Hyundai Santa Fe — Crossover excellence

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Hyundai has proven it knows how to build a good crossover sport utility vehicle, and it now has a solid lineup for any family need. The 2019’s include the award-winning subcompact Kona to go along with the recently updated compact Tucson, an all-new larger compact Santa Fe, and a stretched three-row version — the Santa Fe XL, and the all-new and upcoming mid-sized eight-passenger Palisade. And we think within a year or two the Santa Fe XL may go away with the arrival of the larger Palisade.

The crown jewel of this group of people movers is the Santa Fe, which was introduced in 2001 and has sold more than 1.6 million units in the United States, with each generation better than its predecessor. Now for 2019, the fourth generation Santa Fe is definitely a step up from the third generation crossover in styling, technology and cutting-edge safety features.

While it’s a fact of automotive engineering that vehicles always get better over time, mostly in the form of incremental improvements, it’s easy to declare “incremental” wasn’t going to cut it for the new Santa Fe. Hyundai’s designers and engineers have nailed it, clearly breaking away from its mass-marketed competitors.

The Santa Fe has “grown up” considerably with a more mainstream exterior appearance than the funkiness of the first-generation models. Even those shopping in the luxury midsize segment might want to give the fourth-generation Santa Fe more than a cursory glance.

The Santa Fe’s overall proportions are slightly more SUV-like than before, with a longer hood, a more upright windshield, and a trimmer front overhang. The front end has squinty daytime running lamps and a prominent grille. The Santa Fe has a slightly wider stance than its predecessor and at 187.8 inches is longer by 2.8 inches, giving it a bolder, more aggressive profile that is accented by the cat-like LED daytime running lights positioned above the LED headlights.

With the extra length, front legroom is expanded to 44.1 inches from 39.6 and second-row legroom to 40.9 from 39.1. Overall passenger compartment volume is 110.7 cubic feet compared to 108.0 in the 2018 Santa Fe, though cargo capacity remains the same — 35.4 cubic feet behind the second row, 71.5 with the second-row seats folded.

The Santa Fe comes in seven trim levels — base SE, SEL, SEL Plus, Limited, Ultimate, Limited 2.0T, and Ultimate 2.0T — and is powered by either a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder 235-horsepower engine or a 2.4-liter with 185-horsepower. An eight-speed automatic transmission replaces last year’s six-speed automatic.

Here's the thing — All trim levels come with the base 2.4-liter, but only the Limited and the Ultimate are available with the turbocharged 2.0-liter. The problem with that is if a buyer wants to get a well-equipped SEL or SEL Plus but desires the turbo engine they would be out of luck. We believe the 2.4-liter is underpowered for a vehicle this big, and fuel economy is uninspiring. Fortunately, all-wheel drive is available across the lineup.

Our top trim Ultimate 2.0T came with the turbocharged engine that we found up to the task of moving a loaded Santa Fe. While we noticed some turbo-lag getting off the line, acceleration came on strong with increasing speed. For comparison purposes, the 2.0 turbo has been clocked from 0 to 60 in 7.8 seconds. Handling also proved to be above average for the segment and maneuverability in tight parking lot situations was excellent. At the same time, the Santa Fe exhibited a comfortable ride smoothing out road imperfections. We found the interior conversationally quiet at highway speeds.

The Santa Fe has an impressive array of standard equipment starting at $26,730 including smartphone integration with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, a 7-inch touchscreen, and four USB ports. Standard safety features include forward collision mitigation, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, a drowsy driving warning system, and Hyundai's Safe Exit Assist — which will temporarily prevent your door from opening if a vehicle is approaching from behind.

At the top of the food chain, the Ultimate starting at $36,495 gets such desirable features as a top-down parking camera system, rear parking sensors, driver-seat memory settings, adjustable lumbar support for the driver, heated steering wheel, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, an 8-inch touchscreen, a driver head-up display, navigation and wireless smartphone charging.

Add all-wheel drive ($1,700) and the turbocharged engine ($1,790) and the bottom line elevates to $39,780 including destination charge. Our Ultimate 2.0T AWD test car with a $125 for carpeted floor mats stickered for $39,905.

Base price: $26,730; as driven, $39,905
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 235 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 260 foot-pounds @ 1,450 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 108.9 inches
Length: 187.8 inches
Curb weight: 3,946 pounds
Turning circle: 37.5 feet
Towing capacity: 3,500 pounds
Luggage capacity: 35.9 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 71.3 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 18.8 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 19 city, 24 highway, 21 combined (AWD)
0-60: 7.8 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Mazda CX-5, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4

The Good
• Long list of standard safety
• Roomy interior
• Comfortable ride, quiet interior

The Bad
• Mediocre fuel economy

The Ugly
• Turbo engine reserved for top trims