Hyundai entered the U.S. market as a manufacturer of small, inexpensive, fuel-efficient sedans and hatchbacks. But the South Korean automaker soon jumped aboard the sport-utility bandwagon and has been hugely successful. How successful? Last year, only the compact Elantra line outsold the midsize Santa Fe among Hyundai’s diverse offerings.
Hyundai redesigned the Santa Fe for 2019. The changes, while generally appealing, lack drama. Among them are a sleeker exterior appearance, desirable safety features across all trim levels, improved quality of interior materials, and noise and vibration-reduction measures. Hyundai also did away with the “Sport” designation commonly used on compact and midsize crossovers, simply calling the shorter-bodied version the Santa Fe and the extended-body, seven-passenger model the Santa Fe XL.
Our test car was a scarlet red 2019 Santa Fe in SEL Plus trim, sticker-priced at $32,670. As is typical with Korean models, it was well-equipped and had just one option — carpeted floor mats, for $125. Standard equipment included 18-inch wheels, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic-collision warning lights, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, heated front seats with power adjustments on the driver’s seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, seven-inch color display, satellite radio, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Blue Link connected services and remote start. The car’s proximity key will open the power tailgate if the driver or passenger simply stands behind the locked car with the key.
The Santa Fe handled more crisply than we expected. It’s not quite up to the standard of the Mazda CX-5 in the fun-to-drive department, but neither is it disappointing. The smooth ride and low noise level also impressed.
The Santa Fe’s interior is well designed. Under the cargo compartment are several hidden compartments, and there are plenty of spaces, large and small, for small items in the front seat. The Santa Fe also provides ample headroom and knee room for rear-seat passengers. Finally, the climate and audio controls are intuitive bordering on idiot-proof.
Driving from Bethel to an unfamiliar town in New York state, we were pleased to discover the infotainment system was “smart” enough to display the directions via our smartphone. The car was not equipped with a built-in navigation system, but our phone and the infotainment system got us to our destination without a hitch.
The Santa Fe has just one weak spot: its 185-horsepower, 4-cylinder engine. Some drivers found it underpowered, and its fuel-economy rating of just 21 mpg city, 27 highway, is middling for its class. But the Santa Fe’s 8-speed shiftable automatic transmission wrung as much performance out of the engine as could be expected.
Major competitors include the CX-5, Subaru Forester, Ford Escape, Chevrolet Equinox, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue and Jeep Cherokee. The Santa Fe XL pushes into a larger class of crossovers, and Hyundai is expanding its all-weather offerings later this year with the Palisade, bigger than the Santa Fe.
The Santa Fe has been rated a Top Safety Pick Plus by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
2019 Hyundai Santa Fe SEL Plus AWD
Engine: 2.4-liter inline Four, 185 horsepower, 178 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: 8-speed shiftable automatic
Weight: 3,735 lb.
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
Ground clearance: 7.3 in.
Wheels: 18-in. alloy
Tires: 235/60R18 all-season
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 35.9 cu. ft.
Maximum cargo capacity: 71.3 cu. ft.
Maximum towing capacity: 2,000 lb.
Fuel capacity: 18.8 gal.
Fuel economy: 21 mpg city, 27 mpg highway
Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline
Steven Macoy (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel.