In a category dominated by Honda and Toyota, Hyundai staking its claim
Long gone are the days when anything made by Hyundai was considered to be a case of “good try, good effort.” Prior to committing to quality builds, the company was known for making cheap cars that were, well, cheap and unreliable.
That stigmata has long ago evaporated — for good reason — and the Korean automaker is going toe to toe with Japanese giants Honda and Toyota, especially in the overcrowded mid-sized crossover SUV market.
Hyundai’s latest such vehicle, the 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe, may be its best entry yet.
Like all crossovers, the Santa Fe is a five-passenger, four-door vehicle with a liftgate at the rear to access the cargo area. Like many crossovers, it’s practical and boasts a smaller engine designed to increase fuel economy.
But where the Santa Fe — and Hyundai as a whole — started to define itself is in its features and build quality. Hyundais have become not only well designed but boast an air of refinement.
The exterior of the Santa Fe blends rounded edges with crisper, modern creases that give it a cohesive appearance designed to appeal to as many people as possible. The slim LED headlights on the Ultimate trim version drove follow a modern crease and offer a sporty look in a class often beleaguered by a lack of actual performance vehicles.
And perform the 2019 Santa Fe does. I drove one equipped with the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and was pleased with the overall performance.
Hyundai’s engine makes 235 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, more than enough to get the 4,300-pound crossover moving. You’re not going to burn the tires off, but the turbo picks up at 1,450 rpm and provides noticeable acceleration, even at freeway speeds. It will ding you slightly on gas mileage, however.
Paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission, zipping around town in the Santa Fe is a breeze. As a bonus, you can even hear a little turbo whine if you have the windows down. It’s not at a sports car level, but for those who were forced out of a sports car and into a crossover, it’s a welcome sound.
A welcoming and nicely designed interior awaits anyone who climbs into the Santa Fe — at least in the Ultimate trim. The beige leather interior seats were set off nicely by the otherwise dark interior and were more comfortable than I’d expect for a crossover. They were heated and ventilated in the front and ventilated in the rear, which is a nice touch and again exceeded my expectations.
The driver is met with an eye-pleased informational setup. The steering wheel controls are intelligently placed and logical, while the combination analog/digital gauge cluster features a simple, slick look. As always, Hyundai’s infotainment system is fairly simple to use and is one of the better ones on the market (though I still maintain it shouldn’t be used in the higher-end Genesis line).
As a passenger, the Santa Fe is comfortable, even when sitting in the back seat. There’s not incredible of cargo room, but the 35 cubic feet behind the rear seats is more than enough storage for a weekend road trip. Add in the views provided by the panoramic sunroof, and it’s set for all-day driving goodness.
Hyundai did well in creating a smooth driving experience in the Santa Fe. Because the turbo spools up at such low rpm, lag is reduced and the crossover feels more responsive. The suspension offers a quality ride while making the vehicle feel lighter on its feet.
Three drive modes are offered: Comfort, Sport and Smart. I typically use Smart, which improves mileage while giving performance when it’s needed. Comfort gives too doughy of an experience for my liking, while Sport actually feels sporty. The distinct styles mean the Santa Fe will fit the driving styles of more consumers.
The 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe is a quality choice in the crossover market. It offers sufficient power and a good driving experience paired with a comfortable and stylish interior that looks like it comes at a higher price level than it does. It’s really a complete package that comes in below $40,000.
While section leaders Honda and Toyota will continue to be popular, Hyundai has staked its claim as a true competitor for the best mid-size crossover.
2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Ultimate 2.0T
Vehicle type: 5-passenger mid-size crossover SUV, front-wheel drive
Base price: $25,750 Price as tested: $38,205
Engine: Turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, 235 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm, 260 pound-feet of torque @ 1,450 rpm Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 108.9 inches Overall length/width: 187.8 inches / 74.4 inches
Curb weight: 4,372 pounds
EPA mileage estimates: 20 city / 25 highway / 22 combined
Final assembly in: Montgomery, Alabama