Standard safety features
Low end transmission slack
Average fuel economy
Limited turbo availability
2019 Hyundai Santa Fe
Once again we find ourselves wading into the confusing nomenclature of Hyundai's crossovers. Point in fact: Not only does the Korean manufacturer offer more than one compact model, the company insists on rearranging the names of each, every few years, further confusing matters.
For 2019, Hyundai continues to offer a trio of compact crossovers – the smaller-than-average Tucson, a carry-over model for 2019 based on the Elantra, and the larger-than-average Santa Fe, that shares a platform with the Sonata.
The Santa Fe lineup - consisting of two models - are differentiated by size: the longer-wheelbase, 3-row Santa Fe XL, and the smaller, 2-row Santa Fe. True to form, their names have been changed yet again. Last year the 2019 Santa Fe XL was called the Santa Fe, while last year's Santa Fe Sport - now the regular Santa Fe - is the subject of this article.
But the name isn't the only thing that's changed, as the 2019 Santa Fe is all-new for 2019.
Completely redesigned for 2019, Hyundai's best-selling crossover in the US is longer (by 2.8 inches), and wider (by 0.4 inches) than the outgoing model, with a bolder, more muscular design to match its larger dimensions. The new look begins up front with an increased road presence courtesy of a larger, more aggressive grill that's topped by a wide chrome trim strip, bracketed by a pair of narrow LED daytime running lights set above the trim strip and lower-mounted headlights that are also LED on all but the SE trim. Along the sides, a prominent upper character line stretches from the headlights to the taillights, while a deeply sculpted lower character line spans the distance between the front and rear wheel wells.
In back, the more upright, vertical tailgate features taillamps that narrow towards the center and are tied together by a bright chrome trim strip. The lower brushed silver valance mimics that of the lower front fascia, while the rear window is topped off by a large upper spoiler.
Inside, the three-dimensional, twin-cockpit dash is reminiscent of the stylish sixth-generation Sonata, and features a pair of curved spaces delineating the two-tiered upper dash, geometric surrounds for the vent and HVAC surrounds, as well as liberal use of soft-touch surfaces and a fit and finish worthy of a luxury vehicle.
The additional body length has been put to good use, with passenger volume up by 2.7 cu ft, nearly an inch more hip room in front and back, and 1.5 additional inches of rear leg room. Small touches that included moving the window switches and grab handles forward for increased elbow room demonstrate how much Hyundai sweats the details.
Up front, both the driver and passenger have ample leg, hip and headroom. The seats are large, nicely bolstered, and very supportive. The backlit instrumentation is clear and easy to read. Already very good driver visibility out the front and sides was enhanced by reducing the size of the A-pillars and mounting the outside mirrors lower and further back, while visibility out the rear three-quarters was improved by increasing the size of the rear quarter glass by just over 40 percent.
The center stack on our Ultimate 2.0T tester featured the upgraded 8-inch touchscreen display with navigation and intuitive software that allowed me to pair my iPhone without having to consult the owner’s manual.
The buttons flanking the screen controlling a number of major functions are backlit, easy to read and intuitive, while module below the air vents contained controls for the dual-zone climate control system, heated and cooled front seat, and heated steering wheel functions.
Because the Santa Fe is larger than most compact crossovers, there is more than enough room in back for three adults, with the wide rear doors allowing for easy ingress and egress. Cargo volume is 35.6 cu ft behind the second row seats, up 0.5 cu ft. from last year. With the second row folded, it expands to a generous 71.3 cubic feet.
Even in base trim, the 2019 Santa Fe comes with a plethora of standard equipment including the usual power bits, plus 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights with high-beam assist, LED daytime running lights, heated outside mirrors, privacy glass, keyless entry with push-button start, steering wheel-mounted audio, Bluetooth and cruise controls, and a 7-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability.
In addition to high-beam assist, standard advanced safety include driver attention warning, pre-collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control with start/stop, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, blind spot detection, and rear cross-traffic alert. Trim-dependent additional features include a surround-view monitor, front and rear parking sensors, and a rear seat occupant alert.
Ultimate 2.0T models like our tester receive those additional safety items as well as 19-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and taillights, side mirror turn signal indicators, panoramic sunroof, dual automatic climate control, leather-trimmed seats, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, power front seats with driver's memory, heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, manual rear sunshades, auto-dimming rearview mirror, 8-inch touchscreen with navigation and traffic, Infinity audio system, head-up display, wireless phone charging, and Hyundai's Blue Link telematics.
Under the hood
The 2019 Santa Fe offers the choice of two engines. The base engine for all 7 trims (SE, SEL, SEL Plus, Limited, Ultimate, Limited 2.0T, and Ultimate 2.0T) is a 2.4-liter direct injection four-cylinder producing 185 horsepower and 178 lb-ft of torque – adequate for a vehicle this size. The optional engine, available on Limited and Ultimate models like our tester, is a more impressive 2.0-liter turbocharged, four-cylinder, generating 235 horsepower, with 260 lb-ft of torque available between 1,450 and 3,500 rpm. Both engines are mated to a new eight-speed automatic with manual mode and downshift rev-matching for smoother operation.
Fuel economy is good with the 2.4-liter, with FWD models near the top of the class, achieving an EPA-estimated 22 miles per gallon in the city, 29 on the highway, and 25 combined, while 2.0-liter turbo, AWD trims like our tester only offer a middling EPA-estimated 19 mpg city, 24 highway, and 21 combined.
On the road
Both around town and on the highway, the suspension does a decent job of soaking up minor road imperfections. With the rear shocks pushed more upright for longer travel, we also noticed a big improvement over frost-affected pavement strips and potholes. Our Ultimate tester, equipped with the 2.0-liter engine that features a twin-scroll turbocharger, also offered effortless merging and passing on the expressway is effortless. Although hardly a back roads corner-carver, body lean is minimal, while the ride is confidant and calm.
Braking is also good with no perceptible fade, a nice initial bite to the pads and improved feedback through the pedal.
At the same time, a performance issue we encountered more than once concerns the eight-speed transmission that, when matched with the 2.0-liter turbo, momentarily hesitates off the line when you put your foot into it. We appreciate the additional two gears over last year's unit, but a bit of work still needs to be done.
2019 Hyundai Santa Fe prices
2019 Santa Fe prices start at $26,795 for a front-wheel-drive SE equipped with the 2.4-liter engine and can top out at nearly $40,000 for a fully optioned all-wheel-drive Ultimate with the 2.0-liter turbo. Our Ultimate 2.0T AWD tester came in at the top, with a base price of $38,800, carpeted front and rear floor mats ($125), plus freight and handling ($980), that brought the MSRP to an even $39,905.
The Bottom Line
Despite posting only average fuel economy numbers, a transmission that could us a bit of re-calibrating, and limiting the turbo four option to just the top two trims, the all-new 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe carries forward the model's value proposition and, along with a smooth ride, spacious interior, and heroically-long list of standard safety features, makes it one of the top picks in the class.