The Hyundai Santa Fe is a familiar name on the SUV landscape – it’s been around awhile, and has always stood for great value, room and style. But that landscape hasn’t sat still. With new players including bigger sibling the Hyundai Palisade and super popular Kia Telluride, can the Santa Fe Keep up with the big boys?
Fresh New Look
Hyundai has been on a roll lately, and it’s become a bit of style breakout. The Santa Fe has gotten a nice makeover that makes heads turn. Like almost every new model, a large grille is the way to go, and the Santa Fe serves up a striking 3D design with eye-catching T-shaped LED front lights. Our Calligraphy trim added some bold chrome accents, and the front reminds us very much of the new Pallisade. Nothing wrong with that.
The sporty profile of the Santa Fe gets a freshening with a sleeker look, with long character lines and pronounced fender flares that give a muscular stance. Our favorite has to be the new 19-inch alloy wheel with a bright and bold 5-spoke design.
The rear has a sleek look with wrap-around LED taillights, a new rear fascia and a nice dash of chrome on the lower rear skid plates. Overall, it’s a handsome design that looks rich and upscale. We especially liked our tester’s rich blue Hyundai calls Stormy Sea – aye matey, there be a luxury ship in tharr….
Inside, the Santa Fe has received a redesigned interior on all models that take it upscale. Open the door, and the first thing you notice is the massive floating center console with tasteful chrome trim and handsomely laid out switchgear. It instantly reminded us of the larger Pallisade model. Elegant and clean.
If you really want the full luxo experience, you need to step up to the Calligrapy model like our tester. Take in that beautiful Nappa leather, with contrasting stitching and diamond-shaped pattern. Just lovely. The 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster in front of the driver is clear and concise, and the display switches from a hushed silver tone to an angry red when you move into sport mode. If you worry about being distracted, the heads-up display will help keep your head out of the cockpit.
Which might be hard to do with the massive 10.25-inch touchscreen display. It has all the expected tech, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, although strangely Wireless versions of those that are standard on the lower SEL trim are not available on Limited and Calligraphy – go figure.
You won’t worry too much about that, while you are soothed by the 12 speaker Harmon Kardon Premium audio system, which includes the quirky ambient settings that give you everything from a crackling fireplace to a hushed forest. It’s fun to mess around with.
Hyundai and sibling Kia both have excellent info-tainment systems, and the Santa Fe’s Bluelink is excellent with quick hook up, and loads of features, including 3 year complimentary service for the Connected Care, Remote and Guidance packages. You feel well looked after.
And comfortable too. Up front, you have heated and ventilated front seats, while those in back get heated seats to stay toasty on cold days. While some of the Santa Fe’s competitors like the Pallisade and Telluride have 3 rows of seats, the Santa Fe features room for 5, and without those vestigial 3rd row seats, the room is expansive, with massive amounts of room for those in back. Cargo space, even with the rear seats up is plentiful, and fold them down and you have a massive hold.
Now with Turbo Power!
All of the above would make a pretty sweet SUV. So, we were especially delighted to find our Santa Fe had loads of power and performance. There are actually three new engines, for a full overhaul of the lineup. Base models get a 191 hp, 2.5-liter, four cylinder, while hybrid models – a first for the Santa Fe – enjoy a 226-hp, turbo 1,6-liter four cylinder and two electric motors.
If you want real power, the Limited and Calligraphy models are calling your name, with a new 2.5-liter, turbo 4-cylinder cranking out an impressive 281 horsepower and 311 lb.-ft. of torque. Hooked up to an impressively quick shifting 8-speed DCT automatic and optional HTRAC all-wheel drive, the Santa Fe is a powerhouse.
We kept it in Normal mode, which provided abundant power and smooth shifting. Go to Sport Mode and the beast is unleashed – this big SUV takes off with loads of authority, and cracks through the gears like a sports car. All this, and it’s still easy to hit mid 20-mpg on the freeway as well.
At first we thought the ride was a tad firm, but with this much power, you like the extra control the chassis gives back. It smooths out at freeway speeds making for a supremely comfortable cruiser. Steering feel is good, and we found the Santa Fe nicely sized, easy to maneuver into small garages and tight parking spaces. (We also loved the overhead 360-degree camera view on the big touchscreen when parking.)
With its tall stance, good road clearance and locking center differential, it should be quite capable off-road or in extreme weather conditions.
Adding to that confidence, Hyundai has been making a solid effort in loading their models with Safety gear, and with their Smart Sense safety suite.
Watching out for you are Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist with Pedestrian, Cyclist and Junction-Turning Detection (wow!), Blind-spot and Rear Cross-Traffic Collision-Avoidance Assist, Lane Keep and Following Assist and Smart Cruise Control with Stop and Go. It can even warn passengers exiting the vehicle if there is traffic coming up behind them. You feel supremely looked after!
Can I Pay the Way to Santa Fe?
Sure. We used to say the days of bargain Hyundai’s were gone, but they load so much in them now, it feels like those days are back. The well-equipped, entry level SE model comes in at $27,000, a lot of vehicle for the money. At the other end of the spectrum is our Calligraphy, which starts at $42,450 with All-Wheel Drive. The nice thing is, at that price, there are no options. Add in $1,185 and we rang the bell at $43,635.
Buyers will probably be comparing with larger sib Pallisade, which would be $49,085 comparably equipped, so if you don’t need 3 rows of seats, the savings are substantial. The rugged Kia Telluride is over $50,000, The new Toyota Highlander is a fine choice, but at $50,750 it’s also a large step up over the Santa Fe.
With a fresh look, comprehensive luxury, and a powerful new turbo engine, the 2021 Santa Fe is a great SUV, and a great value too!
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.