2019 Hyundai Santa Fe: Standing Out Through Styling

Published on August 27, 2018 in First Drives by Mathieu St-Pierre

KANANASKIS, Alberta – Shopping for a new vehicle? I’ll bet you a shiny Loonie you’re looking at a crossover vehicle. Makes sense, right? Two kids, loads of gear, all kinds of activities—this is life. We’re not all so rich that we can afford two or three cars, so the one family ride must fill all the needs.

All small families, yours and mine, are in the same situation. The vast number of options can and will leave you scratching your head, unless you have a brand preference, as all large-compact-midsize crossovers look like one another. If you were to come across a line-up of all the 2019 options however, one would stand out.

Looking to be Noticed

Hyundai was looking to shock through design as it did in the early 2010s with the then-new Elantra and Sonata. The result was much talk about the cars, which prompted some incredible sales numbers. While they dialled the visuals back a few years later, they are now at it again. The Hyundai Kona started the new design revolution and the next step is the 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe.

The huge cascading 3D grille is flanked by the three-level light setup that can be somewhat confusing. The top LEDs are the daytime-running lights, the lower cutouts are the fog lights while the large central pods are the headlight and turn signals. This design direction is an acquired taste and its uniqueness will set the Santa Fe apart. That is, until all your neighbours buy one.

If you’re thinking that the front end reminds you of the Jeep Cherokee, you are not wrong. However, unlike Jeep which has dropped this design concept for 2019 in favour of a more conventional light/grille/bumper combination, Hyundai’s intent this time is to see these styling cues evolve. The remainder of the Santa Fe is classic modern SUV with wheels sizes that grow along with trims and price tags.

Capacious Interior for All and Everything

The 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe is 17 mm longer, 10 mm wider and most importantly, the wheelbase is 65 mm longer. The cabin is thus positively huge. I’m a big boot man and the Santa Fe’s 1000+ litres of space and multiple underfloor storage bins please me very much. The rear bench moves fore and aft to maximize legroom, which is generous for adults. Up front, the large leather-covered seats of our top-line Ultimate are heated, cooled and supportive with various adjustments.

The interior’s centerpiece is the floating seven-inch (eight-inch in the Ultimate) display. It is intuitive to use, as are the HVAC controls located below it. Also available are a seven-inch instrument panel display and head-up display. The $44,999 Ultimate certainly deserves its name.

Four-cylinder Engines at Your Service

The powertrain story for the 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe is nearly identical to the 2018 model. The 2.4-litre four cylinder returns unchanged as the base engine. The only one we sampled was the turbocharged 2.0-litre four cylinder. Horsepower is down by 5 for 2019 for a total of 235 and an unchanged 260 lb.-ft. of torque between 1450 and 3500 rpm. The big change is the new standard eight-speed automatic transmission, as is a drop in overall girth of up to 90 kg (198 lbs.).

The last time I reviewed a Santa Fe Sport equipped with the 2.0T, I remember enjoying its power. This time around, I found the 2.0T underwhelming. The eight-speed transmission shifts almost imperceptibly, but its gearing does nothing to improve forward thrust. What’s worse, although it helps fuel economy, an overall average rating of 11.2 L/100km is nothing to boast about. A diesel powerplant is still under study for North America and although it would improve on these numbers, I doubt it will ever make it to market.

Photo: Mathieu St-Pierre

New Chassis, Nice Ride, Big on Safety

The driving experience is thankfully very good. Hyundai spent some time altering the Santa Fe’s suspension, and the result is conclusive. Through high-strength steel, the new reinforced structure has allowed Hyundai engineers to use new bushings, revise the suspension’s geometry and throw in new dampers. Carving about the Kananaskis Valley, the Santa Fe handled every bend with rewarding precision thanks in part to its uprated steering rack.

Hyundai’s HTRAC AWD system, which is based on the same setup that underpins the Genesis cars, can vary torque distribution from 100-0 to 50-50 (front-rear). To say it was a huge influence on the drive would be an exaggeration as the road conditions were generally excellent. We did briefly drive through a mild, loose-gravel off-road section without hesitation or wheelspin.

The highlight for a driver like myself is the chassis’ newfound abilities. For a family, it will likely be the comprehensive levels of standard safety and connectivity features. In relation to the new platform, Hyundai designed it to return the highest possible ratings from IIHS and NHTSA. They’ve also engineered in many active and passive elements in order to avoid getting in trouble. One such item is Safe Exit Assist which limits rear passengers’ ability to exit the vehicle when a car or other moving object is detected.

Pricing, Options, and More Options

As a perennial value leader, Hyundai’s made a conscious decision to not only simplify its trim strategy, but make the most important accessories available at a lower price point. For just over $32,000, the entry-level Essential is equipped with AWD and Hyundai’s SmartSense package (lane keep assist, forward collision assist and more). The base price is $28,999 and includes a front-wheel drivetrain, a heated steering wheel, Android Auto / Apple CarPlay integration, heated front seats and loads more.

The Preferred trim will represent the 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe’s highest take rate at just shy of 60%. For $35,099, it throws in BlueLink telematics for five years, 18-inch wheels, proximity keyless entry and more highly coveted niceties. The only missing gadget is the power hatch which comes in with the Luxury at $41,899. The 2.0-litre engine is a $2,000 addition for the first two trims.

The arrival of the Kona launched Hyundai’s latest onslaught of new products. The Santa Fe is available now and will be followed by the Nexo Fuel Cell Vehicle, the Kona EV and by 2020, two new CUVs. One of them will be the new “Santa Fe XL” and will be called the Palisade. The other will be another compact vehicle.

The new 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe compares well with the Subaru Outback, Nissan Murano, Honda CR-V, Chevy Blazer, Ford Edge and others. It does not however present any real advantage over any of the preceding utes. We at The Car Guide are big fans of the Mazda CX-5 and Honda Pilot, so make sure you check them out too.

Test drive report
Test model 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe
Trim level Ultimate 2.0T AWD
Price range $26,480 – $48,199
Price as tested 42 480 $
Warranty (basic) 5 years/100,000 km
Warranty (powertrain) 5 years/100,000 km
Fuel economy (city/highway/observed) 12,3 / 9,8 / N/A L/100km
Options N/A
Competitive models Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Kia Sorento, Mazda CX-9, Mitsubishi Outlander, Nissan Murano, Nissan Pathfinder, Subaru Forester, Toyota Highlander, Volkswagen Tiguan
Strong points
  • Spacious interior
  • Value-packed for the price
  • Proper 8-speed automatic
  • Decent handler
  • Multiple layers of safety
Weak points
  • Design will not age gracefully
  • Fuel consumption still high
  • 2.0-litre turbo’s performance somewhat disappointing
Editor's rating
Fuel economy 3.5/5 Some larger 3-row CUVs get better returned averages
Comfort 4.5/5 Plenty of space, front and back, and love the large trunk
Performance 3.5/5 Expected more vim from the 2.0T
Infotainment 4.5/5 Standard 7-inch screen, BlueLink from Preferred trim on up, all the connectivity
Driving 4.0/5 The revised chassis and suspension make for a good handling CUV
Overall 4.0/5 The new 2019 Santa Fe is good. It’s not the best at anything in the segment but remains a recommendable choice
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