[REVIEW] 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Ultimate

South Korea is among the most advanced automobile-producing countries in the world today. Did you know that the automotive industry in South Korea is the 5th largest in the world when measured by automobile unit production and automobile export volume?

Established in 1967, Hyundai Motor Co. has grown into the Hyundai Motor Group, with more than two dozen auto-related subsidiaries and affiliates.

Hyundai Motors − which employs 900,000 worldwide, has seven manufacturing bases outside of South Korea including Brazil, China, the Czech Republic, India, Russia, Turkey and the U.S. They sold a staggering 4.4 million vehicles globally in 2012.

Their latest effort, the totally redesigned 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe, signals the South Korean auto industry’s coming of age stronger and clearer than ever.

State of the Union

The forth generation Santa Fe competes squarely in a marketplace now filled with other midsized crossover vehicles. These crossovers blur the line between traditional body-on-frame passenger truck-based SUVs and the ubiquitous but trusty minivans.

These midsize crossovers, like minivans, play a largely thankless role in the life of today’s modern family. Offering the style and security of all-wheel-drive and a higher driving position, they are a common sight on the roads for the school run.

With the ability to keep everyone and everything in them safe and comfortable in all sorts of weather conditions day in and out, they’re the true heroes of said modern family. But yet, their owners often immediately forget about them as soon as their work is done.


Let’s start with the Santa Fe’s design first.

Did you know that Hyundai’s Chief Designer is now Thomas Bürkle? Yes, this is the same chap who designed BMW’s 3-series sedan/wagon and the 6-series!

The Santa Fe then, has design pedigree. Now in its fourth iteration since the model name was introduced in 2001, the latest Santa Fe features a more rugged version of Hyundai’s Fluidic design language that we’ve seen so beautifully executed on the Sonata, Tuscon, and Elantra.

The new two box design is 65 mm up in the wheelbase department compared to the outgoing Santa Fe Sport, resulting in a total wheelbase length of 2,765mm.

The Santa Fe’s larger dimensions, combined with its smart and distinctive body lines, results in significant road presence that helps to set its apart from its rivals.

Nonetheless, it’s important to note that the Santa Fe is still a “tweener”, which size and price straddles between the small SUV and mid-sized SUV segments. It’s a worthy competitor for well-equipped versions of the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Nissan Murano, and Jeep Grand Cherokee.

The 2019 Santa Fe’s new snout has what Hyundai calls its “cascading” new grille design. Similar to the company’s smaller Kona crossover, what appear to be the headlights at first, are indeed the daytime running lights.

A set of twin projectors lights sits underneath the daytime running lights and serve as the low and high beams. All in all, it is a bit of an unusual look that is certainly distinctive.

Inside the cabin

While the Santa Fe’s price is lower than many of its competitors, this doesn’t mean that the engineers haven’t found ways of creating an interior with a long lasting and quality feel to it. The cabin is luxury-car quiet with its double-sealed doors and more.

A fresh new dashboard design and more standard features make the Santa Fe as likable on the inside as it is fashionable on the outside. The dash is mixed with pleasantly textured plastic mixed with soft touch surfaces.

While it’s not quite up to Mercedes-Benz or Lexus standards, it is more than adequate for the price range. Overall, its modern, clean, and nicely finished due largely to the two-tone leather upholstery and the brushed metal accents. Thanks to its longer and wider body, there is also more space inside compared to the outgoing model.

Between the front seats are a couple of handy storage nooks, with the forward one giving occupants easy access to power, an AUX jack, and a USB port. The controls are simple to interpret and use.

The uprated infotainment system comes with an 8.0 inch touchscreen, and has Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. The interface is easy to learn and quick to respond.

Perhaps the only complaint is that the graphics are a bit simplistic looking from a User Experience standpoint, and that the screen itself is a bit of a stretch to reach, even for taller drivers. Nonetheless, praise should be heaped onto the designers for keeping actual volume and tuning knobs.

Base Santa Fes have an gauge cluster with a 3.5-inch LCD screen between a conventional rev counter and speedometer. In upper trim levels, such as my Ultimate trim test vehicle, an analog tachometer and fuel and coolant-temperature gauges flank a 7.0-inch “virtual cluster” in the gauge cluster.

Depending on the driving mode, this display changes its color theme—blue for Normal, red for Sport, green for Eco—and can display a digital readout or a virtualized analog speedometer. Throttle and transmission calibrations also change with these modes, although for the most part, I left it in “Normal” 90 per cent of the time.

Passive and Active Safety Systems

All Santa Fes are equipped with forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic warning, and lane-keeping assist.

Hyundai has also added two clever features that are new to the Santa Fe. Driver-attention warning looks for signs of drowsy or distracted driving by analyzing vehicle data, such as steering input and the vehicle’s position in a lane. If the driver’s behaviour suggests a lack of focus, the system will issue an audible tone or visual alert.

What is more noteworthy, especially for families with young kids, is Hyundai’s Safe Exit Assist. Using the cross traffic radar sensors, this system warns occupants that a vehicle is approaching when they open a door.

It can even temporarily prevent a locked door from being unlocked if a vehicle is approaching from behind. The door will only be “released” after the car has safely passed.

So how does it drive?

The starting point for the base Santa Fe is a 2.4L four-cylinder that pushes 185 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque through a new eight-speed automatic transmission, to either the front or all four wheels.

The better choice, however, is the 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder. It fires a healthy 235 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque through the same slick-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission and a decent all-wheel-drive system. This turbocharged motor has power on tap, but like most smaller turbocharged engine, there is a bit of turbo lag.

The new eight-speed automatic, for the most part, shifts imperceptibly and kicks down quickly and smoothly when you put your foot in it. However, at times, there is a bit of a shirting delay as the transmission tries to keep up with the demand for power under hard acceleration.

The Santa Fe’s handling is overall quite responsive. There is limited body roll when pushed through turns, and the vehicle feels agile and taut. Steering response has been much improved over the previous model, and there is high confidence in piloting through the twistiest of roads.

While a touch on the firm side, the ride was well controlled with no wallowing over a number of different surfaces. I was so impressed with the Santa Fe’s ride quality that I would almost venture calling it “European” with its well-dampened motions.

An underrated portion of the Santa Fe’s nimble chassis is its use of multiple grades of high strength steels. Extremely high strength steel is used in critical side panels to reduce impact intrusion, and across and along body structural rails to move impact forces across or through the body. The strongest steel is reserved for front head-on collision strength and to create a roll cage structure around occupants.

Parting Thoughts

A decade ago driving a mid-size to large SUV was usually a very unpleasant experience for a typical car lover. They were always based on trucks chassis with terrible ride and handling, slow and numb steering, and weak brakes with mushy pedal feel. These days, SUVs and crossovers have come such a long way in the intervening period.

For its part, Hyundai is in the process of expanding its entire SUV lineup, which soon will stretch from the compact Kona through the freshened Tucson to the new Santa Fe and beyond to an all-new, larger three-row model named the Palisade.

Overall, I found the redesigned 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe to be pleasant to drive, easy to live with, and comfortable for driver and passengers. It is likely to win most shoppers right out of the gate with its refined ride and handling, as well as its practical proportions.

As the famed late movie critics Siskel and Ebert would say, “Two Thumbs Up”!


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