Experienced by Kimatni D. Rawlins

As I traversed the steep, rocky trail — which seemed to continue perpetually — while gazing upward into the sky I realized that this Korean SUV was manhandling the obligatory task of reaching the top of the hill like it were a Wrangler or Rover. Has Hyundai’s best-selling SUV, now its 4th generation, truly inherited that much bravado from the prior generation? Is the automaker’s HTRAC AWD system with an electronic, variable-torque-split clutch and torque vectoring for front to rear and left to right traction really that substantive in various driving scenarios such as high-speed cornering? Well, it surely felt so as the 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe anticipated wheel slippage and reacted immediately for an engaging experience which is a necessity for fit families heading toward the heart of the wilderness.

With that in mind Hyundai chose an ideal city to host the national media event for the newfangled utility. So welcome to Park City, Utah, home of the renowned Sundance Film Festival, impeccable ski resorts, active lifestyles and lovers of everything serene and beautiful. The fresh air, mountain views and scores of adventure sports such as mountain biking created the perfect environment for extended test drives through Mother Nature in the popular Sante Fe SUV that has had 1.6 million units sold since creation thus far.

Being that the sale percentages of all of Hyundai’s SUVs and crossovers are up, like KONA at 83%, the new Santa Fe is most certainly set to continue the momentum, even with tough competition from the likes of the Ford Edge, Nissan Murano, Jeep Cherokee, Subaru Outlook, Kia Sorento and Chevy Blazer. Comprised of 67% Advanced High Strength Steel, the 2019 model has grown in length, shed some weight, received a copious amount of standard safety technologies dubbed SmartSense and drives tauter due to the stiffening of the chassis and an enriched suspension engineered from aluminum.

Offered in 9 exterior hues the SUV’s grille is grittier, the shoulders are stronger and the 19” alloys are sportier. However,  dual exhaust tips would have been a nice touch. The cabin is quieter thanks to acoustic lamented glass to shield out excess road noise and the enhanced 8-way power (with driver seat cushion extension), variable seats incorporate seat bolsters. Actually, the level of firmness is automated by your exact seat position. Storage is omnipresent including rear underfloor accommodations, an external glove box slot for phones, large door pockets and the added cubby-hole in the second row which is embedded with the extra USB ports needed for connected families. The second row also provides passengers with privacy shades and sliding seat adjustments for more legroom. The cloth interior is stain resistant and any vehicle with the leather package will automatically incorporate the panoramic sunroof which my drive partner enjoyed hanging out of for scenic photo opps.

My 2019 Santa Fe Ultimate 2.0T AWD model came in a Quartz White exterior hue and a beige on beige interior with practically every amenity you can imagine such as wireless device charging, color Heads-up Display and dual automatic temperature control. Of course, this rendition will cost you $39,905 in comparison to the $26,480 base price for the Santa Fe SE. Customers may also opt for the SEL, SEL Plus and Limited.

I was satisfied with the power of the upgraded 2-liter 4-cylinder Turbo gas engine which produces 235-horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque between 1,450-3,500 rpm. Expect 21 combined mpg. The other offering is the 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine with 185-horsepower that achieves an efficient 29 combined mpg with FWD. Yet, either can be paired with HTRAC AWD and both receive the 8-speed automatic transmission with SHIFTTRONIC which replaces the prior 6-speed auto. It is devoid of paddle shifters but the shift lever is fast reacting. AWD can be set in COMFORT, SMART or SPORT where 50% of the power can be delivered to the rear. To say the least I highly enjoyed SPORT over SMART mode.

Behind the wheel, which has great on-center steering, the driver will be appeased by the 8” static multimedia display that sits atop the dash and features Apple CarPlay or Android Auto and Blue Link Connected Services with Remote Care and Remote Start. The 12-speaker Infinity QuantumLogic Surround Sound with Clari-Fi music restoration sounds fancy in name but not performance. In this case audio becomes distorted at higher volumes and the mountain themed speaker grilles are overthought. I would have preferred metal grilles to flow with the brilliant interior.

Advanced safety technology is “packed in” like players from Green Bay and elevates the Santa Fe by way of Smart Cruise Control with Stop & Go, Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist with Pedestrian Detection, Safe Exit Assist and Lane Keeping Assist.

Overall the product is on point and made for a magnificent day of driving in the Midwest. It seems as though the designers and engineers thought of everything with fit families in mind during the rebuild of the all-new Hyundai Santa Fe. It’s refreshing, stylish and tougher than expected!