by Bill P. and Sommer Thornton
Hyundai’s best-selling SUV was due for a makeover last year, and designers answered with the 2019 Santa Fe’s fresh safety and convenience technology. The 2020 Santa Fe, a carryover model is much of the same, as Hyundai leaves leave the drivetrain upgrades for later years. An 8-passenger Santa Fe is in development, and the brand dropped the Santa Fe Sport name for simply Santa Fe for the 5-passenger SUV. The 7-passenger Santa FE is now the Santa Fe XL.
The 2019-2020 Hyundai Santa Fe could’ve been another dull SUV. But Hyundai designers stepped their game way up giving the Santa Fe a brawnier look and abundant interior technology. On our review this past winter, the Santa Fe gained new fans who loved taller wider look.
Editor Sommer is a fan of the decked out dash and ultra-comfy seats.
With a wider more taut body and deep creases, the Santa Fe is now a family man’s macho-mobile. And with its new comfort tech inside, like the Heads up Display and digital dash that displays a ton of stats, that Santa Fe is ideal SUV for moms who want to be connected to their cars and to the road at all times.
With all the upgrades to the interior, it’s no wonder the drivetrain didn’t get that much attention this time around. The Santa Fe’s performance is great, but certain attributes cancel each other out.
Nonetheless if the five and seven passenger is an indication of the quality of the upcoming 8-passenger Santa Fe, it will be a force to be reckoned with. For the 2020 the Hyundai Santa Fe has much of the same as the 2019 model, but instead of the SEL Plus and the SEL Ultimate we reviewed, there is only a base SE, SEL and SEL Limited, with optional Convenience and Premium Packages (SEL).
We took the 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Ultimate on a test drive through the Midwest, at the tail end of the winter that seemed like it would never end. Early April, there was a snow storm in Chicago, and we had the robust new Santa Fe 2.0T on deck to handle all the slippery snowy roads.
Stout New Look
The 2019/2012 Hyundai Santa Fe sports a stouter frame, 188 inches in length with a longer wheelbase. Nineteen inch alloy wheels are standard on the 2019 Santa Fe Ultimate as is the full LED lighting suite that includes LED daytime running lights, headlights, fog lights, tail lights and LED interior ambient lighting. Heated side mirrors and satin chrome door handles are also standard as is a hands-free liftgate.
The profile of the 2019 Santa Fe features a dynamic muscle line that runs from the headlights to the tail lights. The new Santa Fe Ultimate seems to now have a new level of sophistication matched well with a subtle burliness, because we got a lot of compliments from macho guys who said they weren’t typical Hyundai fans. Lots of men complimented the look, especially the paint job.
The 2019 Santa Fe Ultimate is ideal for younger and older professionals who like to stay the path but have a flair for adventure. The new SUV looks economical, fun and cool. Nineteen-inch wheels are optional for the 2019 Santa Fe Ultimate while 18 inch wheels are standard on the Santa Fe Plus and Limited, and 17 inch wheels on the Santa Fe SE and SEL.
Stylish Tech-Advanced Spacious Cabin
Inside the 2019 Hyundai designers created a great mix of affordable comfort and stylish technology. The inside is where the magic happens for the Santa Fe, starting with the perfectly concave fascia with leather-wrapped and contrast stitched dash.
The view outside is just as good with a standard panoramic sunroof, heated side mirrors and manual rear sunshades. When drivers approach the Santa Fe welcome lighting illuminates the door handles. When a door opens, the Santa Fe emblem lights red in the door sill plates.
Designers created an interior atmosphere that looks fun and progressive with a combination of brown leather, high-end fabric, and black trim with orange contrast stitching. There’s plenty of storage and big buttons for climate and audio are easy to read and intuitive.
Drivers and passengers have eight-way power seats heated and ventilated. The 2nd row has 60/40 split sliding seats that recline. Front passengers have 44 inches of legroom while rear passengers have an impressive 40 inches of legroom.
A heated steering wheel is standard on the 2019 Santa Fe Ultimate as is the push button start and power tailgate.
Also dope is the 7 inch instrument cluster with a digital multi info display. The digital dash is huge with gauges and icons spread out in a very easy to read manner. There are also a ton of customizable settings for safety warnings, welcome lighting, the Heads up Display and driver assistance features like Attention Assist.
Certain warnings that the digital multi info display shows are helpful, like when it reminds the driver to check the backseat when getting out, or check surroundings when opening door when a car is coming.
The full-color Heads up Display shows speed limits and school zone warnings.
An 8 inch touch screen features Android Auto and Apple CarPlay plus Sirius XM Satellite Radio. The Infinity Premium Audio System with QuantumLogic surround sound is weak. But Infotainment tech is great including BlueLink Connected Car services and BlueLink remote start.
The 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe features wireless charging along dual front and rear USB ports, 12-volt outlet and a 115 volt outlet.
While dual automatic climate control is descent, the Santa Fe takes too long to heat up, probably because of sub-par insulation with the fabric roof.
The rear is huge with 35 cubic feet of storage.
Powertrain Fun but Drivetrain Lacks Luster
As with most CUVs, the Santa Fe is efficient with well-balanced power at high and low speeds. While it boasts a 22 mpg combined fuel economy (20 mpg city, 25 mpg highway) the trans is lackluster and has no pickup.
The 2019 Santa Fe Ultimate 2.0 features a 2.0 liter turbo4-cylinder engine with 235 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. Both the 2019 Santa Fe Limited and Ultimate can have the same base engine as the Santa Fe SE, SEL and SEL Plus, a 185 horsepower 2.4 liter 4-cylinder engine. All trims have the same 8-speed automatic transmission with Shiftronic manual shift mode. Start Stop technology is seamless with the engine powering down to save a ton of fuel.
But the Santa Fe Ultimate has a lag with pickup, even in Sport mode.
A drive mode selector in the 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe has Comfort, Sport and Smart Modes. Comfort mode is comfortable in any road condition, but there is much hesitation with launch that it feels like an eco mode, where the trans just strains and falls back under 2,500 rpm. Plus in Comfort mode there is less traction than in Sport mode.
In Sport mode, rpms stay higher and power steering and the trans are fine-tuned for a more dynamic experience. Smart mode selects the proper driving mode by judging driving habits and auto controls shifting and torque.
Mapherson strut front and MultiLink rear suspension is strong and resilient in most road conditions, but traction could be better. Four-wheel disc brakes are adequate because the Santa Fe has less aggression.
All New Safety Tech
While the drivetrain falls short, safety tech – mostly standard more than compensates. The 2019 Santa Fe Ultimate offers standard longstanding features like electronic stability control, vehicle stability management system and rearview monitor with parking guidance, along with new safety technology like the Driver Attention Warning, Rear Occupant Alert, Forward Collision Avoidance Assist with Pedestrian Detection, and Lane Keeping Assist.
For 2020 the Blind View Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Collision Warning and Rear Cross Traffic Collision Avoidance Assist is available on the Santa Fe SEL trims.
Safety features in the Hyundai Santa Fe are a step in the right direction, but some need calibrating. The Forward Collision Alert, which detects an abrupt stopping car in front or a pedestrian, initiated emergency braking when a car jumped some 100 yards ahead of the Santa Fe on a slippery road and nearly caused the car behind to hit. At least the warning time can be adjusted to earlier or later.
Both the Lane Departure Alert and Blind View Monitor are awesome with warnings in the Heads up Display. The Blind View Monitor can adjust warning times to normal or later, and warning volume.
The power tailgate is useful, but it activates when the driver is just passing behind it. Once Editor Sommer was simply waiting for traffic to pass as she walked passed the rear to the driver’s side and the trunk opened revealing all the contents inside and smacking her in the head.
Also, the Santa Fe’s safety locking function prevents the driver from opening any other door from the outside if the ignition is on.
Lastly when drivers climb in and out of the car, the Santa Fe beeps for a number of odd reasons many undetectable. It even beeps for an “Icy Road” warning when there isn’t that kind of weather out.
The 2019 Santa Fe Ultimate 2.0T is at the top of its trim level and retails for just $38k fully loaded. It’s gone for next year, unfortunately, but the 2020 Santa Fe Limited will have many of the same cool features.