Review: Hyundai's popular Santa Fe shifts into a new phase

From humble beginnings in the early 2000s as an awkward-looking tall wagon, the Hyundai Santa Fe has evolved into a top-notch utility vehicle that’s loaded with poise and panache.

Hyundai says the redesigned five-passenger tall wagon should now be addressed as simply Santa Fe, instead of with the previous Santa Fe Sport designation. The seven-passenger Santa Fe XL has been replaced by the all-new and larger eight-passenger 2020 Palisade that’s about to debut in showrooms.

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From virtually any angle, the design team has knocked this one out of the park. The grille, in particular, exhibits a boldness unknown to any previous generation of Santa Fe. Behind it, the windshield pillars have been kept slim, which aids forward visibility and, laterally, helps you see adjacent pedestrians and cars at intersections.

Other bodywork traits include front and rear fenders that accentuate the wheel openings along with the requisite darkened side trim that suggest this Hyundai can take on more than just bad roads and inclement weather.

The side quarter-windows have been enlarged and the rear end has been squared off, which further improves the Santa Fe’s looks, but cargo capacity remains about the same. Still, the new shape could pass for a vehicle wearing Hyundai’s premium Genesis logo.

With the Palisade assuming a literally larger role, the Santa Fe has undergone a bit of a growth spurt, with overall measurements increased to full-on midsize proportions. The new model is nearly eight centimetres longer and the distance between the front and rear wheels grows by more than six centimetres. One important intent is to create more differentiation with the compact Tucson.

The interior design is about as straightforward and gadget-free as you can get, including actual knobs and switches for the climate and audio systems, and there’s a real shift lever. A tablet-style touchscreen perched atop the dashboard is standard operating procedure for most new vehicles these days. At least the Santa Fe’s is tilted slightly downward to help reduce glare from the ambient light.

The new sheet metal and interior stand in contrast with the under-hood hardware that carries over. All trim levels come standard with a 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine with 185 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque. The Limited and Ultimate trims can be had with a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder that puts out 235 horsepower and 260 pound-feet.

The sole transmission is an eight-speed automatic that replaces the previous six-speed.

The front-wheel-drive 2.4’s combined city/highway fuel consumption is rated at 9.6 l/100 km.

This year, Hyundai plans to add a turbodiesel option for Santa Fe that will also include an “occasional-use” third-row seat. That’s marketing-speak for kid-friendly.

All-wheel drive can be had with either powerplant and includes what Hyundai calls Torque Vectoring Corner Control (TVCC). The system monitors driving conditions and directs the proper amount of power or braking force to any single wheel. TVCC assists in slippery conditions and provides added precision when cornering.

Selecting the base Santa Fe Essential requires an outlay of $31,000, including destination charges. That gets you a respectable amount of gear, except for an assortment of dynamic safety technologies that comes standard with the remaining three trim levels, along with all-wheel drive.

Topping the list is the Ultimate, which is an appropriate label for a Santa Fe that comes with climate control with automatic window defogger, heated and leather-covered front and rear seats (front seats with leg-cushion support) plus numerous other niceties.

Hyundai’s ability to build vehicles in nearly every possible niche and sub-niche is aptly demonstrated with the new Santa Fe and the upcoming Palisade. More importantly, the Santa Fe has the design and engineering chops to be competitive in a category that’s full of overachievers.

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