As the mid-size SUV offering of the brand, the Hyundai Santa Fe has been a tremendous success, with the company consistently moving more than 100,000 units a year North America. Now in its 4th generation, the all-new Santa Fe seeks to address the weaknesses of the outgoing model while maintaining the strengths that made the nameplate so popular with households looking for the do-it-all vehicle. That being said, how does it stack up as a rental vehicle? Read on to find out.
Like the previous model, the 2019 Santa Fe currently offers two engine choices. Most models in the rental lot will have the 2.4L four-cylinder producing 185 horsepower and 178 lb ft of torque. Acceleration is adequate but we did catch the car flat-footed when ascending a mountain pass. A 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder producing 235 horsepower and 260 lb ft of torque is available but we have yet to spot any rentals equipped with the more powerful engine. All engines are mated to a new 8-speed automatic transmission that makes smooth shifts most of the time.
During our time with the vehicle, we achieved an an average fuel consumption of 8.2L/100km in mainly highway driving, which is significantly better than the posted combined rating of 10.1L/100km.
Piloting the Santa Fe is like most the other SUVs in its segment. It just drives. When cruising around town, the suspension soaks up bumps relatively well, with only large potholes making themselves known to the vehicle’s occupants. New for this year, the auto start-stop system shuts down the engine at stop lights to conserve fuel. Unlike other systems we have tested, engine restarts are almost imperceptible. However, when coupled with the standard auto hold feature, it is nearly impossible to execute a smooth start from a standstill (trust us, we tried). As expected, steering is light, which makes making tight turns in the city a cinch.
At speed however, there is a noticeable wind whistle around the driver’s door that we were unable to pinpoint the source. Perhaps it is due to the fact that our vehicle is an early production model, but do check it out during your rental and see if you can live with it. YMMV.
Visibility is night and day compared to the previous model. The thin A-pillars, larger rear side glass and redesigned dashboard all makes for an airier cabin that also affords better views to the front and sides.
Comfort and Convenience
Our rental is a Preferred model, which is the second from base trim and likely the highest trim available on the rental lot. Standard features include all-wheel drive, a 7-inch infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and 4 USB ports, power heated driver’s seat with 2-way lumbar support, leather-wrapped heated steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, proximity key with push button start, electronic parking brake with auto brake hold, sliding and reclining rear seats, back-up camera and sensors. Notable absences include leather seats, a sunroof, power liftgate, navigation and any form of upgraded headlights.
As with other SUVs in its class, the upper dash and front door panels are adorned in soft touch plastics with imitation stitching to give it a more premium appearance. Move to the back however and the quality starts to slip, with hard plastic covering most of the rear doors with the exception of the armrest. Compared with the outgoing model, this is one area where cost-cutting is apparent. Another would the seat fabric, which are extremely scratchy and feels really cheap. Try it out if you can before taking this vehicle, your skin will thank you.
Hyundai’s SmartSense package is standard on all but the base model. It includes a host of active safety features such as adaptive cruise control with stop and go, lane keep assist, automatic emergency braking, auto high beams and driver attention assist. Blind spot warning and rear cross traffic alert are also standard on this trim. Using the same sensors as the blind spot warning system, the safe exit assist system sounds an audible warning if there is a fast approaching vehicle/cyclist when opening one of the side doors. We really appreciate this feature and must admit it has helped us avoid several close calls when exiting the vehicle on busy streets.
During highway runs, the adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist work really well and will even allow hands free driving for a short period of time before a warning appears. Autonomous car it is not, but it is amazing how fast we are advancing towards full autonomy.
Ease of Use
Models from Hyundai have traditionally excelled in this area. Unlike other manufacturers who have gone to war with buttons, the interior of the Santa Fe still uses hard buttons for most of the controls. Response from the touchscreen is also snappy, reducing the need to take your eyes off to road to confirm your selection. Same thing can be said for the climate control, which feature simple knobs that can be operated in a cinch. Closer to the traditional gearshift (thank goodness) is where you will find buttons for other vehicle functions such as the drive mode selector, hill descent control, parking sensors and the electronic parking brake with auto-hold. One aspect we dislike is the fact that the auto-hold function resets with every engine cycle, requiring a button press to enable it every time the vehicle is started.
Clear white on black dials coupled with a monochrome TFT screen make up the gauge cluster. While not fancy by any means, these gauges provide vital information at a glance. However, the same cannot be said for the steering wheel. We counted a total of 10 buttons and 4 toggle switches! Given the close proximity of the switches, we constantly find ourselves changing tracks when we wanted to turn up the volume and vice versa. Controls for the active safety features are located in a button bank to the left of the gauges. They are a little hard to reach but they are mostly a set and forget affair.
Operating the rear seats is very straightforward. Levers by the side enable the generous seat recline or folding mechanism. Adding to the convenience, the seat can also be slid by pulling on a bar underneath and folded from buttons located in the cargo area.
Compared to other vehicles in its segment, wide opening doors afford easy access to the cabin and once inside, the Santa Fe offers adequate space for adults in both rows. However, we found that the front seats do not move as far back as expected. For someone that is 6 ft tall, the seat has to be adjusted to its most rearward position. We can imagine someone over 6 ft may have some issues with legroom in the front. The highly adjustable (slide and recline) rear bench allows the space to be proportioned between cargo and passengers. Behind the rear sets, there is about 31.5 cubic ft of cargo space, which more than doubles to 71.3 cubic ft with the rear seats folded. That is more than enough for most families and their luggage.
Unlike the previous model which offered both 5 and 7 seat versions, the new model is strictly a 5-seater. Large families who are hoping to score a deal by renting a Santa Fe instead of a bigger class are out of luck.
Who are we kidding, no one chooses the Santa Fe because its cool. That being said, given that this is a brand new model, there will some head-turning as passer-bys first set eyes on the redesign. By the time you read this however, the roads may already be swamped with them. After all, an SUV is a vehicle you rent because of need and rarely because of want.
Enterprise/National/Alamo: As of August 2018, only these three rental agencies have introduced the 2019 models into the fleet. Availability is limited as they are gradually introduced to replace the outgoing models. Both all-wheel drive Essential and Preferred (our rental) models are on the lots. To spot a Preferred model, look out for the turn signal mirrors, larger 18-inch wheels and the door handle buttons for the proximity key. Regardless of trim, all models will come equipped with a full suite of active safety features.
Avis/Budget/Hertz/Thrifty/Dollar – These agencies have yet to introduce the 2019s but given the number of current generation Santa Fes in their fleet, we should expect to see them (in similar trims) in due time.
Enterprise/National/Alamo: Classified as a standard SUV, the Santa Fe shares the same category with other similarly sized models including the Kia Sorento, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ford Edge. Some of the alternatives, especially the Edge can be found in fully equipped Titanium and Sport trims. However, few will come equipped with the safety features found in the Sante Fe.
Avis/Budget: Intriguingly, the Santa Fe is classified as an intermediate SUV, a category that also includes a mix of smaller vehicles including the Ford Escape, Jeep Renegade/Compass/Cherokee, Kia Sorento, Nissan Rogue, Toyota RAV4 and Volkswagen Tiguan. Compared to the other vehicles, the Santa Fe is noticeably larger and offers more space. We do not expect any changes in the classification with the introduction of the new model.
Hertz/Dollar/Thrifty: Similar to Avis/Budget, common alternatives include Jeep Cherokee, Toyota RAV4 and Volkswagen Tiguan, all of which are smaller in size.
If you are a renter that has safety as your top priority, the Santa Fe represents one of the best choices (if you can find one) with its comprehensive list of active safety features, including a number of industry-firsts. However, if you value luxury-oriented features such as leather seats, sunroof and navigation, alternatives from Jeep and Ford may be better bets.