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Exclusive! New Hyundai Santa Fe Review

Motor Trend India logo Motor Trend India 06-03-2018 Motor Trend Staff
a car parked on the side of a road © Motor Trend Staff

I'm standing in the cavernous lobby of Hyundai's Motorstudio in Goyang, South Korea—sort of an Exploratorium of Hyundai car-making—as families with kids mill around gaping at the simulations of sheetmetal stamping and robotic painting. And nearby, I'm staring at the all-new 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe. I walk around it. A normal, steady-as-she-goes, everything-better-but-familiar crossover from what I can tell. Hmmm.

An engineer on hand introduces himself and guides me over to the car's nose. It's way more expressive, and Hyundai is proud to describe it as representing their own new, authentically original style (though I'm unclear what its predecessor was mimicking). Those super-slim headlights aren't, actually; they're DLRs. The actual headlights are down where you'd expect foglights. The result's an intense, hungry look, a coiled cobra with an open mouth and half-closed eyes before the fatal strike. Stand back.

a close up of a car © Motor Trend Staff

Behind it is either of its familiar pair of carryover petrol engines: a naturally aspirated 185-hp, 178-lb-ft 2.4-liter and a 235-hp, 260-lb-ft, 2.0-liter turbo (with twin continuously variable valve timing). Familiar mills, though both now twirl all-new eight-speed transmissions (which are somehow lighter than their six-speed predecessors) before dispensing their power to either the front wheels or, optionally, all four (via Hyundai's highly flexible HTRAC system). And then there's the diesel.

It's a turbocharged 2.2-liter that's exclusive to the third-row option, Hyundai figuring that family trips (which checks the box for the third row) might entail a third row and a hitch for a boat, too, so diesel torque expands its whole usability envelope.

a truck that is driving down the road © Motor Trend Staff

I'm led along the car's flanks, which the engineer says is designed to communicate a less masculine and more family-friendly message. I disagree. The bodywork expresses noticeably taut tendons underneath, and its heavily sculpted wheel arches and overall boxier shape sure message "dude" to me. But a psychological pivot happens with the side glass. The claustrophobic, sky-bound trajectory of the last generation's window base might as well be a keep-out sign for second-row passengers because you could hardly see out. Now that is cured. Good.

That glass stretches farther back because the whole Santa Fe is seriously stretched. Length grows by 2.8 inches, wheelbase by 2.6, and this manifests in an extra 2.8 inches of front legroom and an added inch for the second. Interior volume (comparing two-row to two-row) grows 3.9 cubic feet, with the third-row's headroom benefiting from the boxier aft roofline. I climbed back there (I'm 6-foot-1) and it's survivable if you don't mind sitting raised knees. (The bottom cushion is close to the floor.)

a close up of a car © Motor Trend Staff

That's the first half of the Santa Fe's family-friendly message. The rest is said with features: a button on the inboard edge of the front passenger seat so the driver can tilt it forward for onboarding second-row passengers, buttons on the second row to collapse them for third-row access.

Suddenly, Hyundai's media herders cattle-prod us into the Motorstudio's elevators and down into the subterranean parking structure where a row of Santa Fes—all with diesel (a 2.4-liter)—await our test drive. The route began to unavoidably thread into 5 p.m. Seoul traffic. I shrugged my shoulders. What are we going to learn in this mess?

a hand holding a black car © Motor Trend Staff

Most of what really matters, actually: time to absorb this car it in its natural setting. The new Santa Fe's interior seems two grades up from the current car's, at least on par with anything at this price; the seat's deeply pleated inserts are richly fashionable, its texture synchronizing with other accents around the cabin. The instrument display alters depending on drive mode. There's twin front and rear USBs and a button to switch on the rear-facing camera to view what's going on back there. Although the dash and center stack are attractive and easy to use, they're contemporary; I'm already spoiled by the slick, futuristic surfaces in the Nexo, and I really wish Hyundai would apply it to every interior they design.

a car parked on the side of a mountain © Motor Trend Staff

Seoul traffic is thick but moves along because everybody's a lot more accommodating. The Santa Fe's throttle response, quick shifts, and smooth brake action make it a cinch to glide into gaps. It's easy to see out of when the nav route requests a quick turn; the steering is noticeably natural and refined. The 235/55R19 tires complement the suspension for a quiet and supple ride. But mainly, this is a solid-feeling crossover, mature, richly finished, and blanketed in interesting features that'll make your life—your real life—easier. It doesn't exactly upend our perception of the category, but it executes it so darn well that I'd be nervously tapping my fingers on the boardroom table over at its rivals.

The new Santa Fe then takes the more premium route and leave a bigger gap between it and the Tucson. It is a really good product that shows the strides that Hyundai itself is taking. If launched in India, it would be pricey and much more expensive than the current Santa Fe was. We do hope Hyundai launches it because it is so good, it can take the fight straight to its rivals in the midsize luxury SUV space.

a car parked on the side of a road © Motor Trend Staff

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2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Korean market front three quarter in motion 7 © Motor Trend Staff 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Korean market front three quarter in motion 7

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