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2018 vs. 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe: What's the Difference?

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author photo by James Riswick May 2018
  • 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe replaces 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport
  • For 2019, Santa Fe comes with only two rows
  • Virtually same engines offered on both model years

The tale of the 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe is a somewhat complicated one. You see, it's a completely redesigned 5-passenger crossover SUV that replaces the 5-passenger 2018 Santa Fe Sport. Emphasis on the last word there. The 2018 Santa Fe -- not the Sport -- accommodates seven passengers, offers different engines and competes in a different, larger SUV segment. It will actually live on for 2019, but will be renamed the Santa Fe XL. An all-new, to-be-named 8-passenger model will dawn a year later.

Understandably, this can be a bit confusing, so let's dig deeper into the 2019 Santa Fe to see how it's different from its predecessors -- both Sport and not Sport.

Exterior

Visually, it should be pretty easy to tell the 2018 and 2019 Santa Fe apart, as the new model wears the new face of Hyundai, which is quite different from what came before. You can note the bolder, more upright grille accented by a chrome bar with slit-like LED lighting elements at its tips. The sides are more curvaceous and less slab-sided, while the rear has a concave tailgate with sharp-looking LED taillights extended out from it. Altogether, we say it's a more visually appealing SUV than the 2018 Santa Fe -- which is actually saying something given that both 5- and 7-passenger models managed to age well over the course of their generation's life.

In terms of dimensions, the 2019 Santa Fe has 2 extra inches of wheelbase and overall length than the Santa Fe Sport. Width is comparable. However, the 2019's wheelbase is still 1.3 inches shorter than the 2018 Santa Fe/2019 Santa Fe XL, and the model is 5.3 inches shorter in length due to the absence of a third-row seat.

Interior

It should be even easier to tell the Santa Fe model years apart inside, as Hyundai has radically transformed the cabin design. The dashboard has been lowered, creating the feel and appearance of an airier cabin, while a touchscreen binnacle rises up from it to maintain good sightlines to the many infotainment functions (the standard screen is 7 inches, while the upgraded unit included with navigation is 8 inches). It's generally more car-like in appearance than the unmistakably SUV-like and rather monolithic old design.

In term of space, the 2019 Santa Fe has an extra 1.5 inches of second-row legroom over the Santa Fe Sport. That could be the difference between an adult's knees touching the front seat, or between fitting a rear-facing child seat with ease or having those in front scooch their seats uncomfortably far forward.

Of course, the 2018 Santa Fe and its Santa Fe XL successor offer a third-row seat. Though that may be enticing, keep in mind it's definitely for kids, as it lacks the adult-friendly dimensions of third rows in larger crossovers like the Honda Pilot and Chevrolet Traverse. (A third-row seat will actually be included with next year's optional diesel engine, described in "Mechanicals" below, but it'll be even smaller).

The 2018 Santa Fe's cargo space is similarly behind those bigger models, but with 80 cu ft. of maximum capacity, it outdoes both the Santa Fe Sport and the 2019 Santa Fe by about 9 cu ft. Cargo capacity really hasn't changed between the 5-passenger Santa Fe models.

Mechanicals

Despite the many changes, the 2018 Santa Fe Sport's engines essentially carry over to the 2019 Santa Fe. Although trim levels and availability are different (see "Features and Technology" below), the base engine for both model years is a 2.4-liter naturally aspirated 4-cylinder that produces 185 horsepower and 178 lb-ft of torque. The upgraded engine is still a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, and although horsepower is slightly down for 2019 (235 from 240), torque remains at 260 lb-ft. Both engines are once again available with front- or all-wheel drive, but the 2019 is upgraded with an 8-speed automatic, replacing the 2018's 6-speed. Fuel economy estimates have yet to be announced, but the transmission switch should theoretically yield an improvement over the Santa Fe Sport's 22-24 miles per gallon combined figures.

For 2020, a 2.2-liter turbodiesel 4-cylinder will be available, producing 190 hp and an ample 322 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy hasn't been announced, but we'd expect a combined driving figure in the 30 mpg range.

Meanwhile, the 2018 Santa Fe gets an entirely different engine: a 3.3-liter V6 good for 290 hp and 252 lb-ft of torque. It's better capable of dealing with the 7-passenger Santa Fe's heftier curb weight and the expectations of buyers in the 3-row crossover segment. A 6-speed automatic is standard.

Features & Technology

The Santa Fe gets more standard features for 2019. Blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert were previously optional on the base model and standard on other trims, but are now standard across the board. Forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking were optional only on the range-topping Santa Fe Sport 2.0T Ultimate -- now they're standard. The 2.0T Ultimate's optional lane-departure warning system has been replaced by a lane-keeping assist system (it'll steer the car back into your lane) that's also standard on every trim.

As for infotainment features and tech, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are now standard on every 2019 Santa Fe and run through a 7-inch touchscreen. That gets upgraded to 8 inches in the Ultimate trim level and also includes integrated navigation. A head-up display and wireless charging are exclusive new standard features for the Ultimate.

It's also worth noting the Santa Fe's trim level structure has been changed. For 2018, there were only three trim levels: the Base, 2.0T and 2.0T Ultimate, with optional packages adding features to the Base and Ultimate. For 2019, additional feature content is doled out through five trim levels, and there are no packages. Engine availability is also no longer tied directly to trim level: the 2.4-liter is standard on all trims, with the 2.0-liter turbo an option on the Limited and Ultimate.

Driving Experience

To date, Hyundai has been light on details regarding what it actually changed beneath the skin for the 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe. However, relocating the electric-assistance motor to the steering rack from the steering column should yield improved feedback and response -- doing so has certainly improved other Hyundais in recent years. We would also expect improvements from the suspension, especially at the rear, which was prone to wallow about and didn't do a particularly good job of dealing with bumps when fully laden.

In total, although driving time with the 2019 Santa Fe has been extremely limited at the time of this writing, Hyundai has been achieving significant dynamic improvements with its redesigned models, and we would expect this trend to continue.

Safety

As mentioned above, accident-avoidance tech is now standard on every 2019 Santa Fe, whereas it was previously only optional on the Santa Fe Sport's range-topping Ultimate trim. That's a significant advancement and provides the Santa Fe with an advantage over most competitors -- especially when considering base models.

The 2018 Santa Fe Sport achieved excellent crash ratings. It got top 5-star government crash ratings for overall, frontal and side crash protection, while the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety named it a Top Safety Pick+. The 7-passenger Santa Fe got the same award, though it differed with a 4-star frontal crash rating from the government. Although the 2019 Santa Fe has not been crash-tested by a third party, it's hard to imagine it doing worse than its predecessor.

Conclusions

In terms of design, feature content and passenger space, the 2019 Santa Fe has clear advantages over its predecessor, the 2018 Santa Fe Sport. We would also suspect it will be more efficient and offer a superior, more responsive driving experience. It's the better vehicle, but its practical advantages aren't so great that we'd write off the 2018 Sport -- especially given its superior safety ratings and the assumed deals you're likely to see. As for the 7-passenger 2018 Santa Fe, it'll live on another year as the Santa Fe XL, so there's less of a rush there to choose which might be the better fit.

Find a Hyundai Santa Fe for sale. 

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Used 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe FWD Sport
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New 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe FWD Sport 2.0T
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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2018 vs. 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe: What's the Difference? - Autotrader