2019 Hyundai Santa Fe SEL Plus AWD: Better looks, better performance?
Price: $32,670 as tested. (Just $125 for floor mats.)
Marketer's pitch: "Our most advanced SUV ever."
Conventional wisdom: Motor Trend likes the "user-friendly infotainment system, spacious interior, and comfortable ride," but not the "underpowered engines, poor fuel efficiency, boring to drive."
Reality: Better looks, at least.
What's new: In theory, most of everything in this redesign year is new.
The names are new: It used to be that the Santa Fe Sport was the two-row crossover and the Santa Fe the three. Now the Santa Fe is the two-row and the Santa Fe XL has three. It also gets squintier in the front and a little squarer, but with rounded corners, a nice look.
Up to speed: But where it counts, it's not much different.
The standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine creates 185 horsepower, which is not a lot by today's standards for this type of vehicle. At first I found the performance to be fairly substandard, but I switched to smart driving mode and it seemed to go a lot better.
It's no rocket for passing, so certain Capital Beltway maneuvers need to be planned a little bit. It takes 8.6 seconds to get to 60 mph, according to Motor Trend. (A 235-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo is available on some fancier models, and shaves almost a second off that acceleration, MT says.)
Too sporty: If too much sportiness seems as if it might be a good problem to have, it would seem wrong. Standing starts can get a little out of control, stop-and-go traffic can be unsettling, and the handling was a little more wonky than it was fun. Smart mode — a whole new mode I'd never seen before — actually smooths things out.
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Shifty: The eight-speed automatic transmission offered abrupt downshifts for passing and seemed to get a little confused more than a few times. Shift mode works well enough.
On the curves: For a vehicle that feels really indifferent to fun driving, the Santa Fe can really slip through tight turns at a pretty good clip. Still. The handling is old-fashioned American.
Driver's Seat: If you're a stunt person who needs to practice taking a punch to the kidneys, the Santa Fe seat would be an excellent proving ground. I can only imagine crash-test dummies in a post-smush interview saying, "Yeah, that windshield really didn't taste great, but let's talk about those seats."
And this posterior force crept up on me slowly. I found the seats uncomfortable at first, and even spent five hours of drive time on a round-trip visit to College Roommate 1.0's 50th birthday extravaganza without much complaint. The next day, though, and on every subsequent trip — yeow. I'm squirming the whole ride. And the lumbar was set the whole way off.
What's more, the Santa Fe-Sorento model features seats that don't seem in line with the steering wheel. I always find myself sitting a little askew, perched on the armrest; this can't help the old back much.
Friends and stuff: Sturgis Kid 4.0 found that trip to Northern Virginia "comfy." Legroom, headroom and foot room were all fine. A much-needed nap was possible as well, which is more than can be said about some.
Cargo space is a healthy 35.9 cubic feet and grows to 71.3 with the rear seat folded.
Safety: The standard features at this trim level include a host of safety features — avoidance controls for forward, blind spot and rear cross-traffic collisions; lane-keeping assist; driver attention warning; and parking distance warning.
Where it's at: I'm not sure. The buttons hidden to the left of the steering wheel remain from generations past, and these are not conducive to keeping eyes on the road. This makes the assistive devices more necessary. Just make things easy to find, for safety's sake.
Play some tunes: The stand-up touchscreen is a handsome visual. Volume and tuning dials make control easier. Buttons allow for moving among sources and other functions easily, and the touchscreen works fairly well.
At first I thought the stereo sound was a real bust, but over time I was able to adjust the sound quality and get its playback level to a B or B+.
Keeping warm and cool: Dials control temperature, while buttons control everything else. Not too fussy as buttons go, although the icons for noting current fan speed and whatnot are a little small.
Fuel economy: I averaged about 25 mpg in a highway-heavy round of testing. Feed the Santa Fe whatever; it's not fussy.
Where it's built: Montgomery, Ala.
How it's built: Consumer Reports predicts reliability to be 4 out of 5.
In the end: Hyundai and Kia have made great strides in just the eight years I've been writing this column. Most of their redesigns run rings around the old version.
Alas, this is not the case for the Santa Fe. If the 2.0 turbo isn't much better, I'd steer buyers to the Ascent or even the Blazer first.