On Autos: Two updated Hyundai crossovers improve safety, value

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The 2019 Hyundai Tucson compact crossover is a slightly smaller and more affordable alternative to such class leaders as the Honda CR-V and Subaru Forester. Photo courtesy of Brady Holt.

With crossovers displacing sedans as many automakers’ best-selling models, Hyundai has taken steps to shore up the heart of its crossover lineup. That’s the newly redesigned 2019 Santa Fe and the updated 2019 Tucson. The compact Tucson and midsize Santa Fe slot between the subcompact Kona and the seven-passenger Santa Fe XL, and both bring a welcome boost to their safety and value for the new model year. Neither boasts a ton of personality or outstanding powertrains, but both are worth considering for their comfortable cabins, user-friendly controls and reasonable pricing.

Hyundai Santa Fe

The redesigned 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe is a generally well-rounded five-passenger midsize crossover that sells at highly competitive prices. Photo courtesy of Brady Holt.

 The redesigned 2019 Santa Fe replaces last year’s Santa Fe Sport as Hyundai’s midsize five-passenger crossover. It competes with the Ford Edge, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Nissan Murano — but it undercuts their pricing, coming well-equipped at just $26,545. That’s much less than the midsize competitors that start above $30,000, closer to those brands’ compact Escape, Cherokee and Rogue models, along with the Honda CR-V, Chevrolet Equinox and Toyota RAV4.

That’s not to say that the Santa Fe is only for buyers who only care about low prices. The exterior design is contemporary without risking accusations that it’s overdone, and its stately boxy shape maximizes cargo space compared to those three leading competitors. Meanwhile, inside, attractive materials and solid build quality keep things a cut above entry-level, and the controls are refreshingly easy to operate.

The Santa Fe doesn’t have the Ford Edge’s sporty handling or the Jeep Grand Cherokee’s outstanding off-road capability, but there’s nothing objectionable to its ride and handling. It cruises without fuss on the highway and city streets. The turning circle has unfortunately grown a bit compared to the Santa Fe Sport, but it’s still reasonable at 37.4 feet.

The 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe appeals to buyers’ practical sides rather than their emotional ones, with a usefully boxy shape and unexciting driving manners. Photo courtesy of Brady Holt.

The powertrains are less impressive. Most Santa Fes use a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with 185 horsepower, which is more like what you’d find in a typical compact crossover than a heavier, more luxurious midsize model. A 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 235 horsepower is optional on the high-end Limited and Ultimate models, but while it’s quicker and smoother-sounding than the base engine, it still lags behind the V6s found in most midsize crossovers. The tested car also sometimes stumbled and lurched in gentle low-speed acceleration.

If you’re thinking that you’d happily give up some power to get better gas mileage, the Santa Fe still isn’t going to wow you. EPA estimates range from 25 mpg in mixed driving for the base engine and front-wheel-drive down to 21 mpg for the tested all-wheel-drive turbo model. That compares to 24 mpg in the Nissan Murano with all-wheel-drive and a 260-horsepower V6.

But overall, the Santa Fe is pleasant to drive, pleasant to be in and generously spacious. It feels more luxurious than a compact crossover and can fit five adults with less squeezing. At the same time, it offers plenty of standard equipment — now, for the first time, including a full array of advanced safety features — at bargain prices. That’s an appealing combination.

Hyundai Tucson

One size below the Santa Fe, the compact Tucson trades some interior space, luxury, and power for more city-friendly dimensions and a lower price. While less roomy that the Santa Fe or even some compact competitors, it still has comfortable seats and decent cargo space. And the Tucson is a foot shorter than the Santa Fe and boasts a tight 35-foot turning circle.

Priced from $24,245, the updated Tucson joins the Santa Fe in offering most of its high-end safety features as standard equipment — a big upgrade over the value of last year’s model. It also joins the Santa Fe in having less horsepower than the competition.

The 2019 Hyundai Tucson compact crossover is a slightly smaller and more affordable alternative to such class leaders as the Honda CR-V and Subaru Forester. Photo courtesy of Brady Holt.

The base 2.0-liter non-turbo four-cylinder has 164 horsepower, while upper-level models share the 185-horsepower 2.4-liter with the Santa Fe. EPA estimates range from 26 mpg in mixed driving with the base engine and front-wheel-drive to 23 mpg with the 2.4-liter and all-wheel-drive — well below many competitors with similar or superior acceleration.

Overall, though, the Tucson is a pleasant, functional, safe, and well-sized crossover at competitive prices. If you don’t prioritize the sporty handling of a Mazda CX-5 or the maximum interior volume of a Honda CR-V or Nissan Rogue — and don’t mind that all these crossovers are more fuel-efficient — it’s a sensible option in today’s compact crossover market.

To see more photos of the tested 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe and 2019 Hyundai Tucson, you can visit Brady Holt’s Facebook page. Brady Holt writes weekly car reviews, too.