We asked for a full-sized sedan, but they gave us this. Close enough. Picked it up with 9 miles on it, and inspection sticker that was applied the day before. Returned it 4 days later with 790 miles on it and a dime lost somewhere in the passenger’s seat.

Obviously the picture isn’t the actual car, but it’s the same color and such, and being brand new it looked about the same. That said, it was badged as the Sport model so who knows what good that does.

I didn’t take pictures because, well, I was driving. This is probably going to be a fairly boring review.

My first thoughts when I got in the car in the rental lot are summarized below:

  • How do I get this seat to be comfortable
  • Oh god there are a lot of buttons and lights
  • Why is the A/C cranked and rap music blasting
  • I can’t see anything

I’m going to start off with that last point - visibility. I have no idea how it is legal to sell this car without a backup camera. You can see nothing that isn’t immediately in front of you, or behind you between five and six feet off the ground. There is no way to safely back up in this vehicle. Changing lanes on the highway is an exercise in mirror-glance-and-pray. With the mirrors adjusted properly, the driver’s side mini-mirror-on-the-mirror lets you see your blind spot for the most part, but the passenger’s side is hopeless.

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What made this worse for me is that I typically don’t use my side mirrors very much at all - if I want to change lanes I look over my shoulder and in the center rear view mirror. Looking over your shoulder in this vehicle yields an excellent view of some pillars and the passengers.

An additional struggle with this thing is traffic is my next point of review: The drivetrain.

I don’t know what the engine was in this particular Santa Fe, but it sure didn’t have much power. More than that, though, was the total, utter, complete lack of throttle response. You press the gas pedal, nothing happens, you take a nap, make dinner, renew your driver’s license, they elect a new pope, and then it considers accelerating. This, paired up with the lack of visibility, makes driving in tight traffic (I’m looking at you, Cleveland) terrifying. As a side note, the engine above about 5k genuinely sounds like a blender. Everyone agreed.

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At the same time though, the transmission was remarkably okay. Other than the bump-shifter thing going the wrong way (I want to pull to go up a gear, damnit!) it wasn’t bad - the shifts were unbelievably smooth, and once the whole delay from the (lack of) throttle response was over, it would kick down fairly readily. In quasi-manual mode it changed gear quickly (if it decided to let you - sometimes it just decided it doesn’t want you in first, even though you’re only doing 18mph and coming to a stop). It also does the thing where, even through I asked it to stay in 2, it goes to 3 because it doesn’t want to be anywhere near the red line.

In terms of the interior, it also wasn’t bad. I didn’t find it as comfortable as the Accent I had rented a year ago, but once I figure out how the assorted seat adjustments actually work (like the crank you have to use to ratchet up the seat?!) and discovered the steering column both tilted and telescoped, I was able to get fairly comfy for the 18 hours or so I’d be spending in it.

It had bluetooth, which was fun and let me use my voice to call people through the car. It worked fairly well for a couple days but my phone eventually got tired of it or something, because it no longer would connect. There was also satellite radio, which was pretty cool and kept us amused without needing my ipod, which probably could be played through the USB port on the console. There were plenty of 12V jacks for chargers, and even a little cubbie that I suspect an iphone would fit in.

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Audio quality was okay, but we never figured out where the EQ settings were. It was genuinely terrible in the rear, but the front seats had an okay sound. Front and center on the dashboard is a meter which shows your current and average fuel economy, which I found more frustrating than anything else. It also shows your range-to-empty, which was hilariously pessimistic. I went 300 miles while the range went from 300 to 150. Speaking of economy, I got about 32MPG on the highway, which isn’t too bad.

There were some other menus to be found in the dashboard, controlled with some of the many buttons on the steering wheel, but I could never go through them in any detail without swerving into other lanes, and so didn’t go into them. There was a real-time tire pressure monitor though, which only seems a little bit totally useless.

Some of the other buttons were “Eco” which claims to make the car more efficient, although having driven it with it on and off, I didn’t find any difference, a button to lock it in all-wheel-drive mode, which only worked below like 20mph or something, and a hill decent control, which I really wanted to try out but never got the chance.

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Some final notes: The steering was very very light at low speeds and got heavier on the highway, but in all cases told you nothing about what was actually happening to the front wheels. Maybe somewhere there was an option to change that, but I found it weird and would have preferred the heavier setting at all times (or even the lighter - just stop changing it!). Being a modern car, it had what I call “modern brakes” which means they were touchy and had zero pedal and I hated them the whole time. I want to work for my stopping, damnit!

So, in conclusion, based on my four days driving this rented Santa Fe Sport, if you’re looking for a crossover, I’d suggest you shop around. Maybe a higher-level package would let you actually see out of this. Perhaps there’s another engine option that actually knows what to do when you press the skinny pedal. Maybe you just want a transportation appliance.

That said, I still think my friend’s CX-5 seems nicer.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention just how anonymous this thing is on the road - there were three vehicles we were traveling with, and we had been left behind and had to catch up. A few hours into the trip we were within sight, and got back in line. It turns out they didn’t realize we were there, so we passed the people we were with, got in front of them, let them pass us, and repeated this process FOUR TIMES before any of them realized it was us, and that it was the same vehicle passing them the whole time. If you want to hide in plain sight, this may be the vehicle for you.