2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Ultimate 2.0T AWD Review - A Perfectly Cromulent Crossover

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn
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Fast Facts

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Ultimate 2.0T AWD

2.0-liter turbocharged I4 (235 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 260 lb-ft @ 1,450 rpm)
Eight-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive
19 city / 24 highway / 21 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
12.3 city / 9.8 highway / 11.2 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
22.9 (observed mileage, MPG)
Base Price: $39,780 US / $45,002 CAD
As Tested: $39,905 / $45,232 CAD
Prices include $980 destination charge in the United States and $2,032 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can't be directly compared.
2019 hyundai santa fe ultimate 2 0t awd review a perfectly cromulent crossover

Ah, the mainstream compact crossover. Quickly overtaking the traditional midsize sedan as the new family vehicle of choice, every manufacturer has to have one or more with which to fill the lot. The formula is simple — usually two rows with five seats, a reasonably powerful four-cylinder, benign handling, and striking-but-instantly-forgettable styling. No need to trawl manufacturer websites or dealer lots, either. Five minutes of searching for an open space at the grocery on a busy Saturday will allow you to closely inspect every possible contender in this hot class.

Hyundai’s been playing in this market with a pair of similar models for a few years — the Santa Fe with three rows, and the shorter Santa Fe Sport, with two rows. No longer (or shorter). The old embiggened three-row soldiers on as the Santa Fe XL, while the two-row model is now simply this 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe. Now that we’ve sorted the names, does this Santa Fe satisfy?

Bossman Tim took a look at this redesigned Santa Fe last summer, but I wanted more time with this family vehicle to properly test it with a family.

I’m digging the styling of the new Santa Fe. Certainly, Hyundai isn’t the first to use the “squinty eyes” look of the shallow upper headlamps, but here it’s done well. I particularly like the horizontal line that leads from the rear of those headlamps, continuing to the taillamps. The deep crease below that line is unusually striking for a mainstream crossover.

As you can see by my frustratingly snow-filled photos, I got the chance to test the all-wheel traction of the Santa Fe. Even shod with all-season tires rather than snows, the crossover handled the weather without drama.

Indeed, driving the Santa Fe was an unremarkable experience. On dry, wet, or frozen roads alike, road and wind noise were minimal. Oddly, however, the engine noise from the 2.0-liter turbo does get a bit coarse under acceleration — it sounds a bit lumpy, like an old GM 3100 V6. In steady-state cruising, it’s basically silent. Handling was benign, other than the occasional dull thump from Ohio’s marvelous potholes being amplified by the low-profile tires on the 19-inch alloy wheels.

Interior comfort was quite good, with plenty of second row space for the pair of kids and a friend. Legroom was such that I never felt tiny knees in my back. Heated and cooled front seats paired with heated rear seats ensured a minimum of complaints on cold mornings.

I love that the interior is trimmed in something other than the usual black or tan leathers one typically finds. Hyundai calls this color “Espresso,” though I can confirm that the color exactly matches a spilled double-double from Tim Hortons.

I did have one infuriating experience with the Santa Fe. Note this photo (taken and cropped from Hyundai’s media site because my camera hated me) of the window and mirror controls on the driver’s door. Looks normal, right? Look more closely at the bottom button, which in most cars activates a window lock.

There’s another pictogram on that button next to the window lock. It looks like a child, right? It doesn’t just lock the windows; it activates the child locks. And it’s all too easy to inadvertently bump. Most child lock mechanisms tend to be on the door, hidden while closed. Not here.

Let me paint the scenario: a family grocery run. Eldest daughter was finishing a conversation with her boyfriend, so she stayed in the car for a minute while the rest of us trekked inside, intending to lock the car on her way in.

But she was trapped by the child lock. She called me to come rescue her.

Of course, as a dad of girls, I’m hoping this was enough of a traumatic experience that she stops talking to boys for several years, though I doubt it.

It’s an annoyance, not a deal breaker. I’m sure that with time, I’d learn to avoid the button. Hyundai tells me that the change to an electronic lock is part of their Safe Exit system, which employs blind spot monitoring to ensure a kid doesn’t open a door into traffic — which makes sense. This video explains it more, though I’m baffled that they had to make a short film specifically for me, what with the blonde teenage soccer player in the rear lining up neatly with my above scenario. They didn’t get an overweight bearded dad for the driver in the vid, however.

The price is a reach for me. While the new Santa Fe is a perfectly capable family-sized crossover, I’m struggling to picture spending nearly forty thousand dollars on it. The Ultimate trim is indeed plush, and the turbo four-cylinder is only available on this Ultimate package and the Limited, for about $2,900 less. I’m sure the 2.4 liter non-turbo in lesser models is acceptable, but two tons is plenty to haul. I’d be happiest were Hyundai to offer a hot-rod trim, something like the SEL but with the turbo. Give me power to the tires, cloth seats, and lose the panoramic sunroof, and I’d be a happy man.

The 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe is not a bad car, by any means. It’s reasonably quiet, drives nicely on the highway, and has plenty of room for families and their stuff. Hyundai’s reliability is on par with most other manufacturers, and with the ten-year, 100k warranty, I’d have no worries about living with the Santa Fe for a decade or more. I just doubt that this Ultimate trim is the ultimate value.

[Images: © 2019 Chris Tonn; window switch photo (cropped) courtesy Hyundai.]

Chris Tonn
Chris Tonn

Some enthusiasts say they were born with gasoline in their veins. Chris Tonn, on the other hand, had rust flakes in his eyes nearly since birth. Living in salty Ohio and being hopelessly addicted to vintage British and Japanese steel will do that to you. His work has appeared in ebay Motors, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars, Reader's Digest, AutoGuide, Family Handyman, and Jalopnik. He's currently looking for the safety glasses he just set down somewhere.

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2 of 33 comments
  • Doug Dolde Doug Dolde on Mar 06, 2019

    No Kimchi for me

  • Davey Davey on Sep 18, 2019

    We bought one 2 weeks ago; I'm bumping and not impartial. I'm struggling to understand the value concern. I see the reporting of front heated/cooled and rear heated, but not heated steering wheel, heads-up display, a picture of the panoramic roof, wireless charging, the rear 115V and USB outlets, seat/mirror memory, the passenger powered seat, and phone-operated remote-start/etc. We really wanted to prefer the Hybrid RAV4 for MPG but it had nowhere near the toys (with the exception of the fancy mirror rear-view-mirror camera) and was cramped. The off-idle pedal response and fuel economy is poor. I felt more comfortable with a hybrid that I'd never driven. If Hyundai puts an efficient hybrid in these they should sell a zillion. My dad's had Accords for 30 years and we've had 10 positive years from an Odyssey. We really wanted to prefer the CR-V but the beltline limited visibility, there was no comfortable elbow rest for book-like long-distance driving, and we just didn't feel like it had special toys like the Santa Fe. If the RAV4 was 2 inches bigger in most dimensions it'd be in the garage. I was very impressed with how it drove, just wish my head wasn't several inches from the ceiling and I could stretch out in the back seat. I'm assuming that the aggressive rear-glass rake improves airflow but it was hard to imagine boxy cargo fitting. It was also 20% too much anime-character styling. I didn't drive the Mazdas but the wife said the 3 was too small and the 5 too big. Perhaps we're the perfect size for this tweener. P.S.: Hyundai, you can't sell Genesai from the same dealership. Yes, there's banners separating the two, but I feel for sales sitting down with those seeking $150/month on an Accent while a $60k car is 10 feet away. PPS: Please bring the Grandeur for my next car

  • SCE to AUX "We'll get ahead of that recall thing next year. Or the year after."
  • SCE to AUX Mustang sales have fallen by 2/3 since 2015. If the trend continues, by 2028 they'll be half again smaller.Kill it - I don't care - and by then, not many others will, either.
  • Dukeisduke This would make sense, given a five-year product cycle.
  • Fred Dart is a block used for racing. Very expensive, even a small bock Chevy iron is about $2000
  • Dukeisduke Is this Ford Recall Number 51 (in 2023)?Keep up the great work Farley! 👍️