Being average isn’t necessarily a bad thing. On one hand, you will never make anything of yourself, be famous, be extraordinary, or make any great contribution to the world. That’s pretty bleak. On the other, you’ll never fail miserably, you’ll never be evil in any way, nor will you contribute to the downfall of civilization as we know it. Sure an average existence is not all that interesting, puttering along every day just, well, being there. It could be worse. Average-ness when it comes to something like an automobile applies the same type of formula: will never be a Ferrari, but thank the heavens I’m not an Aztek.
SUVs seems to fit into this average categorically perfectly. Namely, small SUVs. And while the term SUV still applies to vehicles like the Santa Fe Sport, as they are sporty when compared to others such as trucks, and utilitarian in nature, why not just continue to call them small SUVs? Mini SUVs? We’ve plunged headfirst into calling autos like this “crossovers” because of their ability to sit on a car’s platform while delivering car/sedan feel with a higher seating position and extra ground clearance. The illusion of safety.
This is something that many car companies attempt, but rarely get right, leading them into a life of mediocrity and camouflage, blending in with the surrounding traffic jam as if they only have existed in that moment since birth. Honda’s CRV, Toyota’s RAV4, and Mazda’s CX-5 seem to have an excellent formula as they are the class leaders in the mid-size, crossover category. The other offerings seem to be endless: Hyundai has the Santa Fe, Santa Fe Sport, and Tuscan. Jeep, the Patriot and Renegade. Honda, the aforementioned CRV and HRV. Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, Chevrolet Trax, Subaru XV Crosstrek, Kia Sportage, Mini Countryman, Ford Escape, the list is nearly endless. So why with so many different types and makes do these daily driving bantamweights, do nothing more than transport and do even less to inspire? The Santa Fe Sport was the perfect vehicle with which to answer this question.
The Santa Fe isn’t a looker, nor is it ugly. It blends in perfectly to the scenery of any highway in the country, poodling about during it’s daily routine. And Poodling about is what it does best with it’s 190hp/181lb-ft engine. It weighs just over 3600 pounds and it feels as though that’s exactly what the engine is attempting to move. It’s outclassed by others in the segment and to really get that sporty feel you want in a small SUV, you’ll need to get the 2.0T engine that delivers 265hp/269lb-ft. Unless you like poodling about. In which case, the 2.4L with less power is right up your alley.
The engine is fine in all honesty, but it’s not my cup of tea. There are other issues with the other parts that make the Santa Fe go, namely the accelerator pedal. Press it firmly from a stop and you’ll get a nice bite from the AWD system. You’ll also have to wait at least a second or two as the car decides to get moving. Nearly every application of the gas needs to be planned in advance due to the hesitation. Want to get ahead of that 18-wheeler on the highway? Better make sure you have ample room. Want to pull away from that stop sign? Make sure no one is coming. The hesitation is bad.
Then there’s the whole deal of the automatic transmission. In the most used “Drive” position, the car seems to be perfectly fine though at least once a day it was confused as to what gear it should be in. For example, when cruising at 70 mph on the highway, say you would like to change lanes and get around a slower moving vehicle; a normal every driving occurrence. The accelerator was pressed, we waited the predefined time of a few days for the car to kick down two gears, and we were on our merry way. But when we were back to 70, 4th gear persisted at 5000 RPMs. We waited. And waited. And waited. There was no change to 5th or 6th for cruising speed. So the car was put in sport shifting mode, did the manual gear selection ourselves, and all was well. The same case happened even more often in eco mode, which we’re fairly certain was just a button that would light up a green notification on the dash showing the word “eco” as it seemed like it did nothing more. Eco mode showed no significant economy gains at all in testing or two long highway trips. A 0.2 mpg gain should not equal an eco mode. 2-4 MPG is sufficient in a mode like this. The sport shifter was also a puzzling choice for a car in this class. Economy is right on par with EPA ratings and, as with many cars, you can beat those ratings with a light right foot. Combined MPGs were observed at 24, but touched 28 on a longer highway trip, regardless of what mode was selected. Certain models, *coughCX-5cough*, could use paddle shifters or semi-manual, sport shifting modes. The Santa Fe should not. It’s neither sporty or quick enough to merit this transmission. We cannot speak to the 2.0t engine for this particular transmission mode, but on the less powerful engine, it’s kind of pointless.
However all of this pales in comparison to the conundrum you’re faced with when you decide how hard you want the vents to blow out. The dial indicates 1, 2, 3, or 4 meaning you have 4 different fan speeds to choose from. I can only sum them up with the following descriptions: 1 = someone whispering, 2 = someone blowing air out of their mouths attempting to get seeds off a dandelion, 3 = tornado, 4 = the great storm on Jupiter that’s be raging for millions of years. That’s it. There is no in between and it was infuriating. You’d think you could get more than 4 fan speeds in a car these days. This is really being nit picky, but in a commuter car the little things really add up since you’re using the car every single day at least twice. If this was a weekend only Bentley, one could live with quirky little foibles.
There is, however, good news. There are redeeming qualities to the Santa Fe Sport. For starters, there is ample room in the front seats, back seats, and trunk and if you fold the back seats down, there is enough room to move out of your apartment should your significant other throw your stuff out the window because you didn’t do the dishes for the 30th day in a row.
The comfort level is also pretty good. The lumbar support on our tester was broken (at 9500 miles mind you, though we chalked that up to other testers not knowing how hard to press the obviously flimsy plastic button), but when we were able to get it back to a normal, non-hernia inducing position, seat and ride comfort were above average. Storage was ample and necessary as this will mostly be driven by families with children or ones that are thinking of having children. Steering is electronic and felt it, but the 3 modes of comfort, normal, and sport weighted up the steering nicely even though there wasn’t great feedback. This is not a sports car and it behaves as such. Visibility is good though the blindspot is a bit of a tricky situation and when looking back to the left, the b-pillar and the upward curve of the back windows work against you to see. Everytime something positive about this car is found, a negative crops up to continue it’s average life theme.
If you’re looking for something reliable, the Santa Fe Sport will do the trick. More than any other car maker in the past 10-15 years, Hyundai has led the way in improved reliability. Honestly, they’ve lead the way in overall brand improvement during the same time period. Therefore, if you’re looking for a family hauler this will do just fine.
As we’ve gathered from driving this car, and also as we’ve observed in the world surrounding us, having an average existence really isn’t as bad as it seems. We’re so deep, man. A decent job, decent pay, and a decent, but never exemplary, life might seem boring and routine to the untrained eye. However, in reality it’s a bit noble. To continue fourth knowing you’ll never aspire or reach the pinnacle of pretty much anything, yet continuing to do your job and keeping your nose to the grindstone, is how many families exist in our time. And future generations are thankful because of it as there may be greatness that lies ahead, birthed from a predecessor’s hard work. Enter the Santa Fe Sport. It’ll never be a Range Rover Evoque, nor a mid-90s KIA Sportage, but as cars go, you can do much worse.