Update: Since this first drive was published in August 2018, we have finished testing and added a quick drive video to this report. 

See the complete Hyundai Santa Fe road test


2019 Hyundai Santa Fe review shown driving

The 2019 Santa Fe won us over right out of the gate with its practical proportions and refined ride and handling.

Hyundai is in the process of expanding its entire SUV lineup, which soon will stretch from the tiny Kona through the freshened Tucson to the new Santa Fe and beyond to an all-new, larger three-row model named Palisade. 

The Santa Fe is a “tweener” whose size and price straddle the small SUV and midsized two-row SUV segments. It's a rival for well-equipped versions of the Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester, and Toyota RAV4, and even Hyundai’s own Tucson. Compared with its sibling, the Santa Fe stacks up well with extra room and a rich roster of safety equipment. It's also a worthy competitor to the larger Ford Edge, Jeep Cherokee, and Nissan Murano when it gets the Santa Fe’s optional turbocharged engine.

Because of that, we opted for the turbo. We bought a 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited with a turbo four-cylinder and all-wheel drive for testing.

In our first weeks with the new Santa Fe, we found it pleasant to drive, easy to live with, and comfortable for driver and passengers. These are our first impressions, before our testing has been done.

What we bought: 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited 2.0T AWD
Powertrain: 235-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo engine; eight-speed automatic transmission; all-wheel drive
MSRP: $35,900
Options: $320 (cargo tray, cargo net, first-aid kit, and floor mats)
Destination fee: $980
Total cost: $37,200 

How It Drives

The turbocharged engine has power on tap, but its delivery is not always predictable. The Santa Fe tends to hesitate when accelerating in stop-and-go traffic or from mild cruising speed, a trait that's common among four-cylinder turbo engines. This effect is exaggerated when the eight-speed automatic transmission fails to shift smoothly as it tries to keep up with the demand for power. Drivers may see this most often during suburban driving and around town. Our Santa Fe is EPA-rated at 21 mpg overall.

We have also extensively driven a 2.4-liter Santa Fe that we rented from Hyundai. We liked this less-expensive, non-turbo version for its smooth powertrain. The 185 horsepower it creates moves the Santa Fe smartly, and the engine works better with the transmission than the turbocharged engine. Overall, this combination is more refined than the turbo is, and we didn’t miss the 50 hp difference in the real world. As a bonus, the 2.4L engine is EPA-rated at 23 mpg overall, making it more affordable to buy—and drive. 

The handling is quite responsive; the Santa Fe feels taut and agile, something not often said about SUVs. There's limited body roll when it's pushed through turns, and the steering response is prompt, which gave our drivers confidence. The ride is a touch firm, though it absorbs impacts well and the vehicle remains planted. 

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe interior

Inside

The large doors and a hip-height seat help drivers and passengers get in. There's plenty of space for the driver and the wide seats are fairly comfortable, though back support could be better. Our model has just two-way lumbar adjustments.

As for the interior, it's modern, clean, and nicely finished with padded dash elements, brushed metal accents, and two-tone leather upholstery. Between the front seats are a couple of handy storage nooks, with the forward one gives occupants easy access to power, an AUX jack, and a USB port.

The controls are simple to interpret and use, a welcome break from the complexity we experienced in the recently tested Acura RDX and Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross. And the infotainment system is easy to learn; we like that it has volume and tuning knobs. The screen is quick to respond, though it may require tall drivers to stretch in order to reach it.

The backseat provides plenty of space for adults—practically worthy of a limousine—even as the panoramic moonroof shaves some headroom.

Cargo space is decent, and the vehicle's square body shape and significant underfloor storage make it even more functional. We were disappointed it didn’t come with a cargo cover, which is a dealer-installed accessory.

The cabin is quiet with engine, road, and wind noise all well-muted.

Safety and Driver-Assist Systems

All Santa Fes are equipped with forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic warning, and lane-keeping assist.

Hyundai has added two clever features that are new to the Santa Fe. Driver-attention warning looks for signs of drowsy or distracted driving by analyzing vehicle data, such as steering input and the vehicle's position in a lane. If the driver's behavior suggests a lack of focus, the SUV will issue an audible tone or visual alert. And a safe-exit assist feature warns occupants that a vehicle is approaching when they open a door. In addition, it keeps the rear doors locked until the car has passed.

The SEL Plus, Limited, and Ultimate trim levels come with Rear Occupant Alert, a system designed to prevent children or animals from being left behind. Drivers get a reminder when they exit the SUV if the rear doors had been opened at the beginning of that trip. If the vehicle is locked and an ultrasonic sensor detects movement in the rear seat, the horn will honk repeatedly. If the driver doesn't respond by opening the doors, the system will send a text message or an email to the owner via Hyundai’s Blue Link telematics system. (See our review of the Hyundai Rear Occupant Alert.)

CR’s Take

The redesigned Hyundai Santa Fe could be the sensible choice for many SUV buyers or even defectors from large sedans. It's capable and pleasant with lots of usable interior space, good visibility, and easy controls. For many shoppers, the comprehensive suite of safety systems and competitive price may seal the deal.

The turbo is the only overt shortcoming, although this can be overcome by sticking with the base engine. And you can save money in the process.  

See the complete Hyundai Santa Fe road test

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe rear