Review: 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Ultimate AWD

Shortly after I met Gretchen, who’s now my wife, she bought a Hyundai Santa Fe. That meant I got to drive it fairly often. (The truth is, Gretchen hates driving and will always default to being the passenger, even when we take her car.)

That’s when my love affair with this SUV began, and nothing has clouded that affection through the years.

For 2019 the Santa Fe is redesigned, ushering in the 4th generation of an SUV that South Korea introduced for the 2001 model year. They’re able to redesign from a position of strength, because the Santa Fe has been a hit practically from the moment its first wheels touched American soil.

Not only did it quickly ascend to the top of Hyundai’s sales charts, there was even a stretch of time where supply couldn’t meet up with demand — which is a wonderful position for a manufacturer to be in. Keep ‘em wanting more!

It racked up awards along the way, too, including a top-pick from Consumer Reports.

Today the Santa Fe is the older (and larger) sibling of the Tucson crossover.


The Basics

Once a three-row SUV, this newer generation reverts to the two-row setup, which I personally give a thumbs-up. It’s essentially built upon the design of the previous Santa Fe Sport.

The SUV is powered by a 2.4-liter engine unless you move up to one of the top trim levels and request the 2.0-liter turbo. I would, by the way.

There are five trim levels to choose from, starting with the base SE, all the way up to the new Ultimate version. Each is well-equipped with standard features. Rather than a mess of options packages, you basically move up the trim ladder adding components and treats along the way.

The engine is paired with a new 8-speed automatic transmission. Your choice between front-wheel and all-wheel drive can be accommodated with any of the trims.

If you opt for the top-tiered Limited and Ultimate models with the turbo engine you also bump up to 19-inch wheels and a trailer package.

For the week I drove the Ultimate trim level.

Externally the redesign hasn’t changed the overall attractiveness of the Santa Fe, which has always been stylish. As mentioned, this ’19 model is built along the old Sport model, but one of the changes includes a slight size boost. The new Santa Fe is a bit wider and longer than the old Sport model.

It’s one of the first things I noticed, but not in a beast-like way. The Santa Fe will still fit easily into your garage or that grocery store parking spot. The bonus of size comes into play when you slip inside.

The Inside

Yes, you can spread out just a little more in here. Since it’s now accommodating two rows, each row gets additional elbow room.

And, something you’ll also notice right away, that passenger room is quite comfortable. The seats are capable of numerous adjustments so you can find the ride that’s right for you. The rear seats have an available option to slide and recline. Always a big hit with your friends.

There’s something else I’ve always noticed about this SUV, too. While Hyundai doesn’t lavish you with premium materials, they’ve still managed to create a smooth, comfortable riding experience.

Getting in and out is easy, and while you may think that’s a given, it’s not anymore. Visibility is also quite good.

I loved the layout of the controls for the driver, and — as we’ll touch on when we get to the Tech segment — everything is simple and easy to use.

There’s good storage up front. I like the center bin, which most of us fill up regularly. But you also get extra storage in front of the shifter and just in front of that bin, too.

Dashboard shelves for the front-seat passenger are becoming the rage, and I’m happy to say the Santa Fe has one, too. It’ll hold your friend’s phone at the very least, and who knows what else?

Cargo storage is about average for this size SUV, but the 60/40 folding rear seats provide a touch more. Plus, I like the extra storage beneath the cargo area’s floor.

The Drive

In most areas the Santa Fe rates about average. But that’s the thing: It’s at least average or a little better in all of the driving categories. I struggled to find an area where it didn’t perform adequately.

And that’s part of the charm of the vehicle. It won’t blow anyone off the starting line, but acceleration is good — provided, of course, you opt for the 2.0-liter turbo version. Word has it the base 2.4 is underwhelming.

Steering is good, handling is just above average. Braking is good, and overall responsiveness about average.

But the ride is also quiet and smooth. I never felt serious bumps, nor did highway noise make conversation difficult.

The Tech

As touched on before, the driver’s controls are not only easily accessible but also intuitive and simple to use.

Too many vehicles get overly-complicated trying to build a car that will wow you with the tech. I don’t know how many drivers I speak for, but I have zero interest in being dazzled by tech when I’m changing lanes or watching some nimrod pull out in front of me.

I just want handy, convenient controls that let me accomplish a task in one button-push or one knob-turn. As soon as I have to manipulate a wheel or touchpad three times simply to adjust the air, well, you’ve lost me.

The Santa Fe has none of that nonsense. It’s straight-forward, which makes it better than many. Yes, you use a 7-inch touchscreen for many things, but even those moves are basic.

You will, however, get some nice toys. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard. Connecting through Bluetooth was flawless.

Up front there’s a USB data port while rear passengers each get their own USB outlet.

Accessing the Hyundai voice control system can be learned quickly and it offers control of the phone, navigation, and radio/sound.

The Bottom Line

Now that they’ve entered the 4th generation of an already-popular SUV, you’d think Hyundai might begin to coast.

Nope. This newly-redesigned Santa Fe takes all of the best touches from previous models and tweaks them to make the overall package even better.

It looks good, it’s comfortable, it drives well, and it’s not ridiculously priced (comparatively speaking). Mileage could stand a little improvement, but the value of this Hyundai shines.

It’s been one of my favorites for years, and the 2019 keeps it solidly near the front of the pack.

The Details

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Ultimate
2.0-L turbo charged 4-cylinder engine
(2.4-L is standard on lower trims)
8-speed automatic transmission
Front-wheel or all-wheel drive available on all trims
Fuel economy: 19/24/21 combined
MSRP: $38,800
As tested: $39,905

Reviewed by Dom Testa
Vehicle provided by manufacturer

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