Choose Your Adventure: Small or Large Crossover, Regular or Sport

The Hyundai Santa Fe for model-year 2014 is the best SUV for you if you want a crossover that’s probably under your radar but likely to exceed your expectations. In fact, Hyundai thinks the vehicle is so nice, it named it twice.

To explain: When Hyundai redesigned its midsize crossover for model-year 2013, it created a regular-length five-passenger model and called it the Santa Fe Sport. Then it stretched the Sport by nine inches to make the longer, seven-seat model called, simply, the Santa Fe.

Both vehicles are basically carryovers for model-year 2014. And sales continue to rise, so they’re on someone’s radar.

The Santa Fe Sport outsells the Santa Fe and comes in a base model and as the turbocharged 2.0T, both with four-cylinder engines. The just-plain Santa Fe offers seven-seat GLS and six-passenger top-line Limited models, both with a V-6. While powertrains and styling are carried over, there are some notable updates for model-year 2014.

Available for the first time are blind-spot and rear-parking alerts. Xenon headlamps and LED taillights are new—they’re standard on the Sport 2.0T and Santa Fe Limited. And cooled front seats with power memory are added to the Technology Package, which is optional on all models. Curiously, the 2.0T now has 18-inch alloy wheels as standard instead of 19s.

The two SUVs target different audiences. The Sport is aimed at young marrieds and empty nesters and competes with compact crossovers like the Ford Escape and with midsizers like the Chevy Equinox. There’s a sporty taper to its rear-side windows. The longer Santa Fe is a rival for crossovers with three rows of seats, like the Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander. An extended roofline and larger rear windows signal its additional passenger and cargo room.

Just over half of Sport buyers choose the 190-horsepower base model. It gets a little winded with four adults and luggage aboard but won’t disappoint in everyday driving, rating a decent 23 mpg combined with front-wheel drive and 21 mpg with all-wheel drive. The 2.0T packs a 264-horsepower punch and essentially matches the economy ratings of the base model, though it costs a steep $5,700 more. For road manners, Sports hold their own with any mainstream crossover.

Although the larger Santa Fe’s extra bulk means it isn’t as nimble, it rides and handles in a league with most any three-row family SUV. Acceleration from the 290-horsepower V-6 is midpack, though a rating of 20 mpg combined for both front and AWD is near the top of its competitive set.

All versions of the vehicle share a handsome dashboard and cabin materials that equal anything in this class for quality. Front-seat room and comfort are outstanding, and the versatile second-row slides fore and aft—a convenience that’s optional on the base Sport and standard on all other Santa Fes. The third row is sized to suit your young teen, and it includes its own climate control. The Sport has more cargo room than many midsize five-seat crossovers. And while the longer Santa Fe will haul almost anything you could reasonably ask, it is only average for volume.

This is Hyundai, so these SUVs come standard with things that cost extra on rivals. The South Korean automaker is more liberal than most with features, too. For example, leather upholstery is standard or optional on every version of this crossover. Navigation, a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, and a panoramic sunroof are available across the board, as well.

Santa Fes start at $25,605 with front drive and $27,35 with AWD, and you might want to look at this SUV instead if you’re considering a Toyota RAV4. The spunky 2.0T begins at $31,305 with front drive and $33,055 with AWD, and comes nicely equipped with leather upholstery, automatic climate control, heated front seats and blind-spot detection.

Apparently, the young, single Santa Fe Sport buyer is okay driving a vehicle that shares a name with one aimed at the family of five. Maybe Hyundai’s strategy is to get the family guy to identify with the single guy.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]