Hyundai has poured blood, sweat, tears and some cold hard cash into the new 2019 Santa Fe SUV (formally known as the Santa Fe Sport). With Hyundai's overall SUV sales nearly catching sedan sales in 2018, the automaker is committed to investing resources to improve their SUV lineup. The Santa Fe is a prime example. Hyundai's goal for the new Santa Fe was to transform it from a minivan wannabe to a true SUV with all the ruggedness, performance and safety features to be a top competitor in its segment.

What exactly sets the new Santa Fe apart? We got the inside scoop directly from Hyundai’s Manager of Product Planning, Trevor Lai, at the Midwest Automotive Media Association’s monthly meeting last week. 

All New Styling

Hyundai santa fe side

Hyundai set their sights on transforming the Santa Fe exterior to look more rugged, muscular and powerful. Ironically, Hyundai dropped the “Sport” from this model's name for 2019, but sporty and bold is exactly what the new model is intended to emanate. To achieve this, Hyundai created a stronger and longer hood for a muscular appearance that is more forward-leaning, resembling a linebacker with its wide stance. The model also gets a new and aggressive front fascia.

The size of the Santa Fe has increased by a few inches while the weight has decreased, making the Santa Fe the lightest SUV among competitors like the Subaru Outback, Jeep Cherokee, Nissan Murano, and the Ford Edge. The use of structural adhesive to replace welding helps cut down the curb weight, and also makes the construction more reliable. 

Interior and Cargo 

Santa Fe Interior(image: Hyundai)

The new exterior is complemented with a revamped interior that keeps the occupants' safety, comfort and convenience at the forefront. The interior is designed to feel open, clean and comfortable. It was created to simulate the esthetic of the owner's home interior with neutral color pallets in multiple tone shades like black, gray and beige available both in cloth and leather.

Front Seats

2019 Santa Fe Front Seats
Multi-firmness front seats take the pain out of long road trips. (image: Hyundai)

We've driven many cars where the front seats feel comfortable to start, but after an hour or two of driving, we feel the numbness or pain start to kick in. This problem is what prompted Hyundai to invest resources into the front seat design to make even long road trips comfortable. Their variable-density materials divide the seat based on how much firmness is needed in specific areas. For example, the main cushion offers medium firmness while the bolster provides maximum firmness for lateral support. The front cushion and seatback are softest to improve thigh pressure and offer more back support.

While we can't yet vouch for long trips in the 2019 Santa Fe, for our spin around the neighborhood, the seats felt supportive and comfortable. 

Cargo

Hyundai Santa Fe Cargo
Competitively spacious cargo room is enhanced by secret underfloor compartments.

Hyundai told us the focus for the 2019 Santa Fe was making it user-friendly and that's exactly what we enjoyed about the cargo area and the automatic power liftgate with selectable speed. The back seats fold down at the press of a button and offer 71.3 cubic feet of cargo room (35.9 cubic feet with the seats up).

One of our biggest pet peeves with SUV cargo areas is that items left in the back cargo area are exposed unless you have a cargo cover. Throw a purse or laptop bag back there, and you're asking to have your car broken into. The 2019 Santa Fe addresses our concerns by offering substantial underfloor storage with a tray and hidden compartments to protect your valuables. 

To access the cargo area and stash items like groceries or sports equipment, the hands-free liftgate allows drivers to simply stand behind the vehicle with the proximity key and it will open automatically. No more fumbling with buttons or doing the one-footed dance to activate the kick sensors. We tested both speeds and learned the slower speed is intended for new SUV owners to get used to the automatic feature or for older users who may prefer a slower opening liftgate. 

Safety Tech

Hyundai Santa Fe Safety(image: Hyundai)

Although Hyundai is leaving the soccer mom minivan image in the dust with the 2019 Santa Fe, safety for the drivers and passengers remains a top priority. The Santa Fe now comes with best-in-class standard safety features that put the competition to shame. Two features that Hyundai zeroed in on are both passenger-focused and specifically targeted for families.

The Safe Exit Assist monitors traffic and alerts the driver when it's safe to turn off the child lock and allow passengers to exit. The optional Rear Occupant alert is another way to protect precious cargo in the back seat. Not only will it notify the driver if the vehicle is turned off and locked with a rear occupant still inside by sounding the horn but it will also text and email them to make sure they don't leave kids or pets behind. Although it sounded excessive at first, we've all seen the horror stories on the news and we figure better safe than sorry when it comes to protecting all members of the family. 

Best-in-Class Standard Safety Features in the 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe

  • Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist w/ Pedestrian Detection
  • Blind-Spot Collision-Avoidance Assist
  • Lane Keeping Assist
  • Rear Cross-traffic Collision-Avoidance Assist
  • Safe Exit Assist
  • High Beam Assist
  • Smart Cruise Control w/ Stop and Go
  • Driver Attention Warning

Improved Ride Quality and Performace

Hyundai Santa Fe Front

The updates made to the 2019 Santa Fe are far from being solely cosmetic. Improved powertrains, a new 8-speed transmission and better handling all complement the more aggressive exterior and driver-centric interior.

We briefly drove the 2019 Santa Fe Ultimate 2.0T on neighboorhood roads to get a taste of all the updates. We found it to be a quiet, comfortable ride, and the improved engine offered competent acceleration for passing vehicles on local roads. We appreciated the many safety and tech features including the head-up display and the blind-spot collision warning which gave a visual and sound alert when there was a vehicle in our blind spot.

Enhanced Engine and New Transmission

Hyundai Santa Fe Engine(image: Hyundai)

The majority of the Santa Fe trims including the SE, SEL, SEL Plus, Limited and Ultimate offer a 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder GDI engine with 185 hp and 178 lb-ft of torque. For those itching for more power, a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is available with 235 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque on the Limited 2.0T and Ultimate 2.0T model trims. The engines are paired with a new 8-speed automatic transmission to replace the 6-speed on the outgoing 2018 model. The new transmission is lighter and is designed to deliver better acceleration at lower gears and fuel efficiency in higher gears. 

HTRAC AWD with Drive Modes

Hyundai's HTRAC AWD system tracks road conditions and optimizes the torque distribution between wheels to make driving on all surfaces and weather conditions safer. The 3 drive modes include 'Comfort' for stable driving dynamics, 'Smart' for fuel efficiency and 'Sport' for acceleration and sporty dynamics.

Steering and Handling

Hyundai Santa Fe Dashboard

A major overhaul to the suspension results in noticeable improvements in ride quality, steering, and handling. The biggest change is the rear shock absorber being moved upright from an angled position improving the handling of the new Santa Fe. Additionally, suspension bushing improves agility and shock absorption. These changes result in a smooth, comfortable ride with crisp steering and handling. 

Pricing for the 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe ranges from $25,500 MSRP for the SE package to $35,450 MSRP for the luxury Ultimate package. 

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