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First Drive: 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Ultimate 2.0T AWD

Compact SUV slips, slides, and slithers

Ed TahaneyWriter, photographerManufacturerphotos

PARK CITY, Utah — Believe it or not, today we're drifting in a 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Ultimate 2.0T compact SUV. We're slipping and sliding down a deserted country road somewhere near the Timber Lakes area of the Beehive State.

Thanks to AWD coupling, controlled braking, and some nifty torque vectoring voodoo, Hyundai's Traction (HTRAC) all-wheel-drive system corrects our wayward driving antics. Despite the assistance, the Santa Fe is a hoot to drive and impressive for a small SUV.

It's raining and there's a lightning flash in the distant mountains where the Santa Fe's big clamshell-shaped hood is pointed. The Machine Gray paint blends in nicely with the steely, overcast sky; the black-on-black interior matches our hearts.

The surrounding countryside is filled with birch and pine trees and there's a flock of sheep on the surrounding hills. It's super quiet in the cabin thanks to new sound padding, better insulation materials, and gobs of fancy adhesives. Out on the highway it easily shames some of the pricier Lexus SUVs I've recently driven.

Actually, the cabin is so quiet I fail to hear a big white barking dog chasing along side of us—who's obviously not a fan. I give the fourth-generation Santa Fe a little gas to avoid clipping the beast.

Under the hood, the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine delivers 235 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. That's plenty of boost to avoid a crazy dog, fellow commuters, and other wayward critters.

There's also a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine available with 185 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque, but we didn't test it during our brief run. Both engines feature Hyundai's new eight-speed automatic transmission, which performed admirably on the mountain and valley roads.

Our Ultimate trim SUV weighs 3,591-pounds and is lighter than all of its competitors including the new Chevrolet Blazer, Jeep Cherokee, Subaru Outback, Nissan Murano, Ford Edge, and Kia Sorento.

Santa Fe features Idle Stop & Go technology that is standard on both engines to save fuel. Fortunately, you can disable it if you choose to do so, unlike the systems found in the Chevy Equinox and Traverse. There are three driving modes to choose from: Comfort, Sport, and Smart—Comfort mode felt bouncy on the road; Sport tightened the steering wheel. But I didn't notice any significant difference between Sport and Smart.

I'll have to get back to you on the Santa Fe's 0-60 mph time (I didn't have a stopwatch), but the rear hands-free Smart Liftgate opens in a blistering 4.5 seconds. Trevor Lai, Hyundai product planning manager, promises us it won't break an ankle while opening it remotely during a presentation at the Stein Eriksen Lodge, a skiing outpost in Deer Valley.

Our five-passenger SUV sports a panoramic roof, roof side rails, slivery LED headlights like the Kona's, a beefier grille, heated side mirrors with turn signals and Satin Chrome door handles. Around back, its rear turn signals are located way below the taillights —almost out of place.

Inside there's a 7.0-inch LCD Instrument cluster that's a little cramped, but still easy to read and a neat little shelf above the glove box. It's perfect for holding a cellphone, knickknacks, and a pair of Ray-Bans.

The second row seats fold flat 60/40 and offer 71.3 feet of cargo volume. With the seats up there's 35.9 feet of volume behind the second row for your loot. In the place of a spare tire, there's a hidden tray area to keep valuables safe—the extra tire is located under the rear bumper.

Hyundai SmartSense safety features are standard on the Santa Fe and include: forward collision-avoidance assist with pedestrian detection, blind-spot collision-avoidance assist, lane keeping assist, rear cross-traffic collision-avoidance assist, safe exit assist, smart cruise control with stop and go, and driver attention warning. (That's a lot of beeps.)

Safe exit assist is a system that detects approaching vehicles from the rear. The driver receives an audible warning with a pop up in the gauge cluster and the rear doors remain locked. Hyundai says this prevents kids or rear passengers from opening a door without looking first.

On the dash, there's an 8.0-inch navigation system that's Android Auto and Apple CarPlay friendly, Blue Link, and an Infinity Premium stereo system with surround sound. Listening to Johnny Cash cover Hank Snow's "I've Been Everywhere" again, and again sounds great on it too.

There are five trims to choose from: SE, SEL, SEL Plus, Limited, and our new favorite Ultimate. Sport has been dropped.

Base price starts at $26,480 for the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine SE trims and goes up to $36,430 for the top of the line Ultimate trim, plus $1,700 for AWD models. It's available in nine exterior flavors and three interior color palettes. The new materials look and feel good and they should at this price.

Not far out of town, we took the Santa Fe up a muddy, rock infested incline similar to roads I have driven in Bolivia, Costa Rica, Peru, and New Jersey—and the Santa Fe performed like a champ.

Mind you it's no Trail Rated Jeep Cherokee replacement, but it gets the job done handily. Be sure to rent one the next time you hit the great outdoors.

The 2019 Santa Fe is assembled in Montgomery, Alabama along with the Elantra and Sonata sedans. Hyundai has sold more than 1.6 million Santa Fes since it was first introduced nearly two decades ago. Now that's a lot of likes.


2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Ultimate 2.0T AWD Specifications
PRICE $36,430 (base) $39,905 (as-tested)
ENGINE 2.0L DOHC 16-valve turbocharged inline-four/235 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 260 lb-ft @ 1,450-3,500; 2.4L DOHC 16-valve inline-four/185 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 178 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV
EPA MILEAGE 19/24 mpg (city/hwy); 21/27 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 187.8 x 74.4 x 67.1 in
WHEELBASE 108.9 in
WEIGHT 3,591 lb
0-60 MPH 9.5 sec (est)
TOP SPEED 110 mph (est)
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