September 06. 2018 11:36PM

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe is a comforting presence

By LARRY PRINTZ
Tribune News Service


The 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe. (COURTESY)

PARK CITY, Utah — It seems unfair, but it's true: Weekends fly, and weekdays walk. For the most part, life is a day-to-day drill of monotony punctuated by a few moments of pleasure. This explains why comfort and convenience, not high horsepower thrills, is what most motorists prefer — especially those with families.

With that in mind, if you're contemplating a new family sled, consider the new 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe, a redesigned two-row crossover formerly known as the Santa Fe Sport. (The former three-row Santa Fe is renamed the Santa Fe XL for 2019.)

Offered in ascending SE, SEL, SEL Plus, Limited and Ultimate trim levels, each Santa Fe with an increasing number of standard convenience features and few options.

The new model's styling trades the previous version's soft shapes for a more broad-shouldered, masculine appearance, more reminiscent of an SUV. Its face is particularly distinctive, with an aggressively textured trapezoid-shaped grille flanked by stacked headlamp clusters and capped by slim, horizontal daytime running lights and a chrome bar that's runs the width of the front that's stylish assertive.

The Santa Fe's overall footprint remains much like last year's Santa Fe Sport. All passengers enjoy chair high seats and good headroom, although the Santa Fe's roofline slopes down noticeably to meet the top of the windshield, lending the front row a more claustrophobic feel for taller passengers. Cargo room is generous, and there's a large under-floor storage space with a removable Styrofoam divider. Opening the automatic rear tailgate is as easy as standing near it with the key fob. No swinging your foot under the bumper, as in competing models. Thoughtfully, you can adjust the speed with which the tailgate opens, and how high it goes.

Ambience depends on trim level. Less expensive models feature attractively patterned cloth seats, while more expensive models feature leather trim and a more expressive headliner. The instrument panel features soft touch surfaces and stitched accents, although the door panels use hard, cheap plastics that look appropriate on cheaper models and out of place on pricier ones.

The Santa Fe comes standard with front-wheel drive and a 185-horsepower 2.4-liter double overhead-cam four-cylinder engine mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode. A 235-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter DOHC four-cylinder is optional on Limited or Ultimate models. All-wheel drive is optional. SE and SEL models wear 17-inch rubber, while SEL Plus, Limited and Ultimate trims get 18-inch or optional 19-inch footwear.

Most drivers will likely choose the 2.4-liter engine, which has adequate power if you live in a place where the only hills are landfills. Once facing an incline, this engine gets easily winded, forcing drivers to floor the throttle, which generates noise but not thrust. This makes the optional 2.0-liter four the ideal choice, providing enough power in any situation, especially when the vehicle is loaded with passengers and gear. Pop the drive mode selector into Sport mode and the Santa Fe becomes more responsive with either engine, although it has no affect on suspension. Better yet, popping the transmission into manual mode shows how expertly Hyundai engineered its gearbox. When climbing hills, the transmission holds its gear without automatically upshifting for fuel economy, unlike many competitors' models. That said, when teamed with the 2.4-liter engine, transmission behavior isn't as refined.

Nevertheless, the cabin is astonishingly quiet with either engine, although the base engine does emit a continual hum, due to the need for the engine to keep the revs up.

Handling is compliant and agile, although it's not sporty. Only the worst off-road bumps break through this car's comfort barrier. Nevertheless, you'll find Santa Fe SEL with its smaller engine and wheels favor comfort, and do not feel as refined, as sharp or as firm riding as the Ultimate, due mainly to better tires and transmission behavior. When cornering, body lean is evident, but minimal, and the Santa Fe's Lane Keeping Assist works to keep you in your lane. Unlike similar systems, it has a natural feel that doesn't feel intrusive or forced. Once accustomed to it, most drivers will appreciate its assistance.

Even though few owners will ever do it, the Santa Fe is fairly good once the sidewalk ends, thanks to its torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system, which brakes the inside wheels in a corner to enhance handling. It makes sliding around in the wild fun.

Stats

Base prices: $25,500-$38,800

Engine: Turbocharged 2.0-liter DOHC four-cylinder

Horsepower: 235

Torque: 260 pound-feet

EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 19-22/21-25

Wheelbase: 108.9 inches

Length: 187.8 inches

Cargo capacity: 35.9-71.3 cubic feet

Curb weight: 3,591-4,085 pounds

Larry Printz is an automotive journalist based in South Florida. Readers may send him email at TheDrivingPrintz@gmail.com.