Hyundai’s five-passenger Santa Fe Sport compact crossover enters its fourth generation for 2019, but the “Sport” part of its name has been dropped, and it comes with lots of new safety technology.
Its longer sibling, the seven-passenger model known for the past five years as simply the Santa Fe, returns unchanged for 2019 except for the addition of “XL” to the end of its name, signifying that it’s the larger midsize version.
These are two separate vehicles, even though they share the Santa Fe name. But while the compact Santa Fe is all new for 2019, the Santa Fe XL won’t get a makeover until next year, for the 2020 model year.
Here, we’ll concentrate on the redesigned Santa Fe five-passenger model, which is produced exclusively for the North American market at Hyundai’s manufacturing plant in Montgomery, Alabama.
There are five trim levels for the restyled 2019 Santa Fe. Base prices start at $25,500 (plus $980 freight) for the entry level SE model, and range as high as $35,450 for the Ultimate (both with front-wheel drive). In between are the SEL ($27,600), SEL-Plus (28,900) and Limited ($32,600).
The base engine on all models is a normally aspirated 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder with 185 horsepower and 178 foot-pounds of torque. Optional on the two high-end models is a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder, rated at 235 horsepower and 260 foot-pounds of torque.
Both engines come with an eight-speed automatic transmission, an upgrade from the previous model’s six-speed automatic.
All-wheel drive is available at all levels for an additional $1,700, and the 2.0-liter engine upgrade for the Limited and Ultimate models adds $1,650 more to the price. So, with AWD and the 2.0-liter engine, the Limited trim tops out at $35,900 and the Ultimate at $38,800, which is the model we tested for this report.
EPA fuel-economy ratings are 22 mpg city/29 highway/25 combined for the 2.4-liter engine and front-wheel drive (21/27/23 with all-wheel drive); and 20/25/22 for the 2.0-liter engine and front drive (19/24/21 with AWD). But surprisingly, our 2.0-liter AWD tester averaged 25.2 mpg on a long drive that was mostly interstate highways.
While I haven’t tested the 2.4-liter engine in the 2019 Santa Fe, that engine is available, and I have experienced it in other Hyundai vehicles, including the 2018 Santa Fe, where it offered more-than-sufficient power for everyday driving.
But the 2.0-liter engine goes well beyond “sufficient” power, and makes this vehicle a delight to drive. It’s disappointing that Hyundai does not offer it in the lower trim levels.
The 2019 Santa Fe has a new exterior design that designer Andrew Moir said was intended to give the vehicle more of an SUV look than the previous model, which he described as being more like a minivan. The exterior is squarer than before, which allows for larger rear side windows. That gives rear-seat passengers better outward visibility.
It comes with Hyundai’s recently introduced signature cascading grille, along with stacked LED headlights, outside mirrors that are attached to the body just below the windows rather than to a black plastic triangle that was part of the front windows in the previous model. Daytime running lights, foglights and taillights are also LEDs.
Inside, there is a very nice new headliner with soft material that looks much better than that of the previous Santa Fe and most of its current competitors. For interior storage of gadgets and such, there is an open bin above the glovebox door, and there are nice embossed speaker grilles in the front doors. A tray in front of the center console has a wireless phone charger.
The new Santa Fe is 187.8 inches long, which is 2.8-inches longer than the 2018 model. It’s also 0.4 inch wider and 0.6 inch higher. And it’s 33 pounds lighter, at least in the base model.
Cargo space has been slightly increased, to 35.9 cubic feet behind the rear seat. With the rear seatback folded, that expands to 71.3 cubic feet.
The HTRAC all-wheel drive has three driver-selectable modes: Comfort, Smart and Sport. The system in Comfort and Smart modes can send up to half of the torque to the rear wheels as needed for traction.
For safety and durability, the combined body and frame is made of 67 percent advanced high-strength steel, which is 14 percent more than was used in the 2018 Santa Fe Sport.
Ride quality is improved by the high-strength steel and other chassis and suspension refinements, and both handling and steering have been upgraded.
The cabin is very quiet at highway speeds, thanks to more insulation and sound-absorbing materials. That includes acoustic laminated glass for the windshield and side windows.
There is comfortable seating for up to five people, and there is decent knee and legroom even for rear passengers.
Safety technology abounds in the new Santa Fe. Standard is Hyundai’s Smart Sense system, which includes Forward Collision Avoidance Assist with Pedestrian Detection, Blind-Spot Collision-Avoidance Assist (which attempts to keep the vehicle in its lane if the driver tries to change lanes while traffic is present in the adjacent lane), Rear Cross-Traffic Collision-Avoidance Assist, Safe Exit Assist, Lane Keeping Assist, Driver Attention Warning, Smart Cruise Control with Stop and Go, and High Beam Assist.
We took a 400-mile road trip in our Santa Fe Ultimate AWD with the 2.0-liter engine, and were able to test some of the technology – especially the smart cruise control and the lane-keep feature.
As with some other driver-assist systems we’ve tested recently, the Santa Fe’s lane-keep system steers the vehicle for the driver, keeping it between the lines remarkably well. The system won’t allow the driver to take his hands off the steering wheel for more than a few seconds, however.
Whenever I tried that, a warning would sound and show up on the instrument panel telling me to grasp the steering wheel. If I didn’t comply, it would tell me it was turning off the Lane Keeping Assist. While I certainly understand the reasons behind this particular behavior – to limit Hyundai’s liability if people were to try using the lane-keep feature to drive the car – I found that by maintaining a tight hold on the steering wheel, I was fighting the Lane Keeping Assist in its efforts to steer the vehicle. That defeats the purpose.
The Smart Cruise Control did a good job of keeping my vehicle a safe distance from the vehicle in front of me, but here again, the driver still must be vigilant. At one point, the vehicle in front of me made a very quick lane change to avoid a vehicle stopping in traffic in front of it, and without me paying close attention and reacting quickly, I might have rear-ended the other vehicle. (This is not a problem limited to Hyundai’s smart cruise; it can happen on most other vehicles with this system, too.)
The new Safe Exit Assist stops the child safety lock on the rear doors from being deactivated by the driver if the system detects traffic approaching at the side of the vehicle. This is designed to help keep rear passengers from opening the door and stepping out into oncoming traffic. It is tied to the child safety lock, however, so that has to have been activated in advance by the switch on the driver’s door.
There is also a rear-seat occupant alert system on SEL-Plus models and above. This is designed to remind the driver to check the rear seat before exiting the vehicle, but it goes beyond that. If after the driver exits, the system detects movement in the rear seat, it will flash the lights and sound the horn, and send a text message to the driver. It’s not clear how much movement is required to activate the warnings, and whether it would work with a sleeping baby or pet.
Some other amenities included as standard equipment on our Ultimate tester were rain-sensing wipers, a panoramic sunroof, 19-inch alloy wheels, roof side rails, heated outside mirrors with integrated turn signals, and a park-distance warning.
We also had leather seats with heat and ventilation up front, but just heat in the rear; satin-chrome door handles; eight-way power/memory front seats with lumbar support and bottom cushion extensions; proximity key with pushbutton start; dual automatic climate control, including rear vents; an LCD instrument cluster; and an eight-inch touch-screen navigation system with a 12-speaker Infinity Premium Audio system, satellite and HD radio, surround sound, Clafi-Fi, and both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.
There were also a wireless charger for smartphones and a head-up display showing cruise and speed info. The nav system and head-up display also showed the current speed limit, although it was not always accurate.
A hands-free smart liftgate was included on our tester, as well as a heated/leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Similarly to the way Honda and Acura price their vehicles, the Santa Fe has specific lists of equipment included on each trim level, and there are no options packages offered.
Our tester did have carpeted floor mats, which added $125 to the $38,800 base sticker price. Total price for our 2019 Santa Fe Ultimate with all-wheel drive and the 2.0-liter engine was $39,905, including freight and the floor mats.
The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 2000. Contact him at email@example.com, or on Twitter @gchambers3.
2019 Hyundai Santa Fe
The package: Compact, five-passenger, four-cylinder gasoline-powered, front- or all-wheel-drive crossover utility vehicle.
Highlights: Hyundai has completely redesigned the five-passenger Santa Fe Sport model for 2019, and has dropped the “Sport” designation. Its larger sibling, the seven-passenger model, is now called the Santa Fe XL. The new Santa Fe has a choice of four-cylinder engines, including a turbo for higher trim levels, and has all-new exterior and interior styling, along with new standard safety technology.
Negatives: No engine upgrade offered for lower trim levels.
Length: 187.8 inches.
Curb weight: 3,591-3,946 pounds.
Engines: 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder, normally aspirated; 2.0-liter inline four, turbocharged.
Transmissions: Eight-speed automatic.
Power/torque: 185 HP./178 foot-pounds (2.4); 235 HP./260 foot-pounds (2.0).
Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock.
Electronic stability control: Standard.
Side air bags: Front seat-mounted; side-curtain, both rows.
Cargo volume: 35.9 cubic feet (behind rear seat); 71.3 (rear seatback folded).
Towing capacity: 2,000 pounds (with trailer brakes; 1,650 without).
Fuel capacity/type: 18.8 gallons/unleaded regular.
EPA fuel economy: 22 mpg city/29 highway/25 combined (2.4, front drive); 21/27/23 (2.4, AWD); 20/25/22 (2.0, front drive); 19/24/21 (2.0, AWD).
Major competitors: Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Mazda CX-5, Chevrolet Equinox, GMC Terrain, Subaru Outback, Nissan Rogue, Ford Escape, Jeep Cherokee, Mitsubishi Outlander.
Base price range: $25,500-$38,800, plus $980 freight.
Price as tested: $39,905 (Ultimate 2.0T AWD, including freight and option).
On the Road rating: 8.7 (of a possible 10).
Prices shown are manufacturer’s suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.