American car buyers are enamored of crossovers, a clever bit of hucksterism that starts with an ordinary vehicle that excites no one, such as a compact sedan, and exchanges its body shell for one with a vaguely SUV-like shape. Next, a part-time all-wheel drive system is added, and the vehicle is named something outdoorsy or western sounding. Suddenly, it’s far easier to sell despite a price that’s thousands more than a sedan. And consumers willingly pay it.
What buyers typically get in return is a rolling Quonset Hut of suburban somnolence, a banal vehicle designed to deliver comfort and cargo space, not driving excitement. Its biggest surprise is no surprise. For most of us, that’s fine. After all, vanilla is still America’s bestselling ice cream flavor, while beige, gray and white are this nation’s top choice for house paint. So it’s no surprise that if you look down your cul-de-sac, you’ll see that the modern American driveway is one dreary nod to crossovers’ artless maturity, free from exuberance or imagination.
Which brings us to the 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport. The big news for 2018 is the addition of a $1,900 Value Package, which provides such niceties as heated power side mirrors, proximity key, pushbutton start, seven-inch display, Android Auto/Apple CarPlay, dual automatic climate control, power driver seat, heated front seats, front fog lights and roof rails.
It’s nestled in an interior that’s modern, up-to-date, easy to use and pleasingly roomy for the vehicle’s size, although the punishingly hard seats rival economy class airplane seats for comfort. And, surprisingly, there’s enough tire and road noise to ensure passengers can’t hear each other at highway speeds. Then again, maybe you don’t want to hear what others have to say.
The Santa Fe’s infotainment system is intuitive, although its screen seems small. The audio system delivers acceptable sound, but the embedded navigation system is abysmal. No matter how you adjust the settings, it will direct you to the longest, slowest route. Better to use your smartphone navigation app. The panoramic sunroof helped, since you could use the stars for navigation. Besides, it enhanced the cabin’s open, airy feeling.
Motivating the Santa Fe Sport is a 185-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder or a 240-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with front-wheel or all-wheel drive. Eco, Normal and Sport modes are optional, and each adjusts the throttle and transmissions response, although it seems to make little difference. Yet the turbo engine provides plenty of thrust — as well as noticeable turbo lag, the interminable pause between pressing the throttle and the moment when the turbo spools up and provides power. But it’s more than enough for most motorists. The ride is fairly comfortable without undue body motions. Cornering reveals expected body lean, but it’s not out of line for the segment. Steering feels responsive and accurate, although the turning circle seems a little wide for the size of the vehicle. Fuel economy was an unremarkable 21 mpg in mostly highway driving.
Safety and driver assistance features meet federal requirements but go no further, which is disappointing considering the test vehicle’s eye-popping $38,000-plus price tag.
If you’re considering towing, the Santa Fe Sport is rated for 2,800 pounds with the 2.4-liter, 3,500 pounds with the turbocharged 2.0-liter.
More impressive was the roomy cargo hold, which measures a sizeable 35.4 cubic feet with the rear seats in use, 71.5 cubic feet with them folded.
But this model is a short-timer; a new Santa Fe Sport is coming for 2019, when it will simply be called the Santa Fe. Meanwhile, the three-row Santa Fe becomes the Santa Fe XL when they go on sale this summer. The 2019 Santa Fe addresses many of the 2018 model’s shortcomings, including an impressive array of driver assistance features, a large infotainment screen and more space, although drivelines remain unchanged.
The Santa Fe Sport ably and tastefully performs its expected duties. Like too many other crossovers, the Santa Fe Sport is functional but artless. It doesn’t reward your spirit; it numbs it.
Color it gray or beige.
2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport
Base prices: $24,950-$37,200
Engines: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder
Torque: 260 pound-feet
Fuel type: Regular
EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 19/24
Wheelbase: 106.3 inches
Length: 185 inches
Cargo capacity: 35.4-71.5 cubic feet
Curb weight: 3,624-4,107 pounds
NHTSA rating: 5 stars