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2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Review by Thom Cannell +VIDEO - It's E15 Approved

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2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Review

By Thom Cannell
Senior Editor
Michigan Bureau
The Auto Channel

Bullet Points—Brief observations based on a decade+ of experience.

I flew to Florida to work on family property and a chance to drive a fourth-generation 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe. The all-new Santa Fe is more refined, bolder in appearance with its signature cascading grille and new slit DRLs that ride above LED headlights. It’s wider, with a signature line that reaches from the DRLs back to sculpted taillights. I find it handsome, with a muscularity that’s sleek, not bulky.

How It Looks

My first impression of the interior was of a modern layout centered on a tall and wide Navigation screen. Key on, I tried the selectable Sport mode and the strangest instrument cluster appeared. It was rage red—with huge numbers and a Head Up Display to reflect that speed without looking down. It was novel, interesting, and took a week to become used to.

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Another push of the drive mode button set Smart mode and the IP turned a pleasant shade of blue, resuming normal appearance of engine temp, analog speedometer and other gauges of engine operation. The Head-Up Display now showed my speed, the local speed limit, and the Nav screen (if on) delivered similar information. Unlike many voice-control systems I've used, this one easily understood my location, and was perfectly happy with poorly constructed spoken instructions. Normally, if you pause, skip, hmm-uhhh, or anything similar, a voice recognition system becomes catatonic. Not this one.

Even before I’d reached my destination I was happy.

How It Drives

During the weeklong test I was able to determine that this crossover wants to please its owners. It comfortably seats four, perhaps five if one is child-sized, and is a quiet, safe space for all.

In particular I liked the instruments, their layout, and their type font, shape, color—well, everything about the driver’s controls. Hyundai has an advanced HMI (Human Machine Interface) lab near me in Ann Arbor, MI. To my eye, they perform excellent work as the clarity of controls and the robust voice control, i.e. “Take Me Home!” simply worked.

Smart mode told me whether I was driving aggressively and having fun with the 235-horsepower turbocharged engine, or driving economically. In the urban sprawl of Fort Myers there is little reason to drive aggressively, other than stoplight fun. The engine sound is slightly snarky, particularly when in Sport mode, but unobtrusive in freeway driving. I found engaging Smart was the better option compared to Sport, which re-maps the engine's shift points and delivers firmer steering (which I like). There’s a Comfort mode that attempts to maximize fuel economy, should that be your desire. However, Smart seems spot on, in a European way, and is neither harsh nor flabby.

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PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

One evening I tried the Lane Keeping Assist, which is a standard feature on the 2019 Santa Fe, and it quietly kept me reasonably centered in the lane, even in mild curves. Finally, after a few seconds, the 2019 Santa Fe’s Lane Keeping Assist announced and the instrument cluster displayed that DRIVER'S HANDS NOT DETECTED!

This was not autonomous driving, but it does show what modest assistance can offer. Remember, please, that distracted or sleep-deprived driving is as dangerous as driving under the influence. Lane Keeping Assist will likely prevent a few tragedies. And, because it was transparent, without annoying noises, I left lane keeping active as it doesn't seem to conflict with my normal driving style.

What’s Inside

When journalists are on new-model launch events, we’re at the bar by sunset. So, having a vehicle for a week gives us more complete knowledge. Particularly night driving, and after chasing rally cars down narrow, twisting forest roads I’ve become a severe critic of inadequate lighting. The Santa Fe has excellent headlights that include an automatic-on setting and automatic high beams. This feature is designed to better light your highway driving as it tries to keep the high beams on. In the city, not a good testing application as both taillights and oncoming headlights switched the high beams off. However, it worked great on less traveled roads.

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Interior design is flowing, with multiple colors and textures; I didn’t care for the faux wood inserts. Hyundai offers a surprising amount of center console tech, including central USB, a Qi charge panel, heated and cooled seats, even a heated steering wheel, which even comes in handy on cool Florida mornings.

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PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Every manufacturer now provides "smart" keys that recognize the owner as they approach. Hyundai wants you to feel even more welcome to your traveling lounge, so as you approach the vehicle plays a tune and blinks its lights to say, "I am yours!". It's handy in a parking lot where there are five similar CUVs, and it is a small add-on to make your ownership feel special.

One evening Nav did me wrong. It's software performed flawlessly, but the map was inaccurate. This exposes one of the impediments to autonomous driving, even basic turn-by-turn navigation. Generally, the Nav system simply works and isn’t intrusive (you can set it for more, or less, notifications).

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How does the 2019 Santa Fe make you feel? Are you rich, poor or in-between? I'd say well above anything in its data set. I liked the detailing of the cockpit with contrasting bronze stitching on black seats. What I don't care for was the faux wood inlay. The printing missed the mark. My preference is for authenticity, whether wood, plastic or metal. This is dyed to a color my eyes say is unreal.

Other than that, the message is not mixed, its one of comfort and convenience, of what you want at a price you can afford. There's no sense you skimped.

Here’s the Bullet Points—

The Good:

Controls are easy to learn and voice recognition is among the best. My test vehicle had the optional Infiniti sound system with Clari-Fi, which fixes low quality sound sources, it's very enjoyable and worth the price.

The engine sound is slightly snarky (which I like), particularly when in Sport mode, but unobtrusive in freeway driving.

Automatic fog lamps are a solid feature, and unusual.

Full safety suite of high beam assist, forward collision avoidance, blind-spot avoidance, lane keeping assist, driver attention warning, smart cruise with stop-and-go, rear cross-traffic assist

The interior, black, has enough difference in shades in tone to remain satisfying. Wholehearted recommendation.

Needs Improvement:

Improved inlays: more accurate or less an attempt at something familiar.

Cool Hacks:

Safe Exit detects rear oncoming cars and will alert a passenger, or defeat the Electronic Child Safety Lock until the approaching vehicle has passed, then you could unlock rear passenger doors.

Rear Occupant Alert will honk the horn and send an alert to your smart phone if you lock kids or pets in the rear seats. Way better than a simpler dashboard reminder.

On/off sonic parking (rear is optional) and optional video cameras with Left-Right-Surround settings, not simply the standard backup view. When you move, the camera's turn off. These features are very family and female friendly as you can view the areas you can’t see from the driver’s seat.
Copyright 2019 First North American Serial Rights Unless Otherwise Noted.
Original photographs copyright 2019 by Thom Cannell