The 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe has been given a new look, name and tech updates. But it's not a radical departure in any way from the SUV briefly known as the Santa Fe Sport, and the brand's anchor SUV since before SUVs were cool.
To reiterate the difference between the Santa Fe and Santa Fe XL, the two-row Santa Fe Sport is back to simply being the Santa Fe. The current three-row Hyundai Santa Fe is unchanged except for the name and is the 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe XL. All will be cleaner when Hyundai's coming redesigned three-row arrives under its own new name.
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The outgoing Santa Fe Sport was a good value and a comfortable hauler that went about its business without fuss or calling attention to itself. Everything about the new version indicates it will be the same, just a bit better.
The new look is sleeker and leaner, a bit more upscale, but the only real drama is in the front, with a big Hyundai cascading grille, aggressive bumper and unusual dropped-headlight lighting arrangement that drew comment but seems fine to me (and maybe less likely to blind others in the lower position).
The leaner look disguises the fact that the new SUV is almost 3 inches longer — and 2.6 inches of the stretch is in the wheelbase, which makes the already comfy slide-and-recline rear seat even more adult-friendly and adds to the large cargo space behind it. The new beltline and big windows improve visibility and also make the cabin airier, with or without the panoramic sunroof.
The new interior design is pleasing if a little more sedate in an apparent effort to be more upscale, too. But it's well laid out with a bi-level dash and more storage spaces. The controls have a good feel and I like the high, standup touchscreen display. The materials are a bit richer, though you won't mistake the Santa Fe for a new Genesis SUV (surely there is one of those coming).
We'll have to see how the revised platform behaves. There's a new eight-speed transmission, but the engines carry over, including a revised version of the turbo 2.0-liter up-power option that moves the big SUV quite competently while being relatively economical in my experience with it.
And in a big plus for Santa Fe safety, no matter how much you spend, Hyundai's safety feature and driver assistance tech bundle, now called Smart Sense, is available for all Hyundai Santa Fe trim levels (SE, SEL, SEL Plus, Limited, Ultimate and 2.2D). It includes a forward collision system with automatic braking, blind spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert with automatic braking, lane keeping assist and full-speed adaptive cruise control. And optional for close-quarter combat is a 360-degree camera system. For backseat occupant safety, there is a rear-seat alert to prevent unintentionally leaving kids or pets in the car and, in a first on any Hyundai, the Santa Fe has a standard Safe Exit Assist that temporarily prevents the rear doors from being opened if a vehicle is approaching from behind, even if the doors are unlocked. Trims SE and up include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for seamless smartphone app connectivity to the infotainment system.
If the 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe pricing follows its predecessor in being a good value, this will remain an attractive SUV. I liked the outgoing model, and this one seems only better. Plus, the new diesel model — if and when it arrives — will add an appealing, torquey, high-mileage version.
Editor's note: This was story was updated March 30, 2018, to reflect new information from Hyundai that all 2019 Santa Fes will have an independent rear suspension.
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