Hyundai Raises the Bar on the Santa Fe Sport

Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor America

2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport.

After all of 15 minutes inside Trader Joe’s, I made the short journey down the sidewalk to where I’d parked on the street. Approaching the silver crossover SUV, I stopped in my tracks. “Oops … that’s not it,” I said to myself, and realized that the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport was several spots farther down the block.

The vehicle I had mistakenly headed for was a current-generation Acura RDX, also in silver, also with a black interior, and also sporting large, handsome aluminum wheels. I stopped again about halfway between the two vehicles and did a comparison. They look somewhat alike, but then again, they don’t.

That very brief case of mistaken identity is a bit of a compliment to Hyundai, but not necessarily an insult to the more expensive Acura. True, Hyundai’s designers have at times taken a bit of liberty mimicking the look of other cars (the Genesis sedan comes to mind), but in reality there’s a certain look that many cars of a time period will embody.

Right now we’re in an era of somewhat blocky vehicles that have a few creases down the sides, stylized light clusters front and rear, and large wheel arches to suggest athleticism.

This latest generation of Santa Fe gets more competitive in terms of both looks and content. It wasn’t that long ago that many people could spot a Hyundai from quite a distance, and then dismiss it as a second-rate vehicle. Although the 2001 Santa Fe I vividly remember driving when it came out wasn’t awful (especially compared to previous offerings from Hyundai), it wasn’t something the style-conscious would necessarily lust after either.

The new Santa Fe Sport is definitely playing in that sweet spot of not-too-big yet not-too-small crossovers that many buyers seem to want, and that many car companies are offering. Two rows of seats with plenty of room (no third row for this one – there’s an almost identical looking but slightly longer Santa Fe with more seats), a big cargo area, reasonable fuel economy, and a reasonable tab to put one in your garage.

With the bigger Santa Fe, a V6 engine is the only one available, but the smaller and lighter Sport carries a choice of two four cylinders. The base engine is a 2.4 liter making a respectable 190 horsepower. The more powerful choice is Hyundai’s 2.0 liter GDI Turbo, which puts out an impressive 264 horsepower and moves the medium size sport utility along pretty smartly.

With either engine you get a smooth-shifting 6-speed automatic transmission, and all wheel drive is optional across the board. My test vehicle was an AWD 2.0 Turbo and it was just about perfect for both in-town and highway driving. EPA fuel mileage ratings won’t blow you away at 19 mpg city and 24 highway (for a combined figure of 21), but they’re typical for the class. The most frugal choice at the gas pump for the Santa Fe Sport would be the 2.4 with front wheel drive, promising 21 city and 29 highway.

Amenities are plentiful in this vehicle, following Hyundai’s tradition of offering more content for the price compared to the competition. The example I drove had the optional Leather and Premium Equipment Package as well as the Technology Package, both of which combined add $6,600 to the sticker price. But with those two packages, this vehicle lacks for absolutely nothing.

The navigation system is simple and straightforward, the telematics (Bluetooth hands-free connection and Hyundai’s BlueLink system) are world class, the leather seats are rich and supportive, and the sound system is as crisp as those on many really high-end vehicles.

Base price for a Hyundai Santa Fe Sport with two wheel drive is $24,450. (The AWD version starts at $26,200.) The Sport 2.0 Turbo AWD is the most expensive example and starts at $29,450. Add those two big option packages and you’re up in the $35,000 range.

And while that Acura RDX I almost mistook for the Santa Fe has an edge in many ways, one with similar equipment to the Hyundai would set you back about $4000 more.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ Twitter: @dave_kunz, Facebook: ABC7Dave

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