We’ve been into Sports lately: The Elantra Sport, the HR-V Sport and soon, the Civic Sport.
So, in the growing enterprise of sporty vehicles, it’s interesting that for the all-new 2019, the model formerly known as Hyundai Santa Fe Sport has been simplified to just Santa Fe. Hey, the Santa Fe has been here for 32 years, and is the burgeoning brand’s best-selling SUV.
Has Hyundai found a different path? Will it have lost the fun-to-drive and stylish vibe of the previous model? The question is…
Do We Know the Way to Santa Fe?
Well, it’s still pointed in a stylish direction. Remaining a 5-passenger SUV – the larger 3-row XL is coming later – it’s a bit larger than the Sport, nearly 3 inches longer in length, with a 2.6-inch growth in wheelbase, and it has a more substantial, planted stance.
Up front, there’s the new corporate look that reminds us of the Hyundai Kona, with squinty LED daytime running lights and the signature “Cascading Grille”. We liked the look on the Kona, and it carries over well here on the Santa Fe, giving it a much more aggressive and identifiable persona.
There’s a character line that runs the length of the vehicle that looks sporty and fresh, while a tauter rear end with signature LED taillights and cladding-like rear fascia give a rugged look. The Ultimate’s 19-inch rims are big and bold, and out tester’s Lava Orange helped us stand out from the crowd of SUV’s.
Santa Fe – A Great Place to Stay
While it looks a bit larger on the outside, the Santa Fe feels massively spacious on the inside. The greenhouse is larger than before, letting in more light for an open airy vibe. The front seats are large well-padded affairs, with notably long lower seat cushions, and excellent lumbar support. There’s also nearly 3 inches more front legroom – NBA players welcome!
Those in back won’t feel left out, the rear seats slide and recline, and legroom is 1.5-inches longer than the Sport model. It feels limo-spacious. Carrying gear is super easy with our tester’s power folding rear seats. The seats fold flat and give a massive cargo hold – unchanged from the Sport, but that was impressive, too.
Even more impressive is the design and quality of materials. The gauge package includes a 7-inch TFT LCD display that calls up all sorts of information, and even gives you an angry red background in Sport Mode with a dedicated look – we loved it.
There’s also an Audi-like 8-inch, tablet-style touchscreen for Navigation and info-tainment. All Santa Fe models now enjoy Android Auto and Apple CarPlay for your connected enjoyment. We also enjoyed Qi wireless charging – well, we would if had an Android phone – and the 630-watt, 12-speaker, 11-channel amplifier, Infinity premium Audio system. For the plugged-in family there’s 4 – count ‘em, 4! – USB ports, two in front and two in back.
Our tester also impressed with its interior style. A beautiful folded effect trim surrounding the speakers, subtle matte-tone wood-like trim, soft leather and tasteful stitching. There’s an elegance there, a feeling of pride in design. It reminded us of the Lexus LS we recently tested. But that was a $100,000 car!
We also got some cool extra tech on our Ultimate model with a Surround View Monitor that makes maneuvering and parking this good-sized vehicle a snap, and a handy heads-up display.
And our Blue Link equipped tester also had 3-years of complimentary services, with thoughtful stuff including remote start with climate control, Remote lock/unlock, Car Finder, Stolen Vehicle Recovery and more. You can even control many of the features through Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant. Some features can also be controlled via Android Wear and Apple Watch apps. Vehicles like the Santa Fe are quickly becoming rolling showcases of technology – handling our lives as easy as handling curves.
How’s it drive? Nice. Honestly, when we tested the Santa Fe Sport in 2017, it wasn’t all that sporty, more of a grand tourer. While lesser Santa Fe models come with a 185 hp, 2.4-liter 4-cylinder, our 2.0T model got the much more powerful 2.0-liter turbo four, producing 235 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque at just 1450 rpm.
Posting similar power numbers as before, the 2019 gets a helping hand from a new 8-speed automatic (replacing the previous 6-speed), which gives a lot of low end punch, and in Sport Mode you rocket away from stop lights and have sparkling high-speed passing. It’s a fun motor to gun.
There’s a price to be paid for that fun – go deep to the turbo well like we did, and you will see only about 18 mpg. Patience and a lighter foot will see upper 20’s on the freeway – so the Santa Fe would be an excellent long-distance cruiser.
It’s also notably quieter than the previous model – Hyundai spent an impressive amount of time adding sound absorbing material and strengthening the chassis. It feels impressively solid, even over rough stuff.
Our tester also had the HTRAC all-wheel drive system, which not only is excellent for bad weather and slippery roads, it also adds to driving fun – in Sport Mode it sends more power to the rear, enhancing steering feel, and giving more sport sedan-like balance. Nice stuff. Add in the 19-inch wheels and this is an easy vehicle to hustle along. While it doesn’t goad you into chasing down the twisties, it’s a comfortable and confident handler.
Hyundai really boosts that confident feeling with an Armada (sorry, Nissan) of safety features for 2019. All models feature standard Forward collision warning, rear cross traffic collision avoidance assist, Blind Spot collision avoidance assist, Lane Keep assist, and Smart Cruise Control with Stop & Go, and Driver Attention Warning, that keeps an eye to see if you’re drowsy.
There’s also cool stuff like optional Rear Occupant Alert, debuting on Santa Fe, which monitors the rear seats using an ultrasonic sensor that helps to detect the movements of children and pets. If the system detects movement in the rear seats after the driver leaves the vehicle and locks the doors, it will honk the horn and send a Blue Link alert to the driver’s smartphone via Hyundai’s Blue Link connected car system.
The 2019 Santa Fe also features Hyundai’s first standard Safe Exit Assist system that uses radar to detect cars approaching from the rear and cautions passengers looking to exit the vehicle. If a passenger attempts to open the door when a car is approaching from behind, a visual and acoustic warning on the center cluster will alert the driver.
High Cost of Living in Santa Fe?
Hyundai remains a competitive and compelling value. The huge Santa Fe lineup starts with the SE at $25,750, and gets you loads of safety gear in a large and stylish package. We’d plump at least for the SEL at $27,650, which adds goodies like heated front seats, power seats, Sirius XM, 7-inch TFT info display, proximity key with push-button start, and more.
The SEL Plus starts at $29,800, and adds sliding second row seats with cargo area releases, Infinity premium audio system, and dual-zone climate control. Leather-lined goodness comes with the Limited model, starting at $32,600, opting for the 2.0T turbo motor raises the ante to $34,200 – but you do get the 19-inch wheels.
The Ultimate starts at $35,450 and gives you everything you could ask for including the larger 8-inch screen, climate-controlled seats, etc. Our Ultimate 2.0T tester started at $37,100. All wheel drive added $1,700. With $1,045 for Destination our tester carried a sticker of $39,845. We should note that building on Hyundai’s website gave us a $3,000 savings, bringing us to an impressive $36,845.
Nearly every brand makes a competitor, so we priced out a 4Runner Limited ($44,460 comparably-equipped), and Grand Cherokee Limited ($45,390). We’ll call the Santa Fe an exceptional value.
Smartly styled, exceptionally equipped, super comfortable, and a great buy, the all-new 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe should be the destination for any SUV buyer.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.