First Drive: 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe

A handsome, smooth, quiet ride

Jim Kenzie By: Jim Kenzie September 13, 2018


    • WHAT’S BEST: Handsome, well-crafted and well-equipped interiors; smooth quiet ride; amazing levels of high-techery...
    • WHAT’S WORST: ...some of which drives me batty; chassis could handle more power; power door locks should be programmable.
    • WHAT’S INTERESTING: Think about where this company was 20 years ago...

KANANASKIS, ALTA.—The haze in the sky from forest fires burning just across the border in B.C. could not hide the certainty in Steve Flamand’s face, as the recently minted director of product and corporate strategy for Hyundai Canada, told us about how his company’s new Santa Fe SUV is bound to be a hit.

OK, so that’s what he’s paid to believe.

The Santa Fe is in the largest and still among the fastest-growing segments in the industry — compact SUV — and it appears to have a lot going for it.

Prices start at $28,999, but that’s for the lowest, so-called “Essential” trim level with front-wheel drive and the carry-over 2.4-litre, four-cylinder, 185-horsepower engine. Flamand expects this model to account for less than 3 per cent of Santa Fe sales, although with a couple of option packages Essential will make up 20 per cent of the total.

The big seller will be the one-up “Preferred” trim, expected to comprise 58 per cent of sales, and how they can be so precise I have no idea.

This gets full-time four-wheel drive and that same engine, starting at $35,099.

An extra two grand brings the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo, also essentially carry-over. It generates 235 horses, five fewer than last year, but peak torque remains 260 lb.-ft. at a nice low 1,450 — 3,500 r.p.m.

Luxury ($41,899 / 12 per cent of sales) and Ultimate ($44,999 / ten per cent) complete the range; both get only the turbo engine.

Engines apart, this is pretty much an all-new vehicle.

Review 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe

Actually, the biggest news from the powertrain department is the all-new. eight-speed automatic transmission, standard on Santa Fe.

There’s only so much you can do to “style” an SUV — one box for engine, one box for people and stuff, there you go.

Hyundai has gone for a wheels-to-the-corners approach, looking for a more athletic stance.

Typical of SUVs is a big grille, with lots of brightwork — “jewelry,” as stylists call it.

It’s marginally bigger, by 70 mm in length, 10 mm in width and 65 mm in wheelbase.

A wider range of wheels and bright colours let you spec your Santa Fe to your personal taste.

Despite the larger size, it is up to 90 kg lighter, thanks to increased use of aluminum and high-strength steels in the body structure and suspension.

There’s technology all over the place. Stuff you can’t see, like that transmission, those lightweight metals and a sophisticated four-wheel drive system that can adjust its grip split front-to-rear in a fraction of a second, doing its best to keep you heading in the direction you intend to go.

And stuff you can see, like the well-crafted interior with a bunch of storage spaces you will probably still be discovering six months after buying the thing.

Review 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe

Hyundai’s BlueLink Connected Car System attempts to connect you to your car through your phone. A five-year subscription is included for the roughly 75 per cent of Santa Fes that will come with this package.

BlueLink gives you remote start. I know you know what’s coming — this should be against the law. Idling a cold car is the worst thing you can do to it, because it kills the engine, it kills the environment and it kills fuel consumption because you’re consuming infinite litres per 100 km.

Flamand said their customers are concerned about fuel consumption, but not so’s you’d notice if they also want this nonsense.

C’mon, people. We’re Canadians. Summer is two weeks of bad skiing. You can’t stop carmakers from offering it, but I sure hope you never use it. They give you heated seats and steering wheel, so just man up, and I mean that in a non-sexist way because “person up” sounds stupid.

Jaguar’s E-PACE is All Style

There’s plenty of room front and rear in Santa Fe.

It is strictly a five-seater here; in some markets a third row is available but that is with a less sophisticated and presumably less bulky rear suspension.

Decent luggage space, too. The rear seat split-folds 60/40 completely flat, although the release lever is a bit fiddly. It seems to need two hands to work, one to pull the lever, the second to lower the seat.

The rear seat also moves fore-and-aft to trade off rear-seat legroom for cargo capacity as needed. When the seat is folded and shoved right up against the front seats, it leaves a hand-width gap in the floor. Stuff might fall in there and never be seen again.

Under the cargo floor is a hidden space to store valuables out of sight.

Review 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe

The spare tire — no run-flats here, thank goodness — sits outside under the floor.

The tailgate has a very cool feature. Lock the car, walk away, then when you return all you have to do is stand close to the tailgate for three seconds, and it opens by itself. No fumbling for the key fob, no need to do the one-legged chicken dance kicking under the car to trigger the release mechanism while your arms are full of Home Depot cartons.

There’s a lot of safety kit in Santa Fe. Some of it is important, like that high-strength steel, an overhead-view camera system for reversing which looks identical to Nissan’s, and something called “Safe Exit Assist,” which disables the rear door latches if it senses a vehicle bearing down on you so the kiddies won’t fire themselves into traffic.

A “Rear Occupant Alert” system beeps and flashes at you if you get all wrapped up in that Home Depot shopping experience and walk away leaving Junior in the back seat.

It only senses something on the seat, so your small dog on the floor is on his own.

But some of the safety kit is totally irrelevant, although I guess Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist with pedestrian detection can be useful when you’re taking a nap when you should be driving.

Review 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe

The damnable lane-keeping assist function can thankfully be shut off.

And for the nine millionth time, there is no such thing as a blind spot to be detected if you adjust your side view mirrors correctly.

Hyundai also automatically locks the doors for you whether you want them locked or not. Maybe your dealer can fix this like my VW dealer did on my Jetta.

We drove two models, Luxury and Ultimate, the most important difference being an eight-inch touchscreen with SatNav in the latter, replacing the seven-inch non-SatNav that’s in lesser models.

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Also, Ultimate gets an excellent Infinity 12-speaker sound system.

One tester came with a nice light brown upholstery, although “SUVs” often mean “KIDs,” and for families, the black upholstery in our other vehicle might be the wiser choice.

Materials and execution were first-rate.

The seats feature adjustable thigh support to allow people with varying leg lengths to find a comfortable seating position. Variable-density foam in strategic locations offers support and comfort where each is paramount.

As always these days, a thorough reading of the Owner’s Manual is highly recommended before setting out in this car.

Review 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe

Many functions are available through menus controlled by buttons on the steering wheel spokes. The control logic started to make sense about halfway through our daylong drive.

At least there are proper intuitively obvious round knobs for most HVAC functions.

The SatNav in our Ultimate seemed harder to work than I remember from previous Hyundais. I didn’t follow my own advice about reading that Owner’s Manual…

A Drive Mode function allows you to choose from three programs, Comfort, Sport and Smart, which tailor engine and transmission response and front-to-rear torque split in the four-wheel drive system accordingly. The first two settings are self-explanatory; the third optimizes fuel consumption.

Both testers had a huge sunroof, and the Ultimate also had Head-Up Display, if you like these things. I don’t, so I kept them closed and off respectively.

Review 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe

The first thing you will probably notice when you test drive the new Santa Fe is how quiet it is. Four-cylinder engines tend to be loud and raspy, but noise levels are well controlled here.

Performance seemed a bit leisurely, possibly because of the low noise levels. Noisy cars always feel faster.

Ride quality, as best we could tell on the well-groomed roads around here, was very good.

Likewise, our test route didn’t put a lot of pressure on the car’s handling, but it handled everything we tossed at it.

In a large and rapidly growing field like compact SUVs, it must be difficult for carmakers to make their vehicles stand out. With Santa Fe, Hyundai is going with a story that emphasizes bright exterior colours, a roomy and handsome interior, quiet ride and loads of technology.

I wouldn’t bet against them.

Review 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe

BODY STYLE: 4 doors, 5 passengers, compact SUV.
DRIVE: Front-wheel drive / full-time four-wheel drive.
Essential FWD — $28,999;
Essential 4WD — $32,199;
Preferred 4WD — $35,099;
Luxury 4WD — $41,899;
Ultimate 4WD — $44,999.
Essential and Preferred (standard) — 2.4 litre inline four, double overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, variable valve timing, direct injection;
Preferred (optional), Luxury and Ultimate — 2.0 litre inline four, double overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, variable valve timing, direct injection. turbocharged.
POWER/TORQUE, horsepower / lb.-ft:
2.4 litre 4 — 185 @ 6,000 r.p.m. / 178 @ 4,000 r.p.m.;
2.0 litre turbo 4 — 235 @ 6,000 r.p.m. / 260 @ 1,450 — 3,500 r.p.m.
FUEL CONSUMPTION, Transport Canada City/Highway, l/100 km:
2.4 litre FWD — 10.7 / 8.2;
2.4 litre 4WD — 11.2 / 8.7;
2.0 litre Turbo 4WD — 12.3 / 9.8. Regular fuel.
COMPETITION: Every carmaker has one, but they list Ford Edge, Honda CR-V, and Nissan Murano as their targets.

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