THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Best: Competitive pricing, solid engineering and the kind of utility that mid-size buyers want
- What’s Worst: Low slung main headlights could be vulnerable to parking lot hits
- What’s Interesting: Hyundai was just given the highly prestigious Red Dot Brand of the Year award for excellence in design and execution
The Santa Fe crossover can justifiably be seen as one of the three pillars of Hyundai’s turnaround into a worldwide automaker.
Prior to the Santa Fe and the Elantra and Sonata sedans, Hyundai produced vehicles such as the Excel, which never did and the Stellar, which wasn’t.
And then there was the Pony, which still makes some long-time Hyundai people grimace.
But for many, having a Santa Fe in their driveway was when Canadians started taking pride of ownership in a Korean vehicle.
More to the point, Hyundai was just named as the Red Dot Brand of the Year for 2018. The Red Dot acknowledges a brand that has come up with innovative and creative designs on a particularly high level.
For 2019, Hyundai has simplified the Santa Fe line-up into four trim levels, two engines and one transmission, with front-wheel-drive on the base Essential model and all-wheel-drive optional on the Essential and standard on the rest.
Both engines are carryovers starting with a 2.4-litre direct injection inline four-cylinder producing 185 hp and 178 lb/ft of torque, followed by a 2.0-litre direct injection turbo inline four-cylinder with 235 hp and 260 lb/ft of torque. Both use Hyundai’s in-house designed and built eight-speed transmission.
The 2019, fourth generation Santa Fe is one of eight new or re-engineered SUVs Hyundai plans to launch by 2020.
The look for 2019 is much changed, compared to the outgoing model. An example are the slim-line LED daytime running lights positioned above the projection headlights, which compliment the now signature cascading grille.
The interior adopts a layered instrument panel with a large primary gauge cluster and floating infotainment touchscreen at the top of the centre stack.
There are a lot of little detail changes such as moving the window switches and door grab handles forward for increased elbow room or the slight tilting of the touchscreen to cut down on glare.
In addition to a bevy of driver/safety aids, Hyundai is debuting Rear Occupant Alert for the first time on the Santa Fe.
It uses an ultrasonic sensor that helps to detect the movements of children and pets. The system first reminds drivers to check the rear seats when exiting the vehicle, with a message on the centre instrument cluster display.
If the system detects movement in the rear seats after the driver leaves the vehicle and locks the doors, it will honk the horn and send a Blue Link alert to the driver’s smartphone via Hyundai’s Blue Link connected car system.
The system is designed to prevent children and pets from being forgotten in the car. But it also helps in case children accidentally lock themselves in.
Another neat feature you might have seen on Santa Fe TV commercials is Safe Exit Assist. It keeps the doors locked if the Santa Fe detects something approaching, such as a cyclist, from behind and sends a warning to the main gauge cluster while the doors remain locked.
Tested here is the toptrim Ultimate AWD model with just about every option found in the Hyundai parts bins.
In addition to Adaptive Cruise Control, Forward Collision Avoidance with Pedestrian Detection and Blind Spot Assist, the Ultimate featured a 360-degree surround camera and just about the biggest panoramic sunroof I’ve seen on an mid-size CUV.
The 2.0-litre turbo is great for cruising short or long distances and the view from the driver’s seat has been improved with the larger windows in the 2019 model.
Hyundai’s HTRAC AWD system can be driver-selected to run in Normal, Sport or Smart (eco) modes in addition to a wide range of torque distribution for the best grip in all conditions.
For the driver, the new Head Up Display (HUD) projects an 8.5-inch virtual image onto the windshield that is adjustable for brightness in day or night.
The turbo works well with the eight-speed automatic being free of annoying “rubber banding” on some CVT-equipped crossovers I’ve driven of late.
On my usual run up into the north country, the 260 lb/ft of torque and the kick-down flexibility of the eight-speed made passing on hilly roads a cinch.
The MacPherson strut front suspension and multi-link rear have been fine tuned to the point the Santa Fe feels more like a car than a utility vehicle to drive.
And when it comes to utility, there is 2,019 litres of cargo volume behind the front seat with the interior being high enough to stow a large, standup recycling bin upright.
Drive a 2019 Santa Fe and it’s immediately apparent how far Hyundai has come since it entered the Canadian market in 1984.