Our Hyundai Santa Fe was provided by Hyundai of Newport, in Middletown Rhode Island. Located in Middletown, Rhode Island Hyundai of Newport is part of the Priority Automotive Group led by auto industry expert William Gibb.
There are plenty of reasons to choose one car over another. A stronger engine, better safety scores, superior fuel economy, a lower price. Hyundai has leaned pretty hard on that last attribute for sales in the past, though it appears a new trend has taken hold within the product design rooms of the South Korean manufacturer. The midsize Santa Fe is completely new for 2019, and our test car stickers at over $40,000. Abandoning the crutch of the value proposition, does Hyundai provide buyers enough reason to drive off the lot in their latest?
Let’s start with where this car sits for Hyundai. As crossovers and SUVs occupy a greater portion of the automotive market, manufacturers are creating new vehicle segments and churning out entire product lines of these vehicles to satisfy demand. The Santa Fe exists smack in the middle of Hyundai’s SUV offerings. It’s larger than the compact Tucson and subcompact Kona but smaller than the seven-passenger Santa Fe XL releasing in 2019 and the still-in-development full-size Palisade.
It’s important to note that not every example of the new Santa Fe encroaches on a price bracket formerly reserved for luxury manufacturers. Those seeking a lower entry point may look toward the Santa Fe SE which offers a less powerful four-cylinder engine, front-wheel drive, and fewer interior goodies starting at $25,500. That being said, to experience Hyundai flexing some new-found luxury muscle, the Ultimate 2.0T is the way to go.
The alphanumerics following that Ultimate designation denote that motivation for our tester comes courtesy of Hyundai’s 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, optional on Limited and Ultimate models. The turbo motor trades a few miles per gallon for 50 extra horsepower and an additional 82 lb-ft of twist over the base engine. That second number, the torque figure, is what you’ll notice. All that extra shove comes much lower in the rev range than the peak torque figure for the naturally aspirated engine, which makes the power more easily accessible in everyday driving. Torque down low translates to stronger acceleration from a stop, effortless merging on the highway, plus easier passing once you get there, and the Santa Fe’s turbo offering has plenty of it.
That’s not to say Hyundai’s new midsize crossover performs like a sports car. The new 8-speed automatic transmission delivers smooth shifts in normal driving but not quite as quickly when your foot grows heavy and the road gets tight. Gliding through a corner, opening the throttle as you clip the apex yields a very brief period of lag before the transmission grabs a lower gear to access more go from the engine. We didn’t find the selectable Sport mode to make as much of a difference as it does in real sports cars, and its presence in the Santa Fe is as optimistic as the digital speedometer’s 160 mph top end. Not that any of this matters much. The boy-racer type doesn’t typically cross-shop mid-sized SUVs.
The exterior of the new Santa Fe introduces Hyundai’s latest design language, with a distinctive new grill and a split headlight design first seen on the subcompact Kona last year. More impressive is what you’ll see and feel when you step inside. The first thing we noticed was the Santa Fe’s headliner, frequently an afterthought in cars like this. Here, the speckled grey fabric upholstered above you and your passengers is a lovely detail, brightening up the cabin in a way that’s fresh compared to the some of the dark leather-lined caves coming out of Germany. Contrast stitching provides an additional visual flourish throughout the cabin. Unbroken lines of wood-like trim carry from the doors to the two-tiered dashboard, meeting in the middle of the dash to frame an 8-inch touchscreen navigation unit which works rather well. The dash design, specifically ahead of the front passenger, reminds us how skilled manufacturers have become in hiding their airbags. Rear accommodations are impressive too, providing more than enough legroom behind our 6’1” driver and plenty of light through the enormous panoramic sunroof.
It’s a good thing the interior of the Santa Fe is a nice place to spend time because this car offers a couple features that make it a fabulous highway cruiser happy to add big chunks of mileage to its digital odometer. Beyond the heated and cooled seats, powerful stereo, and plenty of charging ports front and rear, it’s the adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist systems that define the highway driving experience.
Adaptive or radar cruise control could be the best thing that’s happened to the automotive consumer this century. What was limited to historically trend-setting luxury sedans like the Mercedes S-class in 1999 can in 2018 be equipped to $20,000 economy cars, or in this case a middle-tier Korean crossover. Hyundai labels their version of the now-ubiquitous tech as Smart cruise control, and it’s standard on every new Santa Fe that rolls off the production line. Based on a driver-selected following distance and desired speed of travel, the Santa Fe will modulate its throttle and brakes to maintain a safe cruising distance, combating the constant adjustment required by traditional cruise control. It activates easily and operates unobtrusively, braking with only as much force demanded by the car you may be trailing and accelerating back up to your set speed promptly but without drama. The system even has the capability to slow the vehicle to a complete stop. As long as the Santa Fe’s adaptive cruise control system is operating within its limits, (and it will let you know if you’ve exceeded them) highway driving can be a foot free affair.
The also-standard lane-keep assist function keeps an eye on a driver’s lateral movements. Its steering corrections are less subtle than the cruise control’s adjustments to your speed. Sudden steering angles from a force not your own can be startling, like a parent reaching over from the passenger seat while giving their first driving lessons, though the Santa Fe’s brief audio cue and friendly hands-on-the-wheel graphic certainly feel less judgmental. Although, while testing the system by pinging and ponging between lane markers, I did concern the car enough to warrant a suggestion that I take a break. How thoughtful!
At $40,000, those who sign the paperwork to drive off in a 2019 Santa Fe Ultimate are not doing so for the sake of a lower monthly payment. The reason to buy this car is not just because it’s good value for money, although it certainly is that. The real wisdom behind this purchase is here: the interior is well-furnished, the infotainment system works without drama, the available turbocharged engine is strong, and the technology is impressive. Add to that that the Santa Fe is expected to get the highest rating of Top Safety Pick Plus from the IIHS (with optional equipment), and comes with a ten-year powertrain warranty, and the Hyundai Santa Fe should no longer be considered because it’s just a value proposition, but instead because it’s a serious contender in the mid-sized SUV category.
The new Santa Fe, along with all Hyundai cars and SUVs is available at Hyundai of Newport in Middletown, Rhode Island.