It happens. One day, you dream of shrieking down Highway 1 in a blood red Ferrari 488, lost in the lusty symphony of its $100,000 engine.
The next, you’re looking at baby seats and strollers with your significant other, reduced to the reality that you need a “family vehicle” – that is, a slow ride to Dullsville.
Life tends to dispense dreams with sharp elbows, doesn’t it?
Hey, at least with the family-friendly 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe crossover, you’ll get to keep the turbo in your fantasy – sort of.
Actually, the crisply-freshened Santa Fe Ultimate I had recently will probably make you smile a little even on numerous grocery-store and soccer-field runs.
Now in its fourth generation, the Alabama-built mid-sized crossover has evolved over the last 20 years from a stubby, profoundly awkward vehicle to a solid, semi-stylish SUV – dork to almost-dashing in two decades.
It needs all of those attributes in the highly competitive mid-size crossover segment, dominated by sluggers such as the Toyota Highlander, Ford Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Honda Pilot.
My silver all-wheel-drive Santa Fe – which replaces last year’s Santa Fe Sport -- appeared up to the challenge. It looked confident, flashing a clean, contemporary front-end with a large, gracefully blunt grille and distinctive high-mounted headlamps. A broad, slightly raised hood with some deft sculpting fed the windswept look, as did the lightly chiseled sides.
A prominent character line above the door-handles and a more subtle one down low stretched the Santa Fe’s somewhat bulky body tightly. Bold, high-mounted taillamps added a bit more zing to the five-passenger Santa Fe’s body, which perched on silver-and-black 19-inch wheels shod with 235/55 tires.
Incidentally, as you may recall from last year, the Santa Fe formerly came in two sizes: the Santa Fe Sport with two rows of seating and the Santa Fe with three.
With the new Santa Fe replacing the old Sport, Hyundai has renamed the former three-row Santa Fe the Santa Fe XL. Confused? Me, too, sort of. Let’s go for a drive.
The five-passenger Santa Fe rolls on an improved platform, a firm suspension providing a compliant, mostly smooth ride considering the extra weight of its all-wheel-drive.
Although the 3,700-pound crossover can get fidgety on broken city pavement – is there any other kind? – it deals with highways with long-legged ease.
In fact, even with its somewhat thick steering and moderate body lean in hard corners, the Santa Fe felt pretty agile for a high-riding trucklet.
Initially, I was even more impressed with its turbocharged 2-liter four-cylinder engine and new-for-’19 eight-speed automatic transmission. (The optional turbo engine is available in Limited and Ultimate models, such as I had, replacing the standard – and forgettable -- 184 horsepower 2.4-liter four.)
In regular city driving, the smooth turbo motor jumped away from stop signs with spirit, accelerating to 40 or so with enough surge to gently press me into my seat.
When I flattened the accelerator – if a little is good, a lot should be great, right? – the little engine sagged briefly with turbo lag before loping to 60-mph in a very average 7.8 seconds, according to Car and Driver. The power just flattened out above 3,500 rpm, leaving the engine to work pretty hard to move the Santa Fe.
However, the 2-liter motor and decent eight-speed automatic did manage to scratch out a reasonable 21 miles per gallon in overall fuel economy.
Likewise, the gray interior in my Santa Fe looked good and seemed well-executed, but contained lots of plastic for a well-equipped, $40,000 vehicle.
It looked better to the eyes than it felt to the fingers, to be blunt.
Still, I thought it functioned better than many of its competitors and that may be more important than acres of rich leather. A swoopy upper dashboard in gray, for example, curved gracefully around a squarish 8-inch display screen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay capabilities.
Also buried somewhere behind that dash were safety features such pedestrian detection, emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, active cruise control, blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert.
Moreover, it offered buttons and knobs for the audio and climate-control systems. (Any interior without distracting touch pads on the display screen gets extra points from me.)
Meanwhile, stylized door panels in two shades of gray plastic complemented gray leather seats with smooth bolsters and perforated centers.
In addition, back-seat passengers will be treated to excellent leg- and headroom while they fidget as you recharge their cellphones or whatever on a pad on the console.
My well-equipped Santa Fe Ultimate arrived with one option – carpeted floor mats ($125).
Even with its relatively minor flaws, the 2019 Santa Fe stands shoulder-to-shoulder with its mid-size competitors. And that seemed unthinkable 20 years ago. Honda, Toyota, Nissan and the Detroit Three better not get too complacent.
2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Ultimate
- What I liked most: The overall package – good styling, solid handling, reasonable performance and utility.
- What I would change: Take the next step with the Santa Fe and give it a bit more power and a more polished interior.
- MSRP: Base price, $25,750 for entry SE model; as equipped, $39,905 for Ultimate model.
- Fuel economy: Rated at 19 miles per gallon in the city, 24 on the highway and 21 overall with filler on the left.
- Official color: Symphony Silver.
- Odometer reading when tested: 2,322 miles.
- Weight: 3,735 pounds.
- Length-width-height: 187.8 inches long/74.4 inches wide/66.1 inches tall.
- Fuel-tank capacity: 18.8 gallons.
- Towing capacity: 500 to 1,138 pounds.
- Spare tire: Temporary compact.
- 2019 Santa Fe in a few words: A mid-size crossover that has gone from comical to competitive in 20 years and will likely go further in the next few years.
- Warranty: Five-year, 60,000-mile overall warranty and 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain protection.
- Final assembly location: Montgomery, Ala.
- Manufacturer’s website: www.hyundaiusa.com
- E-mail me at email@example.com
- Up next: 2019 Volkswagen New Beetle Final Edition convertible