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Review: With 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe, utility comes to the fore

The new Sante Fe is family-oriented and very practical.

Hyundai is busy transforming into a crossover company, another death knell for the once-familiar family sedan

Hyundai is busy transforming from a car company into a crossover company. We needn't be surprised: After all, these days Porsche is a crossover company. So is Mazda. Even Lamborghini and Ferrari seem to have thrown in the towel. Why fight it? Crossovers are what people buy.

For Hyundai, the Santa Fe is the crossover that families buy and is thus important to the bottom line. The previous version, split into two available lengths, was a handsome machine that found homes on many a Canadian driveway. For this new version, utility comes to the fore.

To begin, the seven-seater Santa Fe XL is as dead as a Norwegian Blue parrot. Hyundai will continue to sell the XL through the next model year, probably with some serious discounting, but its days are numbered. An as-yet unannounced full-size crossover waits in the wings to join the Kona, Tucson and Santa Fe. Perhaps it'll be called the Hyundai Albuquerque.

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Instead, this new Santa Fe, some 70 millimetres longer and 10 millimetres wider than the old Sport model, becomes the mainstay for the nameplate.

The cramped third-row seats are not designed for daily use.

There will still be a seven-seater, but only for the turbo-diesel models that are expected to arrive in the first quarter of 2019. In the interests of experimentation, your humble 5-foot-11 author sampled the third-row seats available and found them as cramped and uncomfortable as if they'd been designed in North Korea, not South. Even Hyundai says they're for mostly emergency cross-town use.

Most Canadians will opt for the five-seat variant, with one of the two conventional powertrains. Official fuel economy figures have yet to be released, but the carryover engines and new eight-speed transmission should mean efficiency improvements in the 5-per-cent range.

Mild tweaks under the sheet metal are beside the point; this new Santa Fe is all about greater livability. To whit, the new squared-off shape, lengthened wheelbase and enlarged greenhouse sacrifice some sleek styling for better rear passenger comfort and visibility. There are also twin USB ports out back and available heated rear seats.

In terms of ergonomics, the Santa Fe is pleasingly low effort. The eight-inch main display is mounted high up and is very quick in operation. The navigation system gave faultless directions, including visual clarifications when there were tricky close-packed off-ramps. There's a new heads-up display as well.

The main display is mounted high up and functions quickly.

Part of the popularity of crossovers is due to the car-like ride they provide. With the Santa Fe, a higher ride height makes getting through Seoul's packed streets that much easier, yet on coastal roads the handling was perfectly competent.

Hyundai's H-Trac all-wheel-drive system will be present on most Santa Fe models, and from previous experience, it's a solid performer in slippery conditions when paired with seasonally appropriate tires. Despite rugged looks, your average Santa Fe is unlikely to see anything more difficult than a gravel driveway, but winter driving conditions should be a cinch.

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Over all, the Santa Fe is likely to be a strong seller for Hyundai. It's a little less sporty than the new Tucson, a little more family-oriented and extremely practical to live with. It's another chapter in the rise of the crossovers, another death knell for the once-familiar family sedan.

Tech specs

  • Base price: TBD
  • Engines: 2.4-litre four-cylinder; 2.0-litre turbo-charged four-cylinder; 2.2-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder
  • Transmission/drive: Eight-speed automatic/front-wheel; all-wheel
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): TBD
  • Alternatives: Ford Edge, Toyota RAV4

Hyundai's H-Trac all-wheel-drive system will be present on most Santa Fe models.

Looks

There's more than a hint of BMW X3 or X5 about the Santa Fe, especially from the three-quarter rear profile. Over all, it's a little less slick than the outgoing model's design, but does look a little more outdoorsy SUV than urban crossover.

Interior

Interior styling is a mix. On one hand, the seats are excellent, particularly the quilted-look available on higher trims. On the other hand, Hyundai has allowed some harder plastics to come up above the beltline on the doors and dashboard. These would be better off tucked away, with soft-touch materials above.

Performance

The 2.0-litre turbocharged Santa Fe models should be properly quick, with plenty of down low torque. However, the bulk of sales will be the 2.4-litre version. While only diesel models were available for driving impressions, the new eight-speed transmission seems as well-sorted as the six-speed it replaces.

Technology

Driver-assist technology such as forward collision warning, lane-keeping assist and blind-spot monitoring is rapidly becoming a must-have for this segment, and it's all available on the Santa Fe. There are also some unexpectedly clever features. Safe-exit assist can "see" a car approaching from the rear and will sound a warning and lock the rear doors: think traffic at the school drop-off. There's also a sensor in the rear headliner to make sure sleep-deprived parents don't accidentally leave a child in the car.

Cargo

The rear seats can be moved forward for a little extra room.

Total space for this new, slightly larger Santa Fe seems good on paper at 1,036 litres behind the rear seats. However, the load height is fairly high; dog owners take note. The rear seats can be slid forward for a little extra room, but this creates a gap where objects could fall behind the seats.

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The verdict

9.0

Trading a little urban curb appeal for a greater amount of utility makes for a family-friendly crossover with solid value and useful technology.

The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.


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