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A few weeks back, Auto Drive looked at the updated 2019 Hyundai Tucson — a compact crossover that offers pleasant, safe, practical transportation at affordable prices, but which generally doesn’t stand out from the pack –except for its feature content for the money. Mediocre acceleration and fuel economy are the main demerits in a highly competitive class.
Now we’ve gotten our hands on the brand’s midsize five-passenger crossover, the fully redesigned 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe, which replaces last year’s similarly sized Santa Fe Sport. And for better or for worse, it packs most of the same pros and cons into a slightly larger vehicle, at a slightly higher price.
The Santa Fe isn’t brilliant to drive, and it doesn’t match the leading competitors’ acceleration or gas mileage. But it’s nonetheless a solid value and a marked improvement over the 2018 Santa Fe Sport that it replaces — and a much better value for the money. This year’s base price is slightly higher ($26,545 instead of $25,930), but a more generous list of standard features is more than enough to compensate.
To start, the old Santa Fe Sport’s base model didn’t include smartphone integration via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and didn’t include a blind-spot monitoring system — both of which come standard for 2019.
But the bigger change involves a suite of advanced safety features: adaptive cruise control, a forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, a lane-departure warning, and lane-keeping steering assistance. These features were hard to find last year, sold as an extra-cost option only on the top-of-the-line Ultimate trim. Now they’re all standard even on the base model. That’s a sea change for the Santa Fe’s value proposition if you’re at all interested in this safety tech.
At the same time, the 2019 Santa Fe is slightly larger than the 2018 Santa Fe Sport. The change gives it a little more distance from the compact Tucson and aligns it more naturally with the Ford Edge, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Nissan Murano in the five-passenger midsize crossover class.
For sheer value, the Santa Fe demolishes that popular trio, all of which start above $30,000 — and without all the Hyundai’s standard safety technology. The fully loaded model approaches $40,000, but that price brings an exemplary level of luxury and convenience features that are far too numerous to list here.
Despite its affordable pricing, the Santa Fe doesn’t give off the impression of being a budget car. The exterior design is contemporary but not aggressively so — a functional box-shape with enough decorated creases to keep it from looking old-fashioned or slab-sided. It’s not as dynamic-looking as the ultra-curvy Murano, but the boxier Santa Fe provides the utility of extra cargo space: 36 cubic feet behind the rear seat, which expands to 71 cubic feet by easily folding that rear seat down.
Inside, the Santa Fe’s interior ambiance also keeps pace with the pricier midsize crossover competition. Poke around long enough and you might find a few details that don’t impress, but the overall aura is of an airy, well-finished space. User-friendly controls limit frustration, and the lovely blue-hued gauge cluster also makes a positive impression.
In another notable improvement in the 2019 redesign, the new Santa Fe has a roomier rear seat than the old Santa Fe Sport, making it well-suited to carrying five adults.
Once it gets moving, the Santa Fe doesn’t display the sporty handling of a Ford Edge or the outstanding off-road capability of a Jeep Grand Cherokee. Its powertrains also trail the segment. Hyundai makes do with two four-cylinder engines that carry over from the old Santa Fe Sport: a 2.4-liter with 185 horsepower and the tested 2.0-liter turbo with 235 horsepower — well behind the V6s found in the midsize competition.
While the Santa Fe is not exactly slow, the base model in particular falls short of the luxurious effortlessness you’d enjoy in the competition. The tested turbo model also sometimes suffered some stumbles during low-speed acceleration, where the throttle and transmission weren’t fully on the same page.
Nor does the Santa Fe have a fuel economy advantage to make up for its lesser acceleration. EPA ratings range from 25 mpg in mixed driving for the base engine and front-wheel-drive all the way down to the tested all-wheel-drive turbo model, at just 21 mpg. That’s 3 mpg below the 260-horsepower Murano.
It’s also worth noting that the Santa Fe doesn’t have much more interior space than the roomiest compact crossovers, one size smaller. The Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Nissan Rogue all have lower cargo floors to hold extra stuff, along with spacious seating. The Santa Fe fits a fifth adult more easily, but its main advantage over these models is its extra dose of quietness and solidity. It’s nothing special compared to a Murano, but it creates a more peaceful, upscale driving experience than a Rogue — and for not a ton more money.
The Santa Fe is also comparable in price, size and interior quality to the Kia Sorento, but the Kia sacrifices some second-row seat comfort to squeeze in a small third row.
Overall, if you’re looking for a spacious, quiet five-passenger crossover that’s not too bulky or too expensive, don’t miss the newly improved 2019 Santa Fe. While imperfect, it combines much of the roominess and luxury of a typical midsize crossover while costing significantly less.
Visit tinyurl.com/sentinel-santa-fe to see more photos of the tested 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe.
Brady Holt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association.