SUVs

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe: Reborn SUV cops a winning attitude

A quick spin in this midsize crossover suggests there's both substance and clever tech beneath its pugnacious new skin.

Hyundai

The market has spoken, and crossover SUVs are the new family sedans. With massive growth in nearly every segment of the business and more and more models to compete against, designers have their knives out and are taking more chances to gain buyers' attention. The latest example? The 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe, which has gone from last year's rounded and somewhat predictable (if pleasant) appearance, to this decidedly edgier, more piercing look.

With its prominent cascade grille and unusual split, two-piece lighting (the main headlamps are the larger lower LED units), the Santa Fe is no shrinking violet. That confidence carries over to the design's profile, where it has strong fender forms, a prominent character line than runs from nose to tail, and a windowline that tapers less dramatically than the third-generation model that precedes it. 

It's not a look that will be for everyone, but to my eyes, it looks unapologetically modern, assertive and surprisingly tech-forward. I like it.

The Santa Fe has been influenced by Hyundai's Nexo fuel-cell SUV, but has a look all its own.

Hyundai

The new model isn't just more tech-forward in appearance, it's that way inside, too. High-end iterations of the midsize SUV will receive an 8-inch touchscreen with Hyundai's latest AVN 5.0 infotainment tech, which unsurprisingly includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The new hardware includes Bluelink telematics with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant voice-recognition skills, along with select smartwatch functionality. Even lower-end models receive Apple and Android mirroring support, albeit with a smaller 7-inch screen.

In fact, there are lots of screens inside: Hyundai's excellent 8.5-inch full-color head-up display is optional, and upper-trim models are available with a 7-inch Supervision multifunction gauge cluster screen.

Other new bits of cabin tech include a novel ultrasonic sensor-based Rear Seat Occupant Alert system that honks the horn, flashes the lights and pings the driver's paired cell phone if a child or pet has accidentally been left in the rear seat. Other nice-to-haves include an optional 360-degree camera, Qi wireless charge pad and driver attention warning system.

On my brief first drive of the new Santa Fe around the bustling streets surrounding Seoul, I had a good amount of time to focus on many of those new features (especially from the passenger seat) and Hyundai continues to be particularly strong on intuitively organized and well-executed infotainment tech.

Given the often traffic-clogged road conditions and the fact that I was driving a Korean-spec Santa Fe with a 2.0-liter diesel engine not destined for North American dealerships, my actual dynamic drive impressions were somewhat limited, but the experience I came away with was very promising.

The 2019 Santa Fe rides atop a new platform with a longer 108.9-inch wheelbase, and it's actually slightly longer and wider overall than today's two-row Santa Fe Sport, although it keeps the same overall height, which helps it look a bit lower and better planted visually. That added size is in part because the Santa Fe will now be available with optional "just-in-case" third-row seating, not unlike the Nissan Rogue or Mitsubishi Outlander.

The Santa Fe's new cabin looks upscale and features a rich color palette.

Hyundai

What's that, you say? "The Santa Fe was already available with three rows?" Indeed it was. But this new model is the replacement for the smaller Santa Fe Sport. Today's larger, seven-seat Santa Fe model will carry over for at least one year, and will henceforth be known as Santa Fe XL. So if you really need three full-fledged rows in your Hyundai, or if you've gotta have a V6, you still have an option, just an older one. If you're patient, Hyundai has revealed that it is currently baking an all-new, eight-passenger crossover that will receive its own, as-yet-unannounced name.

Yes, that does mean that the 2019 Santa Fe is available exclusively with four cylinders, but its engine lineup is surprisingly diverse, and regardless of which you pick, power is routed through a new eight-speed automatic with available paddle shifters. The base powerplant is Hyundai's well-known 2.4-liter Theta, tuned here to deliver 185 horsepower. Peak torque has not yet been revealed, but the same basic engine produced 178 pound-feet in the outgoing Santa Fe, and it's fair to assume a similar number here.

If that's not enough oomph, Hyundai will happily sell you a 2.0-liter turbocharged four with an estimated 232 horsepower and presumably a significantly larger torque output. Curiously, that horsepower figure is actually down eight ponies versus today's 2.0T in the Santa Fe Sport. Presumably, the engine has been tuned for better drivability, efficiency or more torque (a similar engine in the Sonata Sport delivers 260 pound-feet). Either way, given that this new generation has a more sophisticated transmission with two more forward gears, it's fair to say that if anything, this new Santa Fe might be slightly quicker. 

A 2.2-liter diesel -- Hyundai's first for America -- arrives in early 2019.

Hyundai

A hybrid model is expected in a couple of years, but even in the here and now, Hyundai has thrown us a welcome curveball. They're bringing over a 2.2-liter CRDi turbo-diesel -- the first engine of its kind that Hyundai has ever sold in the US. The engine, which will be available in early calendar 2019, will deliver "around 200 horsepower at 3,000 rpm" and an estimated 320 pound-feet of torque at 1,750 rpm, making it the engine of choice if you want to tow anything. Interestingly, it's also the only engine you can get with the aforementioned three-row seating arrangement.

Fuel economy figures have not yet been released.

With Hyundai only having revealed the new Santa Fe earlier in the day, it's understandable that they did not yet have a market-representative model for me to assess. Ergo, my drive took place in a Korean-spec all-wheel-drive model with a 2.0-liter diesel engine that's not even an option for US and Canadian customers. As things like suspension settings and tire choices can vary from market to market, I'll largely limit my commentary to areas of performance that I think will translate to models headed to our shores.

An 8-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and apps support is available.

Hyundai

For starters, the 2019 Santa Fe's interior feels markedly more polished and upscale than its predecessor. It's not just evident in premium touches like heated and cooled front seats (with extending bottom cushions for the longer-legged) or the availability of features like wireless charging or a 630-watt, 12-speaker Infinity surround-sound audio system with Krell speakers. It's in the cabin's nicer materials, including its leather-like wrapped dashboard, woolen-textured headliner and satin chrome trim. There are some lesser plastics located out of arm's reach, and few buyers will confuse this with a product from a premium brand like Hyundai's own Genesis let alone Audi or Mercedes-Benz, but it's still a very nice place to be.

Interestingly, Hyundai has chosen to stick with a traditional mechanical gearshift lever instead of a trendy e-shifter like so many of today's rotary-, stalk- and button-based solutions. It's the right call -- the gimmick-free shifter operates intuitively and its action feels good.

The 2019 Santa Fe is also airier inside, no matter if you're sitting in the first or second rows. Part of that is a function of this fourth-generation model's larger footprint, but an equal part is attributable to the more expansive greenhouse, which includes relocated side mirrors. The old Santa Fe's windowline had a pretty dramatic upsweep from the second row back, and the net effect is that those in the cheap seats could feel a bit more confined. 

New Tech Alert: Those are ultrasonic sensors to help you remember the kids in the back seat.

Chris Paukert/Roadshow

Hyundai is claiming best-in-class second-row legroom, as it is touting the ease with which those seat backs can be folded forward to have access to the optional third row. In practice, I still found getting into the way-back seats to be an awkward exercise. That my 5-foot, 9-inch frame did fit back there is something and it would be tolerable for short distances. Hyundai is being forthright when it says the two third-row perches are for occasional use.

On the move in both city traffic and somewhat windier suburban roads, the Santa Fe's light steering tracked confidently and predictably, making it a welcome partner on unfamiliar thoroughfares occasionally narrowed with wayward pedestrians and scooters. 

Sadly, I never did have much of an opportunity to properly evaluate my test car's HTRAC all-wheel drive. The updated AWD system features a three-mode drive selector (Eco, Comfort and Sport) that changes the default torque split between front and rear. Eco mode varies from 100:0 front-to-rear to 80:20 when some slippage is detected, while Sport defaults to 65:35 but will shift to 50:50 under dynamic driving conditions. The comfort setting, as you'd imagine, falls right in between, defaulting to 80:20 and a max-rearward bias of 65:35 under cornering and on slippery roads.

The taillamps are deceptively simple, but internal details give them depth and sophistication.

Chris Paukert/Roadshow

The Santa Fe's comportment on its 19-inch 235/55 Hankook Dynapro HP2 all-season rubber was solid, with good noise isolation and a well-disciplined ride, erring appropriately on the side of comfort over athleticism. Despite its more aggressive appearance, this sport utility emphasizes the latter over the former, and that's right in-line with customer expectations.

Despite having been around since 2013, Hyundai steadily updated the departing Santa Fe Sport with a cache of advanced driver-assist systems like intelligent cruise control, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, dynamic HID lighting, and so on. This new model adds some incremental new safety features to the pile, including a new rear cross-traffic alert system with auto emergency braking and a new Safe Exit Assist feature that prevents doors from being opened into the face of oncoming traffic (be it of the two- or four-wheel variety).

Until its pricing and fuel economy figures are released, it won't be clear how good of a value the new Santa Fe really is. But with its unmistakable and dramatic new look, the 2019 Santa Fe will get its fair share of attention from consumers. And with its newly refined cabin, long list of safety and tech features and surprising powertrain diversity, it seems unlikely to give up its position as Hyundai's best-selling SUV.

As was true with its predecessor, the new Santa Fe will be built in the USA.

Hyundai

Editors' Note: Roadshow accepts multi-day vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews. All scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms. However, for this feature, the manufacturer covered travel costs. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. 

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