Photos by Mark Nessia

Hyundai has been riding the wave of its popular Elantra and Sonata sedans for nearly two decades. Their smart design, excellent fuel economy and modest sticker price resulted in prodigious sales increases beginning in the early 2000s, when Hyundai first began to get traction in the U.S. market.

However, America has developed a growing hunger for SUVs and crossovers in recent years (2012 is the last year that passenger cars made up more than 50 percent of U.S. auto sales and last year that number slipped to 38 percent) and Hyundai is the lone major player in the U.S. market to have sold more passenger cars than trucks and SUVs last year.

In response to this trend, the Korean auto maker is making a big push to increase its presence in the SUV/crossover arena. It started in the spring with the introduction of the fun and edgy Kona, which I was lucky enough to test-drive in April, and continues with the completely redesigned 2019 Santa Fe. Hyundai plans to roll out four more new or redesigned SUVs in the next two years, as well as its first-ever pickup.

The 2019 Santa Fe technically replaces last year’s Santa Fe Sport in that it is a midsized SUV with two rows of seats. The three-row Santa Fe is now called the Santa Fe XL and will be replaced by a brand-new, as yet unnamed, model in 2020.

The exterior of the new Santa Fe is blockier and bolder than its predecessor. The front end is an intricate series of polygons complemented by the horizontally oriented daytime running lights that wrap around from the top corners of the industrial-looking grille. The rear is steeper, giving it a more aggressive look and adding cargo space and visibility (Hyundai claims it increased the window area by 40 percent).

The polygon theme is beautifully integrated into the interior design with the gauges, center stack vents and climate controls each enclosed in shapes that echo those of the front end.

Other impressive interior features include front seats that incorporate multidensity foam that provide firm support and plush comfort in the proper locations, a massive power sunroof and a 630-watt 12-speaker Infinity surround sound audio system that produces incredibly clear, crisp sound.

Hyundai’s stunning suite of safety features, which includes collision warning, automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, blind-spot monitoring and adaptive cruise control, comes standard on all Santa Fes, regardless of trim level.

My test model was an Ultimate 2.0T powered by a 2.0-liter turbo direct-injected four-cylinder engine that puts out a sturdy 230 horsepower.

Another upgrade on this year’s Santa Fe is the reduction of cabin noise. Increased sound insulation, a reinforced floor, and laminated glass for the windshield and windows create a quiet environment for enjoying a conversation or your favorite music on that extraordinary audio system.

The 2019 Santa Fe is spacious, comfortable, powerful and handsomely designed, with a remarkable array of standard safety features. It should go a long way in getting Hyundai in the game of the U.S. SUV market. 

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