The warrior in my garage, clad in bellicose black bumper-to-bumper, didn’t really look much more ferocious than the irate possum I tangled with last week.
It won, incidentally, dismissing me and my broom with a flat, slightly amused stare – sort of like some of my dates.
Considering the battles ahead for the 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe, though, I figured it might arrive wearing thick sheets of armor with some sort of blazing Mad Max gun on top.
As you probably know, the nicely styled mid-size Santa Fe must grapple for sales with vehicles such as the bully-boy Ford Explorer, the solid, stolid Toyota Highlander and the recently restyled Chevy Traverse.
Firefights echo daily through that segment.
To make matters even more challenging, Hyundai currently builds only two crossovers – two models of the Santa Fe and the compact Tucson – in a market where buyers continue to abandon cars for crossovers.
No wonder the 2018 Santa Fe Sport I had recently looked a tad tightly wound.
The Sport, of course, is the slightly smaller version with two rows of seats, while the regular Santa Fe serves as the larger, more family-oriented three-row crossover.
Think of the Sport as kind of the Sex and the City version and it seems more exciting for a couple of days.
My Sport wanted to be noticed, too, flashing a shapely over-sized three-bar grille flanked by glaring, swept-back headlamps.
Although its sides were fairly flat and thick, a prominent character line up high and a more subtle one down low tightened the sides.
High-mounted taillamps wrapped around the hatchback, while oddly shaped rear windows with limited visibility occasionally made me wonder if I had just bunted a Mini to the curb when I changed lanes. Oops.
Moreover, the Sport rolled on kind of drab 19-inch chrome-black wheels wrapped with average-size 235/55 tires.
Look closely, though, and you will notice two square-shaped, satin-tipped exhaust pipes protruding from the lower right corner of the rear-end.
They flowed from a turbocharged 2-liter, four-cylinder engine with 240 horsepower as part of the “2.0T Ultimate” package.
Unfortunately, it really wasn’t. Beginning in 2016, Hyundai decided to detune the turbo 2-liter motor for better fuel economy, removing 24 horsepower and 40 lb.-ft. of torque in the process.
Still, the Santa Fe stands as an attractive sub-$40,000-crossover with a turbocharged engine, which gives it some distinction – not to mention pretty decent pull past 4,000 rpm.
Although the engine felt a little soft down low, it would chirp the front tires once it spooled up, winding to 6,000 rpm pretty willingly.
Sixty-mph rolled around in a respectable 7.5 seconds, according to Car and Driver, and the Sport was rated at 20 miles per gallon in the city and 27 on the highway – not bad for something that weighed nearly two tons.
While not the fastest crossover in the segment, the Santa Fe still had plenty of power for merging onto fast-moving freeways and jousting with all the urban banzai traffic out there.
The Sport’s six-speed automatic seemed kind of slow sometimes to downshift and a bit dated with all the 8- and 10-speed trannies out there.
Most of the time, it did its job smoothly and efficiently.
Likewise, the Sport leaned some in fast corners – what do you expect from a high-rider? — but kept its composure, delivering a good ride over even mildly rough pavement.
It managed all of that as a front-wheel-drive model. (All-wheel-drive, of course, is an option.)
As always with modern vehicles, the Sport’s steering felt novocaine numb, but was well-weighted and precise otherwise.
Meanwhile, the Sport’s black interior on top of its metallic black exterior and mostly black wheels sometimes felt like a coal-truck, but it all looked reasonably upscale.
Curvy door-panels, for example, complemented a swoopy, pleasant dashboard that wrapped around a large center-stack.
Personally, I’d like to see big center-stacks go the way of spinner hubcaps and vinyl tops, but at least the Sport’s stack offered buttons and knobs for all the controls, as well as active cruise-control, lane-departure warning, and automatic emergency braking.
Similarly, the Sport’s supportive black-leather seats featured perforated centers with stitching on the edges, good leg- and head-room in back and 35 cubic feet of cargo space behind the back seat.
It’s an easy sort of trucklet to live with.
I just wish Hyundai would restore the power it took out of the Sport’s engine two years ago and back up the badging with a few more performance parts.
If we’re going to be stuck with zillions of crossovers in this new driving world, some should at least be fun to drive.
The fact is the Santa Fe Sport provides good value just as it is and still manages to scratch out a few smiles per gallon occasionally.
Now if Hyundai will just get the Sport some help.
Tags: 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe