What happens if you build a full-size, front-wheel drive SUV? To answer that, I got Hyundai to drop off the company’s new Santa Fe Sport for a test. It’s almost as large as a Chevy Tahoe, has loads of space, a nifty panoramic sun roof, and has a 2.0 liter turbocharged engine that only sends power to the front wheels.
Why It Makes Perfect Sense
As stated above, most of SUVs on the road never see dirt, snow, ice, or mud. SUVs are used for hauling children, or antique furniture you bought at a roadside antique mall in Albuquerque. You see this ever day when you go to your local Target or Wal-Mart, as the lots are packed to the gills with full-size SUVs. They aren’t transporting timber, pulling a boat, or anything that would actually necessitate having a four-wheel drive vehicle. People just assume that SUVs are indestructible, and that makes them feel safe.
But given the greater regulations on fuel consumption and environmental impact on automakers, how do these companies bridge the gap between giving the consumer what they want, and meeting these new regulations. Simple, by creating SUVs like the Santa Fe Sport.
The Santa Fe (and Santa Fe Sport, like ours) is a new breed of full-size SUV. It still has all the room you could ask for with cargo space a plenty, and it easily fits four people and two dogs with a bunch of camping gear as we did during our test. Coupled to a striking exterior that is sure to appeal to the masses, it is perfect in its role as a family hauler.
However, where it differs from its brethren is in the power department. Hyundai coupled the big SUV with a 2.0 liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that only powers the front wheels. While that sacrifices capability off the road and in certain situations, it means Hyundai can make the big truck efficient in its everyday use. An AWD variant is also available.
While I had the SUV, I routinely received 24-27 miles per gallon, which for most full-size SUVs is unheard of. Compare that to the RWD or AWD Chevy Tahoe that only manages to get 16 miles per gallon in the city, and only 23 on the highway.
There is obviously a stark difference between the two. However, the space that you get in the Tahoe isn’t lost in the Santa Fe. It’s a clean design, efficient, and capable of hauling everything a normal SUV owner would haul.
So What to Make of it?
Given that the new Hyundai Santa Fe Sport is such a good family SUV, and it is as efficient as a smaller crossover, you’d think the story would end there. We’d give it our seal of approval and be done with it, but that’s not what is going to happen. The Santa Fe Sport is all those things, but it is also an SUV that doesn’t make sense in the realm of all other SUVs.
SUVs should be utility vehicles, meaning they need to be able to handle the rigors of a dual-purpose lifestyle. That means, at times, an SUV should be capable of going off-road, through muddy terrain, and up dirt roads with ease. A front-wheel drive SUV just doesn’t offer the same amount of capability that an all-wheel drive, or even four-wheel drive SUV offers.
Of course, 95% of people will never take their SUVs off-road, but they feel safer in knowing that if the time ever arises where they need to, they have an SUV capable of doing so. The Santa Fe Sport just isn’t that SUV. It’s a great SUV, but one that doesn’t live up to the rest of its competitors.
Will it sell? Most likely. People will definitely dig the ability to have a high riding, voluminous interior, and efficient SUV. And given that the starting price is just $25,000, it’s one of the best deals you can get for a full-size SUV. That said, it just isn’t a real SUV in my book.