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He’s Serious

When Mike O’Brien says it, it almost seems as though he’s joking. He isn’t. Because although his delivery of the statement makes you wonder—“Can he be serious?”—the consequence of what he’s talking about cannot be underestimated vis-à-vis the 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe, the fourth generation of the vehicle, with the first generation appearing in 2000 (“We’ve been doing this for a while,” O’Brien says, and you know that one’s a quip, factual though it may be).

The statement is this: “One of my favorite subjects is aerospace adhesives.”

Hyundai has been using adhesives to supplement its body welding on its vehicles, one after another, using more and more of the material to improve the overall structure of each, while reducing the overall mass, which has positive effects on fuel efficiency (yes, it makes a measurable difference, as we will see).

This is nothing short of stunning: for the 2019 Santa Fe Hyundai has increased the use of structural adhesive by 45 percent compared to the amount used for the previous generation of the vehicle. It would not be quite as remarkable if, say, the previous generation just used a few feet, but that wasn’t the case back in model year 2013, either. Back then they used 266 feet.

So for the 2019 Santa Fe they used 386 feet of the aerospace adhesive. So as a result of that, they calculate that on the body-in-white they achieve a primary mass reduction of 51.9 pounds, and there is a total weight savings, taking into account the systemic effects of using the material, 88.1 pounds. Then they’ve calculated that this provides a 1.46 percent improvement in fuel efficiency (and we’ll see that there are improvements in the powertrain, too), and that helps result in a reduction of CO2 emissions of 169 pounds per year.

O’Brien points out that according to an EPA study looking at manufacturers’ adjusted fuel economy ratings where model year 2015 is compared with model year 2016, Hyundai is second only to Mazda, with it at 28.8 compared with Mazda at 29.6. However, he notes that the year-over-year gain achieved by Hyundai of 1.3 percent is greater than that of any other company (and know that this includes companies like Honda, Toyota, Ford, GM, and others), with Mazda coming in second with an improvement of 0.4 percent.

So with that, you realize that he’s serious.

And Then There’s This

Not only does Hyundai use a lot of adhesives, but they use a significant amount of advanced high-strength steel in their structures. “We use less steel, but achieve better characteristics,” O’Brien says.

So for the 2019 Santa Fe, the hot-stamped parts include a ring around the front door openings, which also have additional reinforcements on the A- and B-pillars. There are hot stampings used for the center floor upper, the front side rear lower and the rear floor side front, and the side sill inner rear. And the front bumper beam.

They’ve increased the average tensile strength by 14 percent compared with the model year 2018 Santa Fe, from 58.6 kgf/mm2 to 67.0 kgf/mm2.

Strength—among other things—contributes to safety. O’Brien points out that presently according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the company has three models (including the previous generation Santa Fe) that are rated Top Safety PICK+ (and it has four other models that are Top Safety PICK).

Sounds Good

One of the consequences of a strong, solid structure is that noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) are minimized. What’s interesting to note, however, that the engineers decided that they wanted to make things even quieter inside the cabin than was achieved structurally.

So they brought in an array of insulating materials, with insulators being applied to the fenders, dash, floor, and tunnel. They minimized the size of the manufacturing holes put in the structure.

According to Trevor Lai, manager of Product Planning, they managed to reduce cabin noise by 3 dB.

Measured in Class

As a compact crossover, the Santa Fe competes with a number of vehicles, including the Ford Edge, Nissan Murano, Jeep Cherokee, Subaru Outback, and Kia Sorento. In terms of overall exterior dimensions—with a length of 187.8 inches, width of 74.4 inches, height of 67.1 inches, and wheelbase of 108.9 inches—the Santa Fe isn’t the longest (that would be the Murano at 192.8 inches), widest (the Edge at 75.9 inches), tallest (Edge again, at 68.6 inches), nor does it have the longest wheelbase (Edge: 112.2 inches). But it is right in the class.

However, if we cycle back to the discussion of the steel and the adhesive we get to a place where the Santa Fe is best-in-class from a dimensional standpoint, with this dimension being that of mass. The curb weight of the Santa Fe is 3,591 pounds. The next-closest in weight is the Outback, which is 33 pounds heavier, at 3,624 pounds. It is worth noting that that bigger Edge comes with a bigger number for its mass: 3,927 pounds. (But to be fair to the Edge, the size not only brings mass but also space: it has 73.4-ft3 of cargo room behind the first row and 39.2-ft3 behind the second row, compared with the Santa Fe’s 71.3-ft3 and 35.9-ft3, respectively.)

It’s an SUV!

Andrew Moir is a design manager at Hyundai Design North America. He says that the previous generation Santa Fe was “almost minivan-like.” Which isn’t damning with faint praise because it is hard to find the praise in that comment. This is not to say that minivans can’t be or aren’t stylish in their own way. In the case of Hyundai, however, you’d have to go back to model year 2009 to find a minivan, the Entourage. There isn’t one in the company’s lineup.

What’s more, one of the oft-heard arguments as to why some people buy crossovers and full-on sport utes rather than minivans, especially those people who are generally hauling kids and stuff to various sporting events, is because there is a certain stigma attached to the mere notion of a minivan.

So, what did they do in this total redesign of the Santa Fe? Moir points to the body side, noting that the belt line is more horizontal and less raked than the previous vehicle, thereby making the vehicle seem more stable. The windshield is pushed back and is more upright, again providing more of a purposefulness. Another consequence of pushing back the windshield is that the hood is longer, making it seem as though the vehicle is more powerful. There is a shorter dash-to-axle, with a compacted front overhang. Whereas, Moir says, the previous front-end design seems to lean back, the new vehicle’s front seems to push forward (and he cites a linebacker vis-à-vis the orientation).

The grille is upright and has a chainmail look. The two daytime running lamps, which are at the top, with a portion of the hood edge actually intersecting on the top of the lamps, are connected by a chrome strip running across the top of the grille, thereby providing a strong horizontal line. This is echoed, in a sense, around back as the tail lamps are pushed to the sides of the body and then connected by a piece of horizontally oriented chrome trim.

The fender flares seem more substantial by actually forming an undercut so that the bulging portion appears bigger.

The sideview mirrors are attached to the body rather than to the front edge of the glass at the A-pillar, thereby eliminating the need for that large, black insert that’s usually positioned there to accommodate the mirror and which truncates visibility. In addition to which, the beltline is lower, thereby providing a larger greenhouse for better visibility.

And speaking of lower, the instrument panel is lowered (especially on the passenger side) and provides a panoramic view. The materials and textures used on the inside—such as for the seats, headliner and on the speaker grilles—are more like one would expect to find in a room than a vehicle. (Yes, the seat colors are black, beige and gray, but the accents are either metallic or stone-like, which is a distinct difference from the norm.)

Advanced and Now Obligatory

We’ve noted the safety from the structure. But then there’s the safety that comes from sensors and processors. Nowadays, OEMs are putting in systems of various capabilities as standard. Hyundai is almost overachieving.

That is, standard on the Santa Fe are: forward collision-avoidance assist with pedestrian detection’ blind-spot collision-avoidance assist; lane-keeping assist; rear cross-traffic collision avoidance assist; safe exit assist (as this is not common: should you try to exit the driver’s side and there is a vehicle coming, you’ll be notified of the error of your egress); high-beam assist; smart cruise control with stop-and-go; and driver attention warning. There is an option, available on the SEL Plus trim and the two trims above it in the lineup (there are two trims below it, as well) , a rear occupant alert, which is predicated on ultrasonic sensors in the headliner that can determine if a person or pet has been left in the vehicle, rather than the door logic that is the basis of the systems from other OEMs (i.e., if the rear door is opened and closed when the vehicle starts, provide the driver with a warning to check the back seat upon shutting off the vehicle). (Remember the list of competitive vehicles? Perhaps not surprisingly (after all, this is a new vehicle so it has the latest tech), none has this suite of offerings, and in many instances the technology is not just optional but completely unavailable.)

The Santa Fe has Android Auto and Apple CarPlay across the board. And it has Blue Link connected vehicle technology starting with the SEL trim, which is just one up from the base trim level. There is three years of complementary Blue Link, including Connected Care (from automatic collision notification to the ability to schedule service), Remote (including starting the vehicle from a smartphone or Amazon Alexa to creating a geo-fenced area and speed alert so your kids drive where you want them to and at a speed you judge reasonable) and Guidance (up-to-date navigation, including destination search through Google).

Four and Eight

There are two engine choices, both four-cylinder. There is one transmission choice, an eight-speed, with each of the engines having one tailored to it. One of the engines is a 2.4-liter that produces 185 hp @ 6,000 rpm and 178 lb-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm. The other is a 2.0-liter turbo that puts out 235 hp @ 6,000 rpm and 260 lb-ft @ 1,450 to 3,500 rpm. One of the things that they’ve done to improve the performance of both engines—improved in terms of responsiveness and fuel economy—is to go from a hydraulically actuated continuously variable valve timing system to one that uses electronic servos.

One of the areas of focus for the eight-speed for the 2.4-liter engine was on friction reduction. So, for example, the number of the tapered bearing rollers that had been used in the previous-gen six-speed was reduced from 21 to 16, thereby providing a 0.15 percent improvement in efficiency.

For the 2.0-liter, there is a direct control valve body. Whereas there had been 20 spool valves, the number has been reduced to 12. One consequence is that there is reduced leakage of fluid. Reduce leakage means they were able to reduce the oil pump capacity, making it more efficient.

And All

Because this is to have ute-like performance, there is the HTRAC all-wheel-drive system, which was developed with Magna ( The system uses an electronic, variable-torque-split clutch that provides active torque control between the front and rear axles. The system also provides torque vectoring so that torque can be shifted from side to side. The system is predictive rather than reactive, meaning that it doesn’t wait until wheel slip to make adjustments to torque distribution but takes into account 50 inputs that are measured 100 times a second, things ranging from the throttle to the engine speed to the torque converter status to the yaw rate to the outside temperature.

What’s more, the Santa Fe offers three selectable drive modes—Normal, Smart and Sport—that the HTRAC system operates in response to. In the case of Normal and Smart it will provide up to 50 percent of the torque to the rear. When Sport is selected, then there is always rear torque applied, from 35 percent to 50.

“The key word is capability,” O’Brien says.


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