SEOUL, South Korea — The air is chilly and the sky is gray and cloudy, but from the look of the all-new 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe, things are bright and sunny in the automaker’s halls. This is the fourth generation of the SUV, first established as a brand staple back in 2000. For 2019, Hyundai attempts to invade the map of more upmarket shoppers, incorporating a heavily revised interior and sleeker exterior design.
With a new face and fresh interior comes a reworked naming convention as well. For the moment, the new Santa Fe will arrive in two-row configuration only, similar to the outgoing Santa Fe Sport. Hyundai admits the previous naming structure proved confusing for some customers, so now the regular five-passenger SUV will simply be called the Santa Fe. If you’re desperately in need of extra space for the kiddos, spec yours out with the new diesel engine (more on that later) and it arrives with an “occasional use” folding third row.
If you’re the office carpool hauler for full-sized adults, Hyundai will continue to build the older three-row Santa Fe, now labeled the Santa Fe XL, just for 2019 (in a vein similar to the 2017 GMC Acadia Limited.) The XL is a placeholder as Hyundai admits an all-new, full-size three-row SUV is on its way.
The outgoing Santa Fe was hardly an offensive design, but the new SUV cuts fat and presents clean, sleek bodylines aimed at purloining customers from higher price brackets. Hyundai’s new cascade grille, first seen last year on the refreshed 2018 Sonata, makes its SUV debut on the 2019 Santa Fe. According to the automaker, the trim piece is meant to evoke images of molten metal pouring from a foundry ladle. I’m not sure about that last part, but it sure sharpens up the schnoz. Aside from the new grille, there’s some trickery up front involving the dual headlamp setup. Those thin blades up top are the daytime running lights, while the large blocks recessed into the lower portion of the fascia are the full-power headlights.
While it appears leaner, the new Santa Fe is larger than the outgoing Santa Fe Sport. It’s 2.7 inches longer, 0.4 inch wider, and rides in a wheelbase that’s stretched by an additional 2.5 inches. This pays dividends inside, where headroom, legroom, shoulder room, and cargo capacity are all improved with 2.7-cubic feet of extra passenger volume. For stowage, the new dimensions added 1.2 cubic feet of cargo room behind the second row.
Inside is a redesigned cockpit that is one of Hyundai’s best. The materials, fit, finish, and ergonomics are better, incorporating little changes that add up for driver comfort. Some are subtle, including a slight tilt to the infotainment screen to reduce glare, repositioned window and door controls, and a sharper bi-level dash design than the Sport. Start ticking option boxes on the order form and the Santa Fe includes the requisite tech and frills found on the higher-end of the segment–head-up display, premium sound system, and “smart” heated seats that progressively turn off and on based on time and temperature. The new digital gauge cluster is particularly clean, joining the industry trend of virtual displays.
Underneath these new threads is a trio of powertrains, starting with the familiar 2.4-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder pushing out 185 hp and 178 lb-ft of torque. The 2.0-liter turbocharged four-banger also returns, now packing five fewer ponies at 235 hp, and 260 lb-ft of torque. For those that are hoping to do some medium-duty towing, the fourth-gen Santa Fe offers a diesel option for the first time in the U.S. The 2.2-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder brings 197 hp and a hefty 322 lb-ft of torque. Stateside, all engines and drive configurations are managed by Hyundai’s new eight-speed automatic transmission.
Out on the runway-smooth coastal roads south of Seoul, the Santa Fe was as smooth, comfortable, and quiet as expected of the segment, with neutral, light steering and brakes. I only drove the RoW-spec 2.0-liter diesel engine, but that was more than torquey enough for regular driving. Our 2.2-liter arrives with more power and torque, so expect that to be one of the better engine options. The eight-speed was quick shifting, smooth and clever–when I dialed in sport mode, the transmission held the gears for longer than I anticipated.
It’s unsurprisingly safe as well, offering a suite of driver assistance tech that we’ve seen elsewhere in Hyundai’s lineup. Forward collision avoidance and assist, lane keep assist and lane departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert, and blind spot are all part of the Smart Sense package. There’s also a nifty Safe Exit Assist function that temporarily locks the rear passenger doors when it detects an oncoming car when the Santa Fe is parked, working in conjunction with the Rear Occupants Alert.
Both pricing and fuel efficiency numbers aren’t available quite yet, but look for the new Santa Fe to sticker somewhere just north of the outgoing Sport, which carried a $25,930 tag at the base level.
2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Specifications
|ON SALE||Summer 2018|
|ENGINE||2.4L DOHC 16-valve inline-four / 185 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 178 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm;
2.0L DOHC 16-valve turbocharged inline-four / 235 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 260 lb-ft @ 1,450 – 3,500;
2.2L DOHC 16-valve turbocharged diesel inline-four / 190 hp @3,800 rpm, 322 lb-ft of torque @ 1,750 – 2,500 rpm
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD/AWD SUV|
|L x W x H||187.8 x 74.4 x 66.1 in|