The Hyundai Santa Fe is all new, entering its fourth generation for the 2019 model year. But this midsize crossover SUV has a tough act to follow. The third-generation Santa Fe (which is actually still on sale as the three-row Santa Fe XL) remains an incredibly compelling product. I spent a week with one back in February, and still found it to be hugely competitive. Is this brand-new Santa Fe compelling enough to really move the needle?
The Santa Fe's exterior design does a terrific job of mixing ruggedness and sleekness. The first elements I notice when walking up to this SUV are the thin running lights unified by a lovely chrome strip that forms the radiator grille's upper framing. Flanking each side of the grille are large, bold-looking headlamp clusters that contrast well with the thin LED running lamps above them. Altogether, the front design lends to an unforgettable aesthetic.
Out back, the look doesn't appear as inspired or revolutionary, but remains handsome, nonetheless. The cabin design is also comely. I especially love the polygonal surfacing on the speaker grilles. Their artful nature goes far in making the rest of the Santa Fe's interior feel more upscale. That is until you look a little closer.
The plastics on the door panels reek of cost-cutting with their hard, shiny appearance and scratchy feel. Still, the Santa Fe's interior is spacious, comfortable and quiet. It takes no time at all to find an ideal driving position, and once you've found it, you can devour hundreds of road-trip miles while making your back feel like it's on vacation.
If you need to pack up for the long haul, the Santa Fe is reasonably spacious. Behind the rear seats, you'll find 35.9 cubic feet of space, which expands to 71.3 cubic feet with the second row folded. That's more space than the Chevy Blazer and Nissan Murano, but less than the Honda Passport and Ford Edge. The Santa Fe's 3,500-pound maximum towing capacity also falls midpack, besting the Murano's 1,500 pounds and matching the Edge, but falling short of the Passport's 5,000-pound max.
The Santa Fe comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on a 7-inch touchscreen, but my loaded example features an 8-inch screen along with a 7-inch instrument cluster display. I've also got embedded navigation, a 12-speaker Infinity premium audio system, HD and satellite radio, plus wireless phone charging.
Even on the base, $26,795 (including $1,045 for destination) Santa Fe SE, Hyundai includes standard advanced driver-assistance features like adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keep assist and automatic high-beams.
My loaded example in Ultimate 2.0T trim (starting at $38,145) features a head-up display, 360-degree camera and rear parking sensors, plus LED headlights, fog lights and taillights. The top-trim Santa Fe also includes convenience features like heated and ventilated front seats, heated and sliding rear seats, a panoramic sunroof and a hands-free power rear liftgate.
The base Santa Fe is powered by a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine making 185 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque. My tester packs a 2.0-liter, turbocharged I4 with 235 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. Regardless of engine, all Santa Fe models use an eight-speed automatic transmission routing power to the front wheels. All-wheel drive is a $1,700 option across all trim levels, meaning my Ultimate 2.0T tester costs $39,845.
The turbocharged engine offers plenty of grunt, but doesn't have the same off-the-line immediacy as the naturally aspirated, 3.3-liter V6 in the Santa Fe XL, which has 55 more horsepower, but 8 fewer pound-feet of torque. The same goes for the four-cylinder's highway passing power: There's enough kick to pass slower traffic quickly, but the V6 feels snappier. That extra V6 snap does sap fuel economy by 2 miles per gallon on both city and highway cycles.
The most efficient Santa Fe with the 2.4-liter and front-wheel drive is EPA-rated for 22/29 city/highway mpg. My 2.0-liter, turbocharged AWD tester comes in at 19/24 city/highway mpg. After 1,134 miles of mostly highway driving, I averaged 23.1 mpg.
The eight-speed automatic transmission makes the most of the four-cylinder's horsepower deficit, however. Shifts are smooth and quick, while good pedal modulation avoids any impression that the gearbox is lazy to downshift or overeager to upshift.
Traveling along a dusty dirt path into a music festival, I got to check out the AWD Lock mode, which makes the Santa Fe feel more confident in the silty stuff by making sure the AWD system is always active rather than just being reactive when slip is detected. Even on paved roads with AWD Lock disengaged, the Santa Fe reactively apportions power quickly and nicely. Furthermore, I never had to worry about the front wheels slipping during spirited launches at right- or left-hand turns into intersections.
Paved roads or not, the Santa Fe offers a ride that's always comfortable, but get the crossover into a set of turns, and body roll is nicely controlled. While navigating the twisties, the steering offers appropriate weight and accuracy, while presenting a pleasant hint of feel through the wheel. A well-modulated brake pedal allows for consistent stopping power that always delivers a sense of confidence.
The newest generation of the Hyundai Santa Fe doesn't feel like a substantial improvement over the third-generation model, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The third-gen Santa Fe didn't really need much improvement anyway, so why mess with success?
At the end of the day, the 2019 Santa Fe is a fetching crossover that offers reasonable space, reasonable towing capability, terrific comfort, respectable tech, lots of standard features and plenty of power and it's not too bad to drive, either.
And here's the linchpin: No matter how you spec it, the Santa Fe ends up costing around $5,000 less than its comparably equipped competition. Considering how nicely sorted it is in pretty much every regard, once you factor in price, the 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe is a no-brainer recommendation in the crowded midsize SUV segment.