SUVs

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe goes edgy, gets a diesel

This popular SUV gains a dramatic new look and a brace of serious new tech -- plus a surprise powertrain option.

Hyundai

Like most new-car dealers, Hyundai franchisees have been clamoring for more crossover SUVs. Seemingly no matter the size, price or class, American customers can't get enough soft-roading in their lives. The problem has been more acute with Hyundai than with most brands, however, which is why its dealers are surely salivating over this all-new 2019 Santa Fe.

Now entering its fourth generation, the Santa Fe has been the company's best-selling SUV in the US, and you needn't look past this new model's bold front end and its glowering LED headlamps to realize that it carries significantly more attitude and ambition than before. 

Nobody will confuse the new Santa Fe with the old one. It's a whole new look.

Hyundai

The new Santa Fe also carries a lot more tech, particularly on the cabin and safety side. Base models are equipped with a seven-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but upper trim levels include a larger eight-inch screen with Hyundai's latest AVN 5.0 navigation system, and a 630-watt, 12-speaker surround-sound Infinity audio system is available. Upper-trim models also receive a seven-inch reconfigurable gauge cluster screen, too.

Other tech niceties in the more premium-looking cabin include Qi wireless charging and an available 8.5-inch full-color head-up display. We've seen the latter in other Hyundai models before, and it's a good one — it even integrates blind-spot notifications. Naturally, Blue Link telematics, which incorporates expected attributes like remote start, stolen vehicle recovery and Car Finder, is also included, as are uncommon features including smartwatch and Amazon Alexa integration.

Before getting into the Santa Fe's new drivetrain and safety details — of which there are many — there are a few ground rules: Those familiar with the outgoing generation may recall that the Santa Fe lineup had two distinct models: the two-row Santa Fe Sport and the Santa Fe, a longer-wheelbase three-row model. That nomenclature may have been a bit confusing, so henceforth, this new two-row SUV will simply be known as Santa Fe, and the current three-row, seven-passenger model you already know will soldier on into 2019 model year wearing a new name, Santa Fe XL. 

The new 2019 Santa Fe seen here is bigger than before, stretching 187.8 inches long — 2.8 inches longer than the outgoing Sport, but still a full 5.3 inches shorter than the carryover XL. That means you'll find fractionally more space inside in most dimensions, both for humans and for cargo. (And if you still need more space and don't care for the XL, help is on the way. As part of its Santa Fe announcement, Hyundai has confirmed a new, larger eight-passenger SUV with an entirely different name is in development).

Got all that? Let's move on.

The 2019 Santa Fe has a pretty typical powertrain story, with one big twist: There's a diesel option. Regardless of which engine you choose and whether you go front- or all-wheel drive, a new eight-speed automatic transmission is mandatory. 

Most shoppers will doubtlessly either select the base 185-horsepower, 2.4-liter gas four-cylinder (torque has not been revealed, but the engine delivered 178 pound-feet in 2018 guise) or the punchier 2.0-liter gas turbo with an estimated 232 hp. Interestingly, that's 8 hp fewer than the outgoing model, suggesting a retuning (perhaps for more torque). A hybrid model is in development, but its North American availability is unclear, and it's likely at least two-to-three years away.

Either way, if torque is your bag, you may want to consider the 2.2-liter CRDi turbodiesel, which arrives in early calendar 2019 and is pegged to deliver "around 200 horsepower at 3,000 rpm" and an estimated 320 pound-feet at 1,750 rpm. There's a catch, though: The diesel brings with it a mandatory three-row configuration. In fact, it's the only engine you can get with a three-row Santa Fe going forward. 

Yes, that's right, you can now get a third row in this new Santa Fe, as well as in the carryover Santa Fe XL. That may sound a little confusing, but Hyundai explains it thusly: "The diesel version of the 2019 Santa Fe will also get an occasional-use third-row seat with one-touch folding second-row seats for easy entry into the third-row by children." Think of the Santa Fe's available "way-back seats" as just-in-case perches for the wee ones, not unlike the tight third row offered in the Nissan Rogue and Mitsubishi Outlander. 

Regardless of powertrain, Hyundai has yet to reveal any mileage estimates for its 2019 Santa Fe, saying only that the aforementioned new gearbox is good for an increase in fuel efficiency by "more than three percent."

Hyundai is not an automaker to shy away from relying on both touchscreens and physical buttons, and we appreciate that.

Hyundai

This being a family-minded vehicle, it should come as no surprise that a full battery of advanced driver assist systems will be on offer. Many active safety features will come standard beginning on the SE trim, and buyers can specify things like adaptive cruise with stop and go, high-beam assist, forward collision avoidance and a 360-degree camera system. 

Other, more unexpected safety features include a driver attention warning system, ultrasonic-based Rear Seat Occupant Alert (to curb hot car deaths among children and pets) and Safe Exit Assist, which temporarily prevents doors from being opened into traffic when the system detects that a vehicle (including cars, bicycle and motorcycle) is approaching from behind.

On sale this summer, the 2019 Santa Fe will be joined by at least two other new Hyundai SUV models this year, including the funky entry-level Kona subcompact and the Nexo fuel cell. 

Pricing has not yet been announced, but given its new tweener size, the new Santa Fe will likely be asked to cover a lot of ground. Either way, having been handcuffed for a few years by a lack of new crossover models, Hyundai dealers — and Hyundai shoppers — now appear poised for a much happier year.

Hyundai Kona: Looking for something a bit smaller? Check out Hyundai's other new SUV.

Hyundai Nexo: We took a road trip to CES behind the wheel of Hyundai's fuel-cell SUV, where the only emissions byproduct is water.