehicle's total content, though obviously a lot of it is under the skin and therefore invisible. Still, stuff you can notice includes new headlights, grille, taillights, bumpers, a new wheel design, and standard LED daytime running lights with aerodynamic vents the manufacturer says improve airflow by shuttling air around the front wheels.
Inside, there's a new centre stack that comes with a five inch LCD touch screen. The new "ultimate" trim level gets you a bunch of convenience and safety equipment, such as a Multi-View Camera System, Adaptive Cruise Control with stop-and-go capability (it'll restore your speed even after you've stopped), Lane Departure Warning, Autonomous Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, HID headlights with Adaptive Cornering System, and an electronic parking brake. I could do without a lot of these, such as lane departure warning and an electronic parking brake (the latter of which means the Santa Fe won't be as much fun in snowy parking lots if you're feeling playful), but at least you can shut off the intrusive nannies.
Hyundai's sample also, er, sported all-wheel drive, which is standard on all but the lower trim levels (front wheel drive is standard on "lower" versions). Power gets from the turbo to the quartet of round, spinny things at the corners via a nicely-shifting six speed automatic transmission with no, alas, paddle shifters. Shifts are good and you can choose from three different drive modes (normal, eco, and sport - and guess which I preferred) to tweak the ride to your personality or politics.
Handling isn't overly sporty even in sport mode, but it's competitive in the segment. Oh, I'd still lean toward a Mazda CX-5 or VW Tiguan for the driving dynamics, but the Santa Fe's independent suspension (struts up front, multi-link buttocks) more than holds its own among such other competitors in the niche, such as the Toyota Rav4 and even the newer Honda CR-V.
Santa Fes also come with seven airbags, the usual safety nannies such as traction control, anti-lock brakes with brake assist, and there's also downhill brake control and hill start assist. A blind spot monitoring system is optional and I must confess to having made peace with such systems, though most are still too obtrusive.
As is Hyundai's tradition, Santa Fes come pretty loaded right out of the shipping container. Exterior features include a rear spoiler (which doesn't actually spoil the vehicle's rear!), roof side rails, windshield wiper de-icer (front), handsome 17 inch aluminum alloy wheels, heated (with timer) power adjustable exterior mirrors, trailer tow pre-wiring and, as all cars today should have, automatic headlights.
Inside, standard equipment includes manual climate control with auto defogging, iPod/USB/Auxiliary Input Jacks, a reasonable six speaker audio system, Bluetooth for hands-free phoning and streaming, power windows with driver's auto up/down, second row 40/20/40 split/folding seats, driver's seat power lumbar support, heated seats up front, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel with audio, cruise and Bluetooth controls, and more.
Naturally, you can option your Santa Fe up from there, and the list of stuff you can add is a long one, including:
The panoramic sunroof is lovely, and the "proximity-activated" power tailgate is very cool - you just stand behind the vehicle for a moment with the key fob on you and the Santa Fe opens the tailgate for you (don't let it hit you in the face!). This is a better approach than the ones where you have to wave your foot below the rear bumper, if you're a "sense-of-balance-less klutz" like me. Either system is handy, though, when your arms are full of groceries or beer.
Santa Fes start at $28,599 for the Sport 2.4 FWD. The Premium trim level (FWD) will cost you $31,099 and you can keep adding stuff till you reach the 2.0T Ultimate AWD with its MSRP of $44,599. That latter figure is getting up there, but for that load of lucre you're left with a lovely lorry.
Copyright 2017 Jim Bray
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