Hyundai is gradually moving through its SUV lineup, refreshing and updating as it goes and inserting new models like the big Palisade, the small Kona and the even smaller upcoming Venue (in 2020). This year the Santa Fe gets a substantial overhaul for its fourth generation, and beyond a doubt the 2019 edition has the earmarks of a model arriving at maturity. There’s a lot, in other words, that Hyundai gets right with its reworked Santa Fe this year.
Both the Santa Fe and its (slightly) smaller stablemate Tucson have become mainstays on the Canadian automotive landscape, and it’s not hard to see why. The two represent affordable, roomy two-row SUV choices that offer versatile, decent-quality interiors, deliver good reliability and provide enough power not to leave drivers starving for more.
The 2019 Santa Fe borrows the platform of the Kia Sorento, which is slightly larger than the architecture of the outgoing Santa Fe Sport model, and this translates into a bit more interior space. For now, there’s only a two-row version of the next-gen model being offered, in four trims (Essential, Preferred, Luxury and Ultimate). The Santa Fe XL continues on on the old platform, but there should eventually be a three-row version produced as well, unless Hyundai decides the new Palisade is all it needs to compete for three-row SUV buyers.
The outer shell sitting on the new architecture has been reworked for a more modern appearance, and it’s not at all unpleasant to the eye. You may or may not like the new ultra-slim lights that top the front grille, but they sure are slim, you have to admit. For the rest, the body is a fairly pleasing mix of squarish overall shapes and sharp lines to provide some sleekness and definition.
What the design tweaks don’t do, however, is remove the new Santa Fe from the ranks of the SUV segment’s identi-vehicles. If you’re looking for an SUV that stands out on the road, this ain’t it. Go get yourself a Jaguar I-PACE or something. Not that the 2019 edition is boring; its shape is nicely proportioned and it’s not overly boxy. It just looks like a dozen other like models out there, that’s all.
Hyundai hasn’t skimped on the improvements and upgrades for the interior space of the new Santa Fe. The dashboard gets some good-quality soft-touch plastic elements, plus headroom and legroom are generous in front and, even more importantly, in the back.
The base version gets a 7-inch touchscreen for infotainment purposes, on which you’ll find Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, plus four USB ports for various devices. Also included from the bottom trim on up are a heated steering wheel and heated seats; Luxury and Ultimate trims add heated rear seats and ventilated front seats.
Choose the Ultimate version and you get wireless charging, a head-up display and a larger 8-inch infotainment screen, with navigation. On all versions but the base model, the rear seats can be slid back and forth to benefit from more second-row knee space or more cargo space, as required.
Speaking of cargo space, that generous second-row space I mentioned doesn’t come out of nowhere, it comes at the expense of cargo space in the rear. It’s not tiny by any stretch, but with the seats folded down you get a total of 2,019 litres of cargo capacity, which is decent but not massive. As a consolation prize Hyundai has included some under-floor storage spaces in back, to hide stuff from prying eyes, or just to help keep a semblance of order.
Again, Hyundai hasn’t skimped in this area, taking to heart the notion that a vehicle meant to appeal to families should be as well-equipped to protect them as possible for the price. The cruise control is adaptive, thus, and you also get forward collision avoidance, pedestrian detection, lane keep assist and high-beam assist, all available on the base model and standard thereafter.
There are a few features not available at all on the base version, but standard on the others, such as blind spot collision avoidance and, rear cross traffic avoidance. Meanwhile, the safe exit assist function consists of a blind-spot sensor that will, if it detects an oncoming car or bicycle, temporarily lock the doors so no one can step out into the path of danger.
One other new safety feature worth noting is the rear occupant alert system. If movement is detected after the driver leaves the vehicle, this system will set the horn honking multiple times; it can also be set to alert the driver via a text message if movement is detected after they have departed the vehicle.
The Santa Fe lineup for 2019 consists of the four trim levels and two powertrain choices, and all-wheel drive is optional on the Essential ($2,000 extra), standard on the other trims. The default engine is a 2.4L 4-cylinder working with an 8-speed automatic transmission (with SHIFTRONIC manual mode), with an output of 185 hp and maximum torque of 178 lb-ft.
The other engine, available with the Preferred and standard on the Luxury and Ultimate, is a 2.0L 4-cylinder turbo that makes 235 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque in combination with the same 8-speed automatic transmission. My tester for the week was the Ultimate equipped with this powertrain.
The HTRAC all-wheel drive system works in accordance with the Drive mode chosen (see below); alternatively, you can lock in 4WD functionality.
Available drive modes include Comfort, Sport and something called Smart. As usual in anything but sedans built and inclined to behave more sportily, Sport mode here doesn’t really do much except hold each gear a little longer so it screams at you when you take yourself for a racer. My guess is drivers won’t use it much. Smart actually works by monitoring what the driver is doing and toggling between Comfort and Sport depending on the situation.
It’s no surprise that, as the exterior design of the 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe fits it right in with any number of like-minded and like-function utility models, its performance is equally competent yet anonymous. Steering is relatively tight and responsive, but the handling of what is after all a fairly large vehicle inspires little other than confidence. While the suspension is commendably crisp yet family-friendly, there’s not a lot of exhilaration in its accelerations. Power is not an issue, the engine supplies enough of that, but it’s just not that responsive.
But then the point of a family SUV like this is not to excite but to be competent and comfortable and versatile and safe. In that sense this is a resounding success, especially since it combines with an interior that’s kind of premium, enough anyways to make you forget, if you hadn’t already done so long ago, that this is the same manufacturer that made the Pony, all those years ago.
In terms of fuel consumption, my weeklong test resulted in a combined city/highway average of 13.8L/100 km, riding on all-season tires and with temperatures ranging from 5 to 10 degrees Celsius. This is not a vehicle that will save you a ton of money at the pump compared to others, let’s be clear, but to be fair my total came from spending roughly twice as much time in the city than out on the highway. The engine comes equipped with stoop/start functionality, by the way, which over the long haul should save you a bit on fuel.
The 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe
Really generous for space in both rows
Sufficient power from the base engine on up
We like less
Cargo space is not a standout in the category
Not much excitement in the drive
Fuel economy nothing to write home about