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2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport Ultimate: Ultimate, no. Quite nice, yes

By G. R. Whale

Oct. 7, 2016

Larger and more comfortable than Tucson, not so big as Santa Fe XL, Sport 2.0T is a sprightly five-seater, Ultimate trim packed with gadgets and systems to rival “entry luxury” utes. But Hyundai always had that, now they bring style and performance.

Pros & Cons

  • + Smooth, strong engine
  • + Value for money
  • + Rear seat space
  • - Throttle response
  • - Forgettable styling
  • - Some poorly-placed controls
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  • Walkaround

    Making a midsize crossover distinctive, as demonstrated by parking adjacent a Ford Edge and looking head-on, is not easy: Neither identical nor distinctive, and more aggressive than the XL. The rear is different, upswept line into small quarter windows—which only the dog can see through — and a twin-square tailpipe lifted from any autobahn flagship.

  • Interior

    A wealth of textures from luxurious leather on the wheel to padded reptilian-skin grained dash keep Sport contemporary even in basic black. It doesn’t strike me luxurious but more important, I don’t feel slighted or like compromises were made.

    There’s room for five—I fit in the middle rear too—and 1,003 litres seat up, 2,025 with the 40/20/40 arrangement folded; useful underfloor bins carry tools or wet shoes, and there’s a spare underneath. A sliding middle row brings infants closer and expands room for diapers and strollers behind, while adults are well cared for with good cushioning, pillar AC vents and window shades that kept blazing sun at bay. Ventilated seats up front delay AC use by a few degrees and these worked better on low than some pricier cars on max.

    Switchgear, controls and touchscreen are generally well laid out and intuitive with two exceptions. Of the seven dash switches to the left—including drive mode, hill descent, lane-departure, and blind-spot you might wish to switch while driving—I could see two from my driving position and my short friends could see none. And some dash display menu functions identified by a right arrow are activated by the down/left button on the wheel.

  • Tech

    I find Hyundai’s touchscreen as easy to use as FCA’s Uconnect—intuitive, quick to respond, easy to pair and so on. Soon I expect you’ll hold your cameraphone over a part of the car and the appropriate owner manual page or operating instructions will appear. The 2017 Santa Fe Sport has AndroidAuto but it does not have CarPlay.

    The smart tailgate will open for you if you stand nearby a few seconds and the active cruise control is said to be stop-and-go…I just went. Blind-spot and lane-departure warnings were unobtrusive but the automatic emergency braking seemed to assume I could see nothing in front of me and stabbed the brakes four times when I didn’t want them. What annoyed me was that I had to stop and engage park before any change could be made.

  • Driving

    The top trio of six Sport trims are turbo 2.0-litre all-wheel drive, a good thing since 260 lb-of torque at just 1,450 rpm (more than XL’s 3.3 V6) can smoke the tires on a front-drive with traction control defeated. And even in normal drive mode that lusty lunge comes easily, the gas pedal requiring a light touch for the smoothest ride but not so bad it sent me to “eco” mode. It’s not really fast but I’d readily accept the turbo’s consumption penalty (about 0.5 l/100km) for the superior power and refinement.

    Power ratings drop so NRC values improve to 12.5/9.6; Sport is less than 30 kg lighter than the XL so economy is not its strong suit. Using my best tip-toe I did 9.0 highway, 12.6 city and averaged 10.3 l/100km.

    On smooth roads Sport is quiet, stable and comfortable, giving the impression it has firm spring rates and soft damping. On subpar roads there’s more body motion—boingy may be the technical term—and some sharp impact harshness from lower-profile tires. Visibility’s fine forward, and average rearward given the absent quarter view, helped by a camera system.

    Towing capacity is up to 1,588 kg; that, the third row and more cargo space the XL’s principal advantages.

  • Value

    It’s stylish, potent and competitive; the warranty factor adds further appeal. At $45,000 loaded it fares well against similar Edge ($50,000) and Envision ($53,000) turbos, Murano ($44,000) and RDX ($49,000) V6s with better NRC ratings; the longer flagship XL Ultimate is $49,000. The thirstier Terrain V6 ($44,000) and V6 Venza ($41,000) feel a bit dated, the best value challenger the lighter, nimbler Forester XT Limited Tech at $40,000.

    8.9Very good
  • Conclusion

    In lesser trims the Sport is a bona fide alternative to the likes of RAV4, CR-V and so on, while in Ultimate turbo trim it straddles delineations between everyday crossover and more premium models. Either way, the value proposition and styling work in its favor.

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