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Car Report: Hyundai Santa Fe Sport muscles into the small crossover market

Monday - 6/23/2014, 5:04am  ET

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The Hyundai Santa Fe Sport's looks draw compliments, and it's a versatile performer, too. (WTOP/Mike Parris)
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WASHINGTON -- The Hyundai Santa Fe Sport is a smaller version of the three-row, mid-size Santa Fe, which I tested a few months ago. As I tested the Sport, I wondered how it would compare to the mid-size version and if losing some space and only offering four-cylinder engines make the Santa Fe Sport less of a Santa Fe.

I spent a week with a loaded $33,500 Santa Fe Sport FWD with the base 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. Its 190 hp is about normal for its class -- the Sport never felt underpowered. Still, Hyundai offers an optional 264 hp turbo engine for people just like me, and it only costs one mpg in fuel economy.

The Santa Fe Sport is a strong, small crossover with space for five and two engine choices from mild to more wild. With a starting price of $25,000 and available options and packages, you can turn this Hyundai from a nice crossover to one with luxury items not usually found in the small crossover market.

I liked that Hyundai's roomy, decked-out interior, and its strong V6 made it a competitive SUV.

The Santa Fe FWD has a city rating of 20 mpg and 27 mpg on the highway. I managed 24.5 mpg in 342 miles of mixed driving, a little better than what the sticker says. Some in the class manage a few miles per gallon more than the Sport.

The Sport is happy doing the child drop-off at school or tackling a road trip in quiet comfort that not every small crossover can match. I liked driving it; it's easy to maneuver and does a nice job soaking up bumps. I would like to sample the turbo engine, but the base 2.4-liter is good for most.

The Santa Fe Sport looks good to my eye. My wife -- who is usually oblivious to most of the cars that hit our driveway -- commented on its good looks, too. Even the stylish grey wheels, which really stood out against the rich-looking frost white pearl color, received some compliments. The Santa Fe Sport does a good job of standing out in a very competitive small crossover segment with a more aggressive look.

The interior offers the optional Premium Equipment package and Technology package that includes power heated and ventilated leather front seats and heated seats for the back-seat passengers. A big panoramic sunroof lets in the rays and breeze when fully opened, and the large screen for the NAV and radio controls can be seen when the roof is open, which isn't always the case in similar vehicles.

The rest of the interior is well done, with mostly soft-touch materials, and the two-tone dash looks good. The partially beige dashboard caused some glare from the sun on the windshield, so maybe consider an all-black dash. But that aside, it's a very nice interior, with good room for adults in front and back. There is also a decent amount of room in the back, on par or bigger than anything in its class, which really made it an easy travel vehicle with two children in tow. I missed not having a power rear hatch.

Editor's Note: Mike Parris is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association. The vehicles are provided by STI ,FMI or Event Solutions for the purpose of this review.

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