Hyundai Santa Fe leaps ahead

By Rory Daley
Observer senior writer

Friday, November 23, 2018

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THE 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe isn't just another quick update for another sport utility vehicle; it's about a brand positioning its product at the top of its model range and pushing it into the premium SUV space.

A look at the new Santa Fe and there's little question where it stands in Hyundai's SUV line-up. It's a reversal of sorts. The previous generation Santa Fe held the design language for itself and the smaller Tucson, while the junior Creta had a look of its own to entice youthful buyers. This time around it's the Santa Fe receiving its own appearance, while the other two photocopy each other. And a significant look of individuality it is. Sure it retains some cues for the brand, via the large grill, but elsewhere its boldness breaks through. It looks like no other with a futuristic lighting arrangement and aggressively creased body lines. The Santa Fe looks good and stands out in a market segment prone to conservatism.

Inside, things aren't as radical, but continue the high-end feel of the exterior. Soft-touch materials are everywhere from the dashboard to the stitched leather seats. Peer closer and there are subtle hints in the shapes around the cabin borrowed from outside. Chrome accents adorn all else. Things continue to be premium from the power-adjustable heated and cooled front seats. With a memory function, they slide to allow proper ingress and exit, before returning to the set position, which offers a wide range for comfortable seating. This comfort extends all the way to the third row that flips easily up from the trunk floor. Slide the panoramic sunroof open and the interior takes on even more of a roomy feel. All rows get their own sense of well-being with power ports and air conditioning.

Practically abound with this SUV. All major functions are automated or powered, including many not available in class rivals. Third-row access can be done with a press of a button or a lift of a handle from the second row. The second row itself can be laid low with a press of the button from the trunk. The trunk can open and raise itself automatically should one stand behind it for a few seconds. Buttons on the passenger seat allow the driver to electronically slide it forward or backwards for cargo access — human or otherwise. Such is only — short list of Santa Fe's capabilities.

Hyundai's infotainment remains responsive and accessible through its touch-screen or the steering wheel-mounted controls with a wireless charging space to place one's smartphone while it's connected to the vehicle. Streaming music, listening via an iPod and taking calls, all sound great coming out of the stereo system. Having Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as standard are welcome extras.

One change that hasn't been made, which is for the best, is the drivetrain. The Hyundai is still available with diesel power and with real four-wheel drive. Fire up the Hyundai and the 2.2-litre turbo diesel never makes itself heard even under acceleration. There is no low range, but a locking centre differential can make sure power is sent equally to all wheels for tricky off-road situations. The combination works great on-road as well. The low-end torque, four-wheel drive grip and the eight-speed transmission make progress in the Santa Fe a breeze, whether cruising in traffic or hot-footing it down a country lane. Easily select one of the three driving modes and watch the digital instrument cluster relay the relevant information. For those who hate data overload the Head Up Display keeps things simpler.

The previous model Santa Fe is best remembered for keeping the old-school SUV formula and modernising it. For 2019 Hyundai has added new layers of technology, refinement and luxury, making it now a must look in the premium suv space.

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