The 2015 Santa Fe Sport is a five-passenger crossover that straddles the line between compact and midsize. As with most Hyundai models, the Santa Fe Sport is known for packing loads of standard features into a spacious, nicely styled interior for a reasonable price. Hyundai also boasts the best drivetrain warranty in the business. While the Santa Fe Sport might not be as truly sporty to drive as its name suggests, it's a fine alternative to rivals like the Ford Escape and Honda CR-V.
What Is It?
The 2015 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport is the five-seat version of Hyundai's larger three-row crossover called the Santa Fe. Slightly smaller dimensions mean that the Santa Fe Sport competes mainly with other compact vehicles like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. Even though it has a higher stance than a sedan, and is technically referred to as a sport-utility vehicle, the Santa Fe Sport isn't designed to tackle anything more serious than an average dirt road. Front-wheel drive comes standard, with all-wheel drive available optionally.
For 2015, Hyundai made a few small changes to the Santa Fe Sport that include refinements to its steering and suspension systems in an effort to enhance feel and increase lateral stiffness, respectively. New standard features include daytime running lights and an auto up/down front passenger power window. Also available for the first time on the Santa Fe Sport is Hyundai's hands-free automatic liftgate.
The Santa Fe Sport measures 184.6 inches overall and rides on a 106.3-inch wheelbase. While that makes it 8.5 inches shorter than the three-row Santa Fe, the Sport model is around 4-6 inches longer than the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-5 and Toyota RAV4. In this case size really does matter, as the Santa Fe Sport's 143.4 cubic feet of interior volume is several cubic feet more than what its rivals offer.
Two engines are available in the Santa Fe Sport. The base version has a 2.4-liter four-cylinder rated at 190 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque, while the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (tested here) is rated at 264 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque. Both engines come mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and both are available with all-wheel drive.
What Body Styles and Trim Levels Does It Come in?
The base model with front-wheel drive and the 2.4-liter four-cylinder starts at $25,845, with the all-wheel-drive version beginning at $27,595. Standard items include alloy wheels, heated side mirrors, cruise control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth and a six-speaker audio system with USB and aux-in ports.
Pricing for the 2.0T begins at $32,145. All-wheel drive tacks on another $1,750. Extra standard features here include the hands-free/auto-opening liftgate (the liftgate automatically opens if you stand behind the vehicle with the key fob in your pocket for about 3 seconds), a rearview camera, leather, power/heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, rear side-window sunshades, plus rear cross-traffic alert and blind-spot monitoring.
Our front-wheel-drive 2.0T test vehicle was equipped with the Ultimate package ($4,350), which includes HID headlights, LED taillights, a navigation system with an 8.0-inch touchscreen, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, rear parking sensors and a 12-speaker, 550-watt Infinity audio system. Carpeted floor mats tacked on a further $125 for an as-tested price of $36,600.
How Does It Drive?
The Santa Fe Sport has a very easy-going character. The gas pedal has a supple delivery, the steering is light and the brakes aren't the least bit touchy. While in general we enjoy the plentiful power of the 2.0T engine, it can feel hesitant when initially leaving a stoplight thanks to a bit of lag from the turbocharger. Once it gets going, though, it has great midrange punch that makes merging with fast-moving highway traffic easy.
At our test track the Santa Fe Sport hit 60 mph in 7.5 seconds, which is about midpack for small SUVs with upgraded engines. The six-speed automatic shifts smoothly but can actually be overly responsive at times, downshifting more than we'd like when adding just a bit of extra throttle at speeds around 45-60 mph. At the same time, it did a nice job holding 6th gear up a long, 70-mph grade.
While we weren't thrilled with the feel and feedback of the Santa Fe Sport's electric-assist steering in the past, the changes for 2015 are noticeable. The steering effort is driver-adjustable but we found Normal mode the most natural. It gives a light effort at low speeds for parking lot duty, yet firms up nicely at higher speeds or when you point it through a corner. Through those corners the Santa Fe Sport showed good poise and a responsive chassis.
While Hyundai improved the Santa Fe Sport's handling maneuvers, the ride quality is on the harsh side for the class. It's best described as unrefined, particularly any time you hit serious bumps, which in turn transmit those big hits directly to the cabin and its occupants. On most roads it won't beat you up, but the Honda CR-V is more comfortable in this respect.
Another sore point for the Santa Fe Sport is its poor rearward visibility, though this is a common issue in the segment. The body sweeps dramatically upward at the rear toward thick pillars, causing big blind spots. The rear window is thankfully wide, though not overly tall. Helping with these issues are the standard rearview camera and blind-spot detection. The view toward the front is considerably better, with slim windshield pillars and tall side windows.
On the plus side, this is a quiet vehicle. Yes, you can always hear the four-cylinder engine to some degree, but it's nice and smooth and even at full-throttle it doesn't get unruly in the least. The tires are near-silent and there's almost no wind noise to speak of.
What's the Interior Like?
The interior shows plenty of style, with interesting textures and shapes, in particular the angled center dash vents. But between the fake wood trim and two-tone dash, our test car had maybe too much "style" going on. Buttons and knobs are well labeled, fairly large and offer decent feel, if not quite as much heft-in-action as some rivals. The window switches have a cool design but edges can feel sharp on your fingers. The optional 8-inch center touchscreen (a 4.3-inch version comes standard) has large icons and is easy to use.
The front seats have a nice, wide perch that will suit adults of many shapes and sizes. The cushions are on the firm side and the standard leather covering on the 2.0T model isn't overly supple, but they're acceptable for reasonably long drives. There's power-adjustable lumbar support for the driver seat, too, if that's a must-have for you.
The rear seats envelop you more than the fronts, improving the comfort quotient. Also helping here is infinitely adjustable rear seatback rake. Those rear seats can also slide fore-aft in a 60/40 split.
Headroom isn't overly abundant front or rear, although it should be enough space for all but truly tall folks. Elbow room is decent, aided by a wide center armrest for the front-seat occupants. A slim center console means the driver's right knee isn't constantly rubbing up against it. Rear passengers will appreciate the ample foot space underneath the front seats.
If there's one drawback we noticed to the overall comfort level, it's the armrests. They could all use more padding, as it feels as if Hyundai simply put a swath of leather over the hard plastic.
How Does It Stack Up in Terms of Cargo and Storage Space?
When it comes to cargo, there are 35.4 cubic feet of space behind the rear seat, which grows to 71.5 with the seatbacks dropped. Those numbers are slightly better than most rivals, save the Toyota RAV4, which nips it by a couple of cubic feet in both categories.
We like that the rear seatbacks can be dropped via levers in the cargo compartment. We don't like that the levers need a sturdy pull and, even then, the seats don't fully drop down on their own. You'll need to give them an extra shove to make them go down all the way.
Hyundai did a nice job when it comes to small-item storage. There are good-size door pockets, a large front bin (with USB/aux-in jacks and twin charger ports) and about the most perfectly sized two-tiered center armrest compartment ever designed.
What Safety Features Does It Offer?
Standard safety features for the 2015 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport include antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, front-seat side airbags, side curtain airbags, a driver knee airbag, active front head restraints, a hill-holder feature and hill descent control.
A rearview camera and a blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert are optional on the base model and standard on the 2.0T. The blind-spot monitor includes a supplemental system called lane-change assist, which measures the closing speed of the car in the adjacent lane and warns you if it's too high.
Also optional on the base trim and standard on the 2.0T is Hyundai's Blue Link telematics system, which offers roadside assistance, crash response, remote door lock control and electronic parameters for parents with teenage drivers (including speed, geo-fencing and curfew limits).
In government crash testing, the Santa Fe Sport earned a perfect five-star rating overall, with five stars for total frontal-impact safety and five stars for total side-impact safety. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the Santa Fe Sport its top score of "Good" in the moderate-overlap frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength crash tests. The Santa Fe Sport's seat/head restraint design was also rated "Good" for whiplash protection in rear impacts.
In our 60-0-mph panic-brake test, the 2015 Santa Fe Sport 2.0T stopped in 127 feet, which is slightly longer than average for the class. The car exhibits noticeable nosedive when you apply full brakes and there was significant brake odor from the first stop on. By the end of the test, the brakes were smoking badly. In around-town driving the brakes offered good modulation, but the longish pedal travel conspired to make the brakes feel underpowered at times.
What Kind of Fuel Economy Can You Expect?
The base Santa Fe Sport gets a combined EPA rating of 23 mpg (20 city/27 highway). That puts it 6 mpg down in combined mileage versus the Honda CR-V, and around 3 mpg worse than several of its other rivals. The all-wheel-drive model gets a slightly lower fuel economy rating at 21 mpg combined (19 city/25 highway).
The front-drive Santa Fe Sport 2.0T Ultimate that we tested is rated to deliver 22 mpg in combined driving (19 city/26 highway). We averaged 22.9 mpg on our highway-heavy evaluation loop and 21.8 mpg overall during its entire stay with us. So although the rated numbers aren't great, they are easily achievable.
What Are Its Closest Competitors?
The Santa Fe Sport offers fashionable styling inside and out, a roomy interior, perfect crash test scores and a powerful turbocharged engine option. And then there's that great warranty.
2015 Ford Escape: A bit smaller than the Hyundai, so overall interior volume and cargo room suffer, as does small-item storage. But the Ford hits back with a fun-to-drive demeanor and a high-quality cabin along with three engines to choose from, including two that are turbocharged.
2015 Honda CR-V: The class of this class, with fantastic fuel mileage, a well-engineered cabin (including nifty, self-folding rear seats) and a comfy ride. Beyond some awkward touchscreen controls, the Honda does nearly everything well, and pricing starts about $1,500 below that of the Hyundai. As with the Toyota RAV4, though, there is no engine upgrade available.
2015 Subaru Outback: More station wagon than SUV, the Outback is an alternative choice. The interior volume and standard cargo capacity are more or less the same as in the Santa Fe Sport, and it has slightly better max cargo capacity with the rear seats folded. The extra 1.4 inches of ground clearance over the Santa Fe Sport speaks to the Subaru's capabilities off-road. Base pricing is nearly identical, but the Outback's six-cylinder is $1,700 more expensive than the Hyundai's turbo-4.
2015 Toyota RAV4: Closest in size to the Santa Fe Sport, the Toyota delivers commendable passenger room at a slightly less expensive base price. The ride is smoother than the Hyundai, but its four-cylinder engine only makes 176 hp and Toyota doesn't offer a turbo upgrade like the Santa Fe Sport.
Why Should You Consider This Car?
With the turbocharged engine and improved chassis dynamics for 2015, the Santa Fe Sport provides a fun-to-drive character along with classy styling on the outside, a practical design on the inside and plenty of passenger and cargo room.
Why Should You Think Twice About This Car?
If you're concerned about fuel economy, the Santa Fe Sport, with either of its engines, is not the most economical choice. Its ride is also a bit unrefined versus most rivals, and the front seats aren't quite cushy or supportive enough for all-day road trips.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.