The Hyundai Santa Fe was redesigned for the 2019 model year, looks aren’t all that has changed. The successor to last year’s Santa Fe Sport is this year’s Santa Fe and last year’s larger Santa Fe is now called the XL. Confused yet? It’s an easy trap to fall into, but none of that matters from behind the wheel, where the Santa Fe shines as an easy to drive, comfortable, and capable crossover.
We spent a week with the $39,485 Santa Fe Ultimate 2.0T hauling kids, recyclables, and groceries to get a feel for how the new crossover performs in its most natural habitat. Here’s what we found.
The Santa Fe is all-new this year and bears only a passing resemblance to its predecessor. Sharp, narrow headlights flank a grille that has been updated with a new honeycomb pattern instead of the chrome slats that came with previous models. Our Ultimate 2.0T tester was equipped with LED fog lights that are set into clear enclosures on either side of the front fascia. Combined with the more aggressive bodywork, the new lighting and grille shape gives the Santa Fe a look that far outpaces its actual sporting abilities.
Hyundai avoided giving the Santa Fe a rising belt line and sloping roof from front to back. It’s a subtle trick many new crossovers pull to achieve a sportier stance, and while the exterior appearance can be dramatic, the shape often shrinks the rear windows and cuts interior headroom as the body lines slope together.
With the Santa Fe the result is a slightly boxier greenhouse with big rear windows and clean lines. Functionally, this design choice makes for great rear outward visibility and gives the cabin an open feel.
Inside the Hyundai Santa Fe, an 8-inch touchscreen dominates the dash but plays well with the rest of the center stack, where the climate controls and USB ports are placed low but within reach. It would be a stretch to call this interior elegant, but the materials are generally very high-quality and there isn’t much in the way of clutter. Buttons and controls are where you’d expect them to be, and there’s an actual gear shift knob – something that is becoming a rarity with today’s artificial knob and button switchgear.
The 2.0T Ultimate comes with – you guessed it – a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It’s a lively powertrain, and while it won’t get pulses racing, the 235 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque are more than adequate for a sedate family wagon like the Santa Fe.
An actual eight-speed transmission is in use here which, besides being well-geared to get the most out of the engine’s power band, is far more engaging to use than the continuously variable transmissions that are plugged into several other mid-size crossovers.
Most versions of the 2019 Santa Fe come with a seven-inch display that has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capabilities. The eight-inch touchscreen in our Ultimate test vehicle also included navigation and an Infinity Premium Audio system with 12 speakers. This unit is standard for the Ultimate trim level, but most people will be fine with maps and the hands-free music controls that come with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto in other trims.
Hyundai uses the same UVO infotainment system that Kia vehicles feature. It’s one of the best in the business, with easy-to-understand menus and smooth transitions between screens. Colors are muted and there’s not much in the way of crazy animations, but the system is responsive and quick to use – the most important things for people whose primary attention should be on the road.
The upgraded sound system took some tweaking to hit the right balance of bass and volume, and overall sound quality would benefit from a greater degree of sound insulation. It was more than loud enough for our repeat listening sessions of “Wheels on The Bus” and the vast majority of buyers (not auto critics or audiophiles) will be satisfied with volume and quality.
Something struck me as I sat in the Hyundai Santa Fe for the first time: Almost everything here is exactly where it should be. After a few minutes in the driver’s seat, operating climate, radio, and vehicle controls becomes second nature. It’s a feat that not many others can achieve and is a very welcome discovery for someone that switches vehicles as much as I do. From a daily driving perspective, the ability to easily reach controls and operate the vehicle with little added friction makes for a less distracting and more enjoyable experience.
The front seats are not overly padded but come well-bolstered with enough support in the right places. The Ultimate trim level adds ventilation to the heated seats found in other trims, and while they’re not a necessity for spring in Northern New England, I’ve found my new favorite climate setting is to have the heat on with cooled seats on high – cozy and refreshing.
Access to the second row is made much easier by the large door openings and interior seating position. Large car seats fit without much fuss, and once inside the kids have plenty of headroom. Legroom is sufficient for adults, but taller people will find that interior space has been prioritized for front seat passengers. As is typical of vehicles this size, I had to install the full-size car seat on the passenger side to avoid contact with the driver’s seat. When adjusted to fit my six-foot frame, the front seat makes contact with the child seat. The Santa Fe isn’t alone in this area – I’ve only been able to pull off a driver’s side car seat installation with full-size SUVs and minivans.
Hyundai and Kia both have been trending away from the “budget beater” image that they entered North America with so many years ago, and the results speak for themselves: Both brands are making vehicles that pack as much (or more) tech, comfort features and performance that their staid Japanese and domestic counterparts do. Hyundai is starting to break out its shell with new models like the upcoming Palisade and Venue. With all the excitement around the new vehicles, it’s easy to overlook the Hyundai Santa Fe as an old-timer, but this old dog has some new tricks that are worth a look.