We drove front-wheel-drive base and turbocharged Santa Fe Sport models on city streets and curvy country roads during a press event, then borrowed a 2.0T AWD example for a few days at home. The base 2.4-liter engine's performance seemed more than adequate on flat roads with light loads, but we recommend the available 2.0T turbocharged four for family excursions, especially in hilly country. Wide-open-throttle zero-to-60-mph acceleration with the former takes roughly nine seconds, while the turbo four is about two seconds quicker.
We found our test Santa Fe Sport AWD 2.0T pleasant to drive in nearly every way. Its on-demand performance was ample, its ride quiet, smooth and controlled over most surfaces, its braking strong, stable and fade-free and its handling short of nimble but as good as most competitors in its class.
The steering mode settings, selectable via a steering-wheel button, adds 10 percent effort (vs. Normal) in Sport mode (our choice) and subtracts 10 percent in Comfort mode for low-speed maneuvering. And the AWD's Active Corner Control, while transparent to the driver, seemed effective in keeping all four tires firmly planted even when driving aggressively.
Our only disappointment was averaging 21-22 mpg in mostly freeway driving, in line with its 22-mpg EPA combined rating but well short of its 27-mpg highway number.
We have not yet driven the V6-powered, three-row LWB Santa Fe that is scheduled to arrive in early 2013, but we expect it to be as comfortable and quiet but less eager, agile and fuel efficient due to its added size and weight.