2019 Hyundai Santa Fe First Drive: Reshaped, Resized, Revitalized

– Seoul, South Korea

With the distractions of the 2018 Winter Olympics, and my first-ever time driving a hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicle, you’d think that testing a new compact SUV would be the least interesting part of my recent trip to South Korea. But after a day spent cracking along seaside roads with occasional pitstops for exotic dried fish snacks, it was abundantly clear that with the 2019 Santa Fe, Hyundai has an exciting entry.

Pricing announced:

For starters, you didn’t misread that “compact” bit. Hyundai is dropping the slightly confusing Santa Fe Sport name, moving the Santa Fe down a size to compete with the likes of the Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue, and Honda CR-V. Even still, the MY19 Santa Fe is larger than the outgoing SUV in just about every direction: 3.1 inches up in overall length, 2.6 up in wheelbase, and plus 0.4 inches in width.

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe
2019 Hyundai Santa Fe

Just to muddy the waters a bit more, while the Santa Fe will launch as a two-row, five-seat vehicle, it will offer a long-wheelbase, seven-seat “Santa Fe XL” variant in 2019. At least in the U.S., that seven-seater will only come equipped with a 2.2-liter turbodiesel engine. Does all of that make sense to anyone outside Hyundai product planning? I’m not sure, but let’s roll with it for now.

Unfortunately, my drive didn’t reveal anything about the powertrain experience as North American readers will know it. That’s because all of the test vehicles were equip...