2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T Ultimate AWD: Looking backward.
Price: $39,875 as tested (just $1,800 for the Ultimate Tech Package, which added smart cruise, lane departure, automatic braking, bending lights, and more).
Marketer's pitch: "The perfect SUV for 5 VIPs."
Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver likes the "upscale interior, agreeable to drive, a features list as long as your leg," but not the "four-cylinder power in a V-6 class, light on standard safety gear, hoped-for fuel economy gone missing."
Reality: Hyundai is offering them at great discounts.
What's old: Usually I'll start out by mentioning what's new in a vehicle. And Hyundai and Kia reviews often focus on how far the vehicles have advanced, how strong a contender they are in the segment, blah, blah, blah.
So I took almost perverse pleasure in the general suckitude of the Santa Fe Sport. But this is a vehicle that's pretty much been around since 2013. And 2018 will be the final year for this design.
The two-row Santa Fe Sport will become just Santa Fe for 2019, while the three-row will become the Santa Fe XL.
Driver's Seat: Carmakers have fallen out of the habit of tossing a lot of buttons to the left side of the steering wheel. It's just as well — they're hard to see on the fly, and can be impossible to locate for newbies.
The Santa Fe I tested, though, made this an important part of vehicle operation.
To the left of the steering column reside eight buttons, for drive mode, steering-wheel heater, lane assist, and more.
While trying to change the drive mode to Sport, I managed to turn lane assist on and off three times and turn the steering-wheel heater on once. Then I couldn't find the steering-wheel heater button to turn it back off. Not ideal.
Most of these have moved to the console for the 2019 redesign.
Shifty: Furthermore, as shiftable automatics have become almost a necessity among automakers, most have realized that sliding the shifter to the right is the wrong direction. Then shifting happens away from Mr. Driver's Seat, making the shifting action harder and the driving position more awkward.
The Santa Fe looks to these bad old days for inspiration. On the bright side, shifting is easy and smooth.
In automatic mode, things work fine as well, although Sport mode will stay in lower gears longer than I'd like.
Up to speed: Anyway, dear readers, I apologize for my overstating the negative. I just rarely get to do that anymore.
But these complaints are fairly minor in the grand scheme. Much about the Santa Fe Sport is nice.
The acceleration of the 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo makes up for other shortcomings. The 240 horses seemed quicker than that, although a lot of accelerator pressure is required to get the most out of it. Sport mode helped a lot on this account, but overcompensated a bit with a touchy accelerator.
Zero to 60 is reported to take 7.6 seconds, according to Car and Driver.
On the road: I found the handling in the Santa Fe to be acceptable. Corners were nothing to write home about, though, even in Sport mode.
Highway cruising was comfortable, although winds could knock the tall vehicle around.
Up and down: Add the Hyundai Santa Fe to a spate of vehicles with adaptive cruise control systems that weren't smooth. The Santa Fe test vehicle had a distinct fast-slow cycle in its cruise setting, and was also disrupted noticeably when another vehicle came into range, and even curves and dips meant slowdowns.
Friends and stuff: Other journalists are calling this roomy, but the rear seat fails on all counts: foot room, legroom, and general comfort. The passable headroom is not enough to save it, nor is the general lack of a hump in the middle.
Keeping warm and cool: The vents blow an ill Santa Fe Sport wind as well. Their overdesigned shape makes directing the airflow tough.
Play some tunes: The stereo in the Santa Fe Sport offers top-notch sound and simple operation, with two knobs for tuning and volume.
Night shift: I could see OK, but Hyundai's given me more than one model now with weird headlight shadows — right in the upper middle. All night long, I'm thinking, "Deer? Deer? Deer?"
Fuel economy: I averaged about 21 mpg in the usual Mr. Driver's Seat Path of Instruction.
Where it's built: West Point, Ga.
How it's built: Consumer Reports predicts its reliability to be 4 out of 5, and it has received fours or fives since 2015.