Every manufacturer offers a midsize SUV, with more than two dozen for the choosing. SUVs represent today’s family vehicle, picking up where minivans and wagons before it, left off. Distinguishing between the models may be difficult for customers who might find the many choices overwhelming. For manufacturers such as Hyundai, builder of the Santa Fe, the challenge is there. But their response delivers an SUV that builds an intriguing bridge between mainstream and luxury models.
Hyundai offers the 2021 Santa Fe in SE ($28,035), SEL ($29,835), Limited ($39,785), Calligraphy 2.5T AWD with 19-inch wheels ($43,285), and Calligraphy ($43,485) trims, including a $1,185 destination charge. The Santa Fe is a midsize front-wheel-drive SUV with room for up to five people. All-wheel drive is available and adds $1,700 to your cost if it isn’t included already.
Hyundai Santa Fe: New for 2021
The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe represents a completely new model. Hyundai overhauled the Santa Fe’s powertrain offerings, trims, and will soon offer hybrid and plug-in hybrid variants.
The Santa Fe has a sporty look with a bold grille, multiple cutouts, and signature lines crossing its profile. Big wheel arches and muscular shoulders contribute to the canvas with the LED lighting adding elegance. Some of its design elements, including the doors, are borrowed from the flagship Palisade SUV and that is a good thing.
We found the interior more to our liking with ample room for five. The tiered dashboard layout is a strong point as is its overall fit and finish. Even with base models, the Santa Fe pays much attention to detail. But it is the Calligraphy model that brings in luxury features. Here, a digital cluster display, Nappa leather-wrapped seats, soft-touch padding, and ambient lighting amplify the look. These are features common to luxury models.
The electronic gear shift control layout takes getting used to for its oddity, but also because it is surrounded by other buttons and switches. Still, the openness of the space is a welcome change.
Safety & Tech
We’re still waiting on the Santa Fe’s safety scores, but we believe it will score well based on this model’s history. All trims come with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, active lane control, automatic high beams, and adaptive cruise control. Move up the trim line and parking sensors are added. The Calligraphy comes with a surround-view camera system and blind-spot monitoring in the gauge cluster for an added edge to see around the far corners of the vehicle. A head-up display is a Calligraphy standard.
An 8-inch touch-screen display, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, Bluetooth, and USB ports are standard. A wireless charging pad is added at the SEL level. Hyundai also makes available a 10.3-inch touch-screen display, a digital instrument panel, and a 12-speaker Harman Kardon audio system. Again, the Calligraphy represents the signature trim for this model line.
With the first hybrid models arriving this year, the Santa Fe will offer more powertrain options than it had previously. The standard engine is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 191 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque. Power routes to the front wheels or all four wheels utilizing an 8-speed automatic transmission. This is the engine of choice for the SE and SEL trims.
With the three top trims, Hyundai adds turbocharger technology to this engine, with power increasing to a robust 277 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque. Power travels to the wheels via an 8-speed “wet” dual-clutch transmission that supplies faster gear changes than a conventional automatic. The Limited comes with standard front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, while both Calligraphy models are all-wheel-drive-only.
The performance differences between the two engine choices are stark and that’s something shoppers should carefully weigh when shopping the Santa Fe. Our Calligraphy tester supplied electric power steering, decent handling, and a composed ride. Its off-the-mark acceleration was strong and its passing power is excellent. Keep in mind that to upgrade to the larger engine requires $10,000 in trim enhancements and that move may be cost-prohibitive to some shoppers.
If you can wait a few more weeks, a conventional hybrid rolls out. This one will have a 1.6-liter turbocharged engine as part of its propulsion system. We’re intrigued by this model because it promises to blend performance with efficiency as gas mileage estimates of 34 mpg are projected or 8 mpg better than the most efficient gas model. Trim and pricing information is not yet available.
There is a lot to consider when shopping the Santa Fe and the cost separation between the SEL and Limited is just one of them. We do, however, like a well-equipped Santa Fe and would consider one if we were also looking at pricey luxury models that routinely cost more than $50,000.
One option is to choose the SEL, then select both the Convenience Package ($1,800) and Premium Package ($3,950) to gain many of the Limited’s features without the engine upgrade. For just under $36,000, you’d drive away with a well-equipped model with perhaps enough money saved to upgrade to all-wheel drive if you want that.
See Also — The Third-Generation Nissan Rogue Crossover
Photos copyright Hyundai Motors America. All rights reserved.