DETROIT — There have been some big changes for the 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe. The five-passenger Santa Fe Sport is now called Santa Fe. The current long wheelbase, three-row, seven-passenger model called Santa Fe has been renamed Santa Fe XL. And an all-new three-row, eight-passenger SUV is currently under development and will carry an all-new name.
What’s more, the Santa Fe crossover that I test drove had a bolder design, new safety, comfort and convenience technology, and better sight lines and cabin storage space. All of that is a long-winded way of saying the Santa Fe has been reworked for the better.
The first thing I noticed about the 2019 Santa Fe was the quiet smoothness of the engine. Its ride was silky, much like an all-around air suspension. Instead, the 2019 Santa Fe had a multi-link with gas shock absorber and 24 mm stabilizer bar w/self-leveling suspension.
I had the top-of-the-line 2.0-liter direct injected turbocharged four-cylinder engine that made 235 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque at a low 1,450 rpms. In other words, the Santa Fe 2.0T could get up and move from just about any speed. It had an EPA rating of 19 mpg in the city, 24 mpg on the highway and 19 mpg combined.
The engine was mated to an all-new eight-speed automatic transmission. Despite having two extra gears, the new eight-speeder, which was designed in-house, was lighter than the outgoing six-speed model. The automatic transmission added ratio range at both the top and bottom of output speeds allowing for extra thrust off-the-line and a quieter, more fuel-efficient dash down the interstate.
My test vehicle had an all-wheel-drive system that Hyundai called advanced. It was developed as a multi-mode scheme that provided an electronic, variable-torque-split clutch with active torque control between the front and rear axles.
The 2019 Santa Fe had an overview camera and a stop-start system that was so smooth that I never turned it off out of irritation. That’s rare.
The driver-selectable normal, sport and smart drive modes aided traction control in all weather conditions. Given that we got bunches of snow, followed by warmer temperatures and the accompanying slush and wet pavement and then followed by refreezing during the test drive, I left the drive mode in smart and I don’t think there was even any wheel slippage, much less wheel spin.
Still, I could sense the slick ride, comfort, handling and stability of the 2019 Santa Fe. Hyundai said they were achieved through a change in suspension geometry. The major adjustment came when engineers moved the rear shocks from an angled position to upright, improving the ride and handling no matter the driving conditions.
The Santa Fe featured Hyundai’s cascading grille and composite light design with LED daytime running lights positioned on top of the LED headlights. The midsize crossover had a wide stance and it looked athletic. Hyundai keeps calling the Santa Fe an SUV but I’m not sure it can go offroad.
Its character line went from headlights to taillights and what the automaker called a daylight opening with satin surround that provided better visibility. I called it windows. There was also diamond cut 19-inch wheels. The rear featured a muscular high and taut shape. There was also a panoramic sunroof that, of course, never got used but I did let the shade back.
Except for the panoramic roof, most of the descriptive stuff I pulled from the Santa Fe’s press material. When you are cleaning snow off a vehicle, you’re not checking character lines, trust me.
But the Santa Fe’s interior was quiet, stately and posh. It was like looking at snow, ice and windblown elements through the window from the cozy surroundings of a den. There was even the feel of a fireplace. Well, OK, that might be a bit much. But it was comfortable.
The 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe had a floating touch infotainment screen. Climate controls were underneath it and there were USB, auxiliary and 12-volt jacks and sockets beneath that along the back wall of a small storage bin at the start of the center console.
A large circular TFT speedometer dominated the space in front of the driver. It had digital speed readout within it. The fuel and temperature readouts were combination TFT and analog gauges on either side. There was also a heads-up-display. Overall this was an uncluttered look.
This 2019 Santa Fe could be locked into four-wheel drive. It also had a hill descent control which I thought laughable since this area is about as flat as a billiard table. But other parts of the country have hills and mountains galore.
Anyway, I climbed into the backseat and was really surprised. First, there wasn’t much of a dropoff in the quality of the rear seats. They were comfortable and maintained the sleek styling of the front seats.
They were also heated and the panoramic roof covered the rear seats as well. There were privacy shades on the side windows and the green house had an airy feel because of the expansive windows.
And those seats were movable manually. They slide forward and the backs tilted. They were also 60/40 split seats. There was a latch on the back cargo floor. I pulled it and it revealed three cargo bins under the floor.
Hyundai engineers did a number of little things to enhance the driver and rider experience. The audio/visual/navigation system screen had been tilted and positioned to reduce glare. The window switches and grab handles had been moved forward for more elbow room. The door map pockets had been reduced in size for more legroom and cup holders in the center console had been repositioned for ease of use and the height and length of the center armrest has also been increased. None of this stuff would you necessarily notice, but it makes the experience more satisfying.
There was the usual equipment. These days, that includes blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, rearview camera, smart cruise control, satellite radio, Bluetooth, premium audio system, etc.
What impressed me most was the back seat monitor reminding me to check back there every time I got out of the vehicle and the oncoming traffic alert. This wasn’t for traffic from in front but vehicles approaching from the rear. If I parked on a busy street and unlatched the door to exit, it would alert me if traffic was coming.
It was a well-equipped crossover and Hyundai continues to hold onto its DNA of offering more for the money; I thought the $39,905 sticker as tested was a pretty good price for the 2019 Santa Fe Ultimate 2.0T.
Lots of equipment
Great price: $39,905
Good ride and handling
Mileage less than 20 in the city
Only front doors have pushbutton unlock
No fully automatic power windows in rear
Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com