If you’re in the market for a compact crossover there’d better be a good reason you haven’t test driven a Hyundai Santa Fe yet. You’d be crazy not to.
The 5-passenger Santa Fe, formerly the Santa Fe Sport, practically sets the bar for this crossover segment for everything perhaps except handling. Mazda’s CX-5 excels there.
But Santa Fe nails the rest of it, even improving the compact crossover’s sideways sight lines by thinning its A-pillars, lowering the side mirrors and reshaping the vehicle’s character lines to enlarge the side rear windows. So many utes, cars and now crossovers have such massive A-pillars that it makes side visibility a challenge. Subaru had been one of the few car companies to figure this out, now add Hyundai to that list.
OK, there are a variety of trim levels to meet most budgets and Santa Fe is available with front- or AWD. A front-drive 2.4 SE goes for $26,795 and an AWD version for $28,495. Same goes for other trims, the AWD adds just $1,700 to the sticker.
I tested a silvery gray Santa Fe Ultimate 2.0T with front-wheel drive, making it just AWD away from being the top model. It listed at $38,080 including delivery. Its only option was floor mats for $125.
Lest you think $38 grand is excessive for pricing, consider an average new car now is roughly $36,000, with crossovers and trucks even higher. And this baby was loaded with strong performance, a full set of safety systems, plus comfort galore with a good bit of luxury too.
While a base Santa Fe SE features a 2.4-liter I4 creating 185 horsepower, the Limited and Ultimate models offer a stronger 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 making 235 horsepower and 260 lb.ft. of torque. New this year is electric variable valve timing to make the engine both quicker and cleaner.
Add to that an electronic drive mode feature that includes Comfort, Sport and Smart modes. Smart spys on our driving style and alters the gear shifts to fit your needs. Comfort is more laid back and Sport firms it all up with jazzier acceleration. I primarily used Smart mode, hoping it might increase my cranial capacity.
Acceleration is almost sporty at times and ride is excellent thanks to Santa Fe’s 108.9-inch wheelbase and a well-tuned suspension that copes well with crumbling Midwest roads. Santa Fe is a good family hauler because even rough roads are well tamed, no harsh bumps allowed. Its chassis was strengthened for 2019 with more high-strength steel to improve ride.
Handling is good too with a fairly firm steering effort that feels well in tune with the chassis. I also like the quiet and smooth-shifting of Hyundai’s new 8-speed transmission, which adds to Santa Fe’s luxury feel.
Another nice feature, automatic start/stop is equally smooth. Compared to many such systems, this one is barely noticeable as the crossover’s ignition re-fires after a stop.
Hyundai now loads on all its safety devices, known as SmartSense, as standard too. That includes blind-spot warning, forward collision assist with pedestrian recognition, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assist (3 levels), smart cruise control and driver-attention warning. This last item observes how you’re driving, the amount of steering wheel input and such and will warn you if you’re becoming inattentive, and likely are feeling sleepy.
All work fine and you can switch off the lane-keeping assist if you’re driving around town and don’t want the car being pushed around to keep it centered in its lane. There also was no harsh warning beep when the vehicle came near a lane marker.
Inside, the test unit rolled out a luxurious looking 2-tone brown interior with reddish brown stitching in the leather seats, giving it a rich look. Trim is satin chrome on the air vents, door releases and center stack. The console was a flat black and door trim included gray wood inserts.
While looking great, the Hyundai’s interior is quieter than past models as more sound- deadening material has been installed and side windows are now laminated glass, which muffles exterior sound. Oh, and the headliner is a gray tweed material that looks sharp and likely quiets the inside a bit.
One other aside, those side windows also now feature sun shades built in so back seat folks can limit their sun exposure. Of course if everyone inside wants to work on their tans, there is a giant sunroof to be opened overhead.
Seat comfort is good in Santa Fe too with fairly flat bottom cushions, but well-contoured seat backs that offer solid support. Front seats are powered with 8-way adjustment, the driver’s seat also featuring an extendable lower cushion to help long-legged drivers be comfortable. The driver’s seat also has two memory settings, and yes, the lumbar support is powered too.
Front seats also are heated and cooled and the manual tilt/telescope steering wheel is heated. All warm quickly.
Dash layout is simple and easy to understand and use, including dual climate controls and an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen that was easily mastered. Below the stack are a USB port and other electronic hookups, plus a wireless phone charger. Just lay your phone in the tray and pick up battery power.
There are a few other pluses here, including a 360-degree camera that makes parking a breeze and a power hatch that works via button or the wave of a foot below the tailgate.
One small, but annoying downside? Santa Fe’s rear doors do not unlock automatically once the car’s ignition is turned off, or even after the driver’s door is opened. This could honk off someone wanting to retrieve groceries from the back seat after closing a front door and putting keys in a pocket, only needing to retrieve them before drowning in another Milwaukee area downpour.
To the mundane point of fuel economy, well, the Santa Fe did so-so as I managed 21.7 mpg in about 60% city driving. The EPA rates this crossover at 20 mpg city and 25 mpg highway.
Final tally for this upscale compact crossover is $38,205 and that’s high value for a sporty vehicle that will transport the family in total comfort and safety. Give it a test drive.
FAST STATS: 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Ultimate 2.0T FWD
Hits: Good power, ride and handling, plus full safety equipment package. Seats are heated/cooled, steering wheel heated, panoramic sunroof, good side visibility with A-pillar improvement, comfy seats with lower cushion extension, wireless phone charger, 360-degree camera and lane departure can be turned off.
Misses: Rear doors don’t unlock automatically once car’s ignition is off or driver’s door opens.
Made in: Montgomery, Ala.
Engine: 2.0-liter I4 turbo, 235 horsepower
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Length: 187.8 in.
Wheelbase: 108.9 in.
Cargo: 35.9 cu.ft.
MPG: 21.7 (tested)
Base Price: $38,080 (includes delivery)
Carpeted floor mats, $125
Test vehicle: $38,205
Sources: Hyundai, kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage