When Hyundai introduced the first-generation Santa Fe in 2001, this was a milestone as the first SUV of the Korean brand and became a hit in North America. This was also a good move as the demand for SUV’s was going to grow exponentially in the following years.
In its 4th generation with the 2019 model year, The Santa Fe is a strong and mature contender in a hyper competitive yet growing SUV market.
The new gen Santa Fe’s design has even a name: “sensuous sportiness” is “visible” across the lineup. An elegant, fluid form, that gives (in my humble opinion) the vehicle a somewhat “organic” appearance. Particularly the front side has an untraditional look, where the headlights are located separately -and lower- than the daytime running lights. Rear design and taillights look more conventional, thus in total a great-looking SUV. Cargo space is one of the most appealing advantages of SUVs, and Santa Fe does not disappoint with a cargo capacity from 1,016 to 2,019 liters, which is larger than most of its rivals. It is offered as a 5-seater only, but an extended 7-seater version it will be offered soon. No rush, since The Koreans already have a full-size 7-seater already in the portfolio: The Palisade.
Inside Santa Fee
The interior offers lots of high quality – soft touch materials. Hyundai has one of the best infotainment systems, with both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Santa Fe comes with lots of features, such as Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Keep Assist, Forward-collision alert, Blind Spot Monitoring, Heated/Cooled seats – steering wheel, digital cluster, and GPS Navigation System. This Hyundai’s Lane Keep Assist and Adaptive Cruise Control work perfectly; as if well-prepared for autonomous driving especially on the highway. It is very smooth and accurate. Be aware, in Ontario (and most parts in the world) you are legally obliged to keep your hands on the steering wheel while you are driving, that’s why car reminds you to put your hands on the wheel after 15 seconds or it disables all driving assists. If they would’ve allowed drivers, I think Hyundai’s LKA and Adaptive Cruise system is capable of driving autonomously, at least on the highway.
Engine and Drivetrain
Hyundai offers two different engines in Santa Fe. Base trim comes with naturally aspirated 2.4L four-cylinder engine which delivers 185 horsepower and 178 lb/ft of torque and available as FWD or AWD. Our tester comes with 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder engine generating 235 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. Both engines are mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission which shifts quickly and efficiently. It takes 7.8 seconds to get 100 km/h with the turbocharged 2.0L engine. Although it is not the fastest in its class, it is enough for the daily driving. It has a lot of torque in the mid-range, which is great for city and highways.
The 8-speed automatic transmission built in-house is not perfect, but good. It can get pretty hot if you try off-roading, especially on loose surface. It shifts fast, and it is a great match with the turbocharged engine.
Hyundai’s HTRAC all-wheel drive system works really well on pavement and slippery surfaces. However, you cannot disable the traction and electronic stability control completely, which causes some problems if you are willing to do lightweight off-roading. HTRAC system is a front-biased all-wheel-drive system, but you can change it and send it up to 50 percent of the power to the rear by changing the driving mode. When driving normally, the car pretty much gives power to the front axles only to get better fuel economy.
Speaking of fuel economy, you have to sacrifice a little bit, as you get more power with the turbocharger. Our test car consumed 13.5L per 100 km, which was a mixed driving in the city and highway. It is not a gas guzzler, but turbocharger plus heavy curb weight is not the best combination to save gas if you have heavy foot.
Santa Fe has a great ride quality with good handling characteristics. The suspension is comfortable, but not mushy. The steering feels nice and crisp, and it can be changed with different driving modes. The grip level is not as good as a sedan or compact car if you push it too hard when cornering, but potential buyers shouldn’t expect sports car level of handling anyway.
The only part that we are not fully satisfied was the traction control system. The drivetrain and HTRAC system are really good, but their capabilities are severely restricted by the traction and stability control, which cannot be fully disabled and this is the reason why this car only belongs to the pavement or very lightweight off-road. If you don’t plan to take the Santa Fe off-road, then this SUV is for you.
Overall, we really like driving the Santa Fe, as it offers great comfort, lots of features, good build quality, good power and acceptable fuel economy as a whole package. Potential buyers should skip the base 2.4L engine because they are going to regret not buying the turbocharged 2.0L engine, eventually. The Santa Fe starts from $28.999 and goes all the way up to $46.000.
Article and Photos by Varol McKars and Dan Gunay