Test Drive: Santa Fe Sport is just right

The U.S.-built Hyundai Santa Fe Sport is among the frontrunners in the quest to right-size the modern sport-utility vehicle. Bigger than the compact Tucson but smaller than the midsize, three-row Santa Fe, the 2018 Santa Fe Sport hits the sweet spot between too big to drive comfortably and too small to perform the tasks normally assigned to an SUV.

The Santa Fe Sport serves as a light-duty SUV thanks to its available all-wheel drive and 7.3-inch ground clearance. With an independent suspension, optional 2.0-liter, 240-horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, 6-speed automatic transmission and ample room front and back, it serves well as a passenger car, too.

Smaller and more nimble than the bulky Santa Fe, the Sport is less expensive and somewhat more fuel-efficient. Our test car averaged a little less than 24 miles per gallon in mostly highway driving, about what most drivers can expect. That’s good but not class-leading. Equipped with the normally aspirated, 184-horsepower, 2.4-liter inline Four, the Sport consumes a little less fuel, averaging as much as 21 mpg city, 27 highway, with front-wheel drive.

Our Nightfall Blue test car was fully loaded, with the Ultimate package and all-wheel drive. The list of standard features included heated and air-conditioned front seats, heated steering wheel, heated rear outboard seats, blind-spot monitoring, navigation system, surround camera, panoramic sunroof, dual-zone climate control, hands-free power liftgate and leather upholstery. For $1,600, the Ultimate Tech Package added smart cruise control, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, and auto-leveling headlights that bend with the curves in the road. Bottom line? $39,875, or about $15,000 more than the price of a basic Santa Fe Sport with front-wheel drive and the 2.4-liter Four.

The Santa Fe Sport also is loaded with small but pleasing touches, such as the multiple small compartments under the rear cargo deck. This makes up somewhat for the relative shortage of spaces for small items in front.

Naturally, the competition in this segment is fierce. Slotted between the compact and midsize categories, the Santa Fe Sport competes with the Chevrolet Equinox, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, Ford Escape, Mazda CX-3 and CX-5, Toyota RAV-4, Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester, Nissan Murano and Rogue, and the Dodge Journey…to name just a few. The premium Japanese brands and even the European automakers also are in the game. Our favorites in this segment are the Equinox, CX-5, Murano and CR-V.

Sales of the Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport, combined, exceeded 130,000 in the U.S. market last year. These cars do well because of their extensive warranties, long standard-equipment lists and competitive performance. They also bring good safety records to the table. The Santa Fe Sport achieved an overall 5-star rating in government crash tests, and has been rated a Top Safety Pick Plus by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T Ultimate AWD

Price: $39,875

Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged inline Four, 240 horsepower, 260 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: 6-speed shiftable automatic

Drive: all-wheel

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear

Curb weight: 3,898 lb.

Ground clearance: 7.3 in.

Wheels: 19-in. alloy

Tires:  P235/55R19 all-season

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 35.4 cu. ft.

Maximum cargo capacity: 71.5 cu. ft.

Maximum towing capacity: 3,500 lb.

Fuel capacity: 17.4 gal.

Fuel economy: 19 mpg city, 24 highway

Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline

Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.

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