Straining to stand out.

Sport begone! For 2019 Hyundai’s five-passenger Santa Fe SUV has banished the S-word from its nomenclature and returned to its etymological roots in a bid to lure buyers in what is one of the most competitive segments in the entire industry.

A very good crossover that checks as many boxes as would-be buyers are likely to have.

Faced with a multitude of excellent choices for a mid-size family hauler, it’s natural for first-time shoppers to be confused as to which model might best suit their particular needs. It’s with this in mind that the new Santa Fe is bigger, bolder, and better to look at than in years past.

The only trouble is, there are really no “wrong” choices to make when shopping for this particular class of vehicle. Does the Santa Fe stand out to the point where it’s a slam-dunk?

Bigger than Before

“Mid-size” might need an asterisk when discussing the 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe. Despite a stretch of 70 mm (including 65 mm of additional wheelbase), and a somewhat wider body, this ’ute is bigger than most compacts but doesn’t quite approach the same bulk as three-row rivals like the Toyota Highlander or Honda Pilot (which remain the province of the seven-passenger Santa Fe XL).

Segment-stretching is typically welcome, however, if there’s no concomitant price boost to go with it, and here Hyundai hasn’t let anyone down: the SUV starts at an MSRP of $28,999, which is $500 or so more than it cost the previous year. The model I drove, however, was the Ultimate AWD, which checks in at $44,999 – a mere $300 increase over its 2018 equivalent.

What does adding nearly $16K to the sticker of the Santa Fe land you? Highlights for the model include a standard 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine that carries over its 235 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque from the Sport, but matches it with a new eight-speed automatic transmission in place of the previous six-speed autobox. All-wheel drive is included free of charge, as is a larger touchscreen infotainment system, a head-up display, and wireless charging for your various devices.

Also on offer (and shared with the next-step-down Luxury trim level) are a huge panoramic sunroof, a surround-view camera system, a hands-free power tailgate, and a leather interior. This is over and above active safety gear such as forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, and lane-keeping assistance.

All the Drive You Need

Don’t be fooled by the lack of “Sport” on the Santa Fe’s tailgate – the SUV has never been touted for its handling dynamics, and the updates made for 2019 keep it feeling surefooted in all manner of weather (including snow and ice during our time together), if not responsive or engaging from behind the wheel.

Power is good from the turbocharged motor, but the eight-speed gearbox occasionally catches your attention by holding on to revs long enough to feel noisy and intrusive. It’s the one real downside for the package. The Hyundai’s all-wheel drive system can send more or less torque to the front and rear wheels depending on whether the drive mode is set to “Smart”, “Sport”, or “Comfort”, but unless you’re dealing with slippery stuff you’re unlikely to notice its transparent power management.

Similarly, there’s very little to dislike about the Santa Fe’s cabin, which balances practicality with comfort in pleasing measure. There’s a decent amount of detail on the dashboard to suggest that yes, you did pay more than most other people when selecting the Ultimate trim, and the larger touchscreen is welcome when dealing with Hyundai’s simple communications, entertainment, and navigation interface. I also appreciated the faux wood panelling on the door inserts.

Areas that need improvement include the general feeling that there’s not quite as much luxury to be found inside the Ultimate as one would expect, given its price, as well as rear seats which don’t tumble forward but require two hands to flatten when seeking more cargo space. This is a bit of an irritant when your hands are full, but at the very least once you’ve accomplished the task you have access to 2,109 litres of hauling room.

Shoulder-to-Shoulder

As an all-around package, the 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe feels every bit as worthy as its primary competitors – vehicles like the Ford Edge and the Subaru Outback – when vying for the attentions of space-seeking shoppers.

In fact, when compared against the more dowdy (but eminently useful) Subaru, the Santa Fe pulls ahead with its sleek exterior styling. This is especially true up front, where the crossover adopts a variation on the gun-slit headlights first seen on the smaller Hyundai Kona, which match well with its prominent grille and strong hood. It’s an attractive vehicle to look at from most angles, and it manages to stand out – just a little – from most other SUVs available at its price point.

It’s not quite enough to make the Santa Fe a class-killer, however. This is a very good crossover that checks as many boxes as would-be buyers are likely to have, but the same is true of so many others of its ilk. This is excellent news for individuals currently on the hunt for a sport-utility vehicle, because it gives tacit permission to base one’s choice on harder-to-quantify elements like style (which the Hyundai has in spades) and comfort. A rising tide lifts all boats, and while the 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe is a respectable SUV selection, it’s not necessarily floating any higher than the dinghy to the right.

Specifications

Engine Displacement 2.0L   Model Tested 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Ultimate AWD
Engine Cylinders I4   Base Price $44,999
Peak Horsepower 235 hp   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 260 lb-ft   Destination Fee $1,905
Fuel Economy 12.3/9.8/11.2 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb   Price as Tested $47,004
Cargo Space 1,017 / 2,019 seats down  
Optional Equipment
None