My Thoughts Exactly: 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe

You know, I like the Hyundai Santa Fe

To be specific, this current generation of Hyundai’s two-row mid-size SUV. 

There are many reasons why. It drives very well, has plenty of power, cruises well on the highway, offers brilliant in-car infotainment, and never has to apologize for anything. 

This time around, Hyundai infused a lot of design elements from its larger three-row cousin, the Palisade, into the Santa Fe. The result is something different, but actually the same. 

How so? 

All you have to do is look at its new face for 2021. It’s a face a mother would love, but I’ll bet it will grow on you. The grille dominates the entire front clip and sets the tone for the first third of the body shape. The headlamps have been relocated to the middle of the front clip, meeting the latest guidelines and location and lamination by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Just wanted to point that out. 

On top of the clip are a pair of combined LED driving lights and turn signals. You will also find another set of LED accent lights in the headlamp units. All of these lights set the tone for the Santa Fe’s new look. 

Hyundai also found a way to integrate the new linear elements from the front clip onto the current shape and silhouette. In the rear, a chrome strip across the liftgate has been replaced by a new red lighting strip. In all, the Santa Fe now exhibits an upmarket design that befits its new mission on being an aspirational product. 

Which brings me to the trim level I’ve been sampling. Hyundai calls it Calligraphy. It is sort of a near-Genesis level trim that offers a lot of luxury to the Santa Fe (and the Palisade). Think of it as a Buick to Cadillac (sorry for the GM reference but you probably got the picture. If not…oops, my bad). The Santa Fe Calligraphy normally comes with a 20-inch wheel in either front- or all-wheel-drive. However, my tester came with a 19-inch wheel package that includes all-wheel-drive. 

Confused? I certainly was. 

Step inside the Santa Fe Calligraphy and you get a very luxurious atmosphere inside. The new center stack could be straight out of a Palisade, with its angled interface, push-button transmission actuation, a knob for the drive modes, and a plethora of buttons for climate and audio controls. 

Also new is the Calligraphy’s wide 10.25-inch infotainment screen perched above the center stack. Sound comes out of a 12-speaker Harman Kardon audio system with QuantumLogic Surround sound technology. The flip side is that you can integrate your smartphone, as long as you have a USB cord. Hyundai states you can wirelessly connect your smartphones, as long as you have one of the lower priced trims with the 8-inch infotainment screen. Another head-scratching piece of information that just seems to be lack of logic here. 

Back to the Santa Fe’s positives: The 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster is great! I’ve seen the screen in the Elantra and commend Hyundai for getting on the right track in terms of user interface technology. The Calligraphy tester also came with a nice head-up display for drivers to keep their eyes on the road. All other controls are of top quality and logic – just as I expect from Hyundai.

Since luxury is the theme of this Santa Fe Calligraphy, kudos also go to these quilted perforated leather seats. They are supportive, comfortable, offer plenty of bolstering, and are fatigue-free. There are plenty of power adjustments to make you feel at home behind the wheel. 

Rear seat room is great for adults. There is no transmission hump, and the seats are very comfortable for longer journeys. 

For 2021, Hyundai increased cargo space compared to the 2020 model. Behind the second row, the volume was increased to 36.4 cubic feet. Fold the second row seats down, and that space is now 72.1 cubic feet. 

My Santa Fe Calligraphy tester came with a powerful 281-horsepower 2.5-liter turbocharged engine with 311 pound-feet of torque. This engine is connected to a new eight-speed dual-clutch transmission sending power to all four wheels through Hyundai’s HTRAC system.  

This driveline offers loads of thrust. While passing maneuvers and on-ramp jumps are done with ease, the new larger turbocharged engine is happier on the highway. This cruiser makes no excuses as it carves up miles. As for fuel economy, I averaged 24.8 MPG, which is right where the Santa Fe’s estimated advertised consumption figures from the Environmental Protection Agency is stated. 

Part of the “highway cruiser” equation comes from the Santa Fe’s smooth ride. It absorbs all road imperfections with nominal feedback. Handling  and cornering are good. Not much in terms of lean and roll through the corners. 

The steering system offered a tight turning radius and solid response from the wheel. On center feel is good, but you can set the drive mode into Sport or Smart for a more exact feel. Braking is also good with great pedal feel and response. The Santa Fe offered solid stops in normal and panic situations.

Remember the confusion I had about the Calligraphy trim available with a smaller wheel diameter and all-wheel-drive? The sticker price on my tester came to $43,730. It turns out that if you get the 20-inch wheels and all-wheel-drive with your Calligraphy, the difference is only $200 more for the larger wheels. If you wanted a front-drive model with those bigger wheels, that is $1,500 less than my tester. 

For 2021, the updated Santa Fe is available in four trim levels and three additional turbocharged hybrid models. There are three engines available across these seven trim levels, the 2.5-liter turbo is available on Limited and Calligraphy models. 

Hyundai is making a great lineup of SUVs for everyone’s budget. That is why this company is doing exceptionally well. Having the distinction of being the first “softroader” sold in this country, the Hyundai Santa Fe has already accumulated a reputation for being a solid machine made for life’s great moments. 

Having driven all four generations of this SUV, there is no question that this fourth iteration of the Santa Fe is the best. This 2021 update has cemented its reputation by making others look at it more closely and carefully. It may have a face a mother could love. There are a lot of moms – and dads – out there that are buying for more than face value. 

That's exactly why I like the Hyundai Santa Fe.

DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Hyundai Motor America

All photos by Randy Stern

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