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Article Highlights:

  • 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe ($27,200- $40,960)
  • “Two Row SUV Best Buy for 2021” – Kelley Blue Book
  • “Top Safety Pick +” Award – IIHS
  • 5-Star Overall Safety Rating – NHTSA
  • Pro: The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe has updated styling inside and out in addition to many tech-rich features.
  • Con: Some driver-assist features are not standard.
2021 Hyundai Santa Fe
2021 Hyundai Santa Fe | Hyundai

The Hyundai Santa Fe made its initial debut 20 years ago as the brand’s mid-size SUV. Back then, it competed with other crossovers like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 but couldn’t hold much of a candle to either of them. Now in its fourth generation, the Hyundai Santa Fe is larger than ever and packs a massive amount of value that the competition now has a tough time holding a candle to. Of course, it competes in a heavier class now with larger two-row SUVs like the Ford Edge, Nissan Murano, and Honda Passport.

I spent a week with the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy, which is the model’s top trim level. During my time with it, I came away surprised with just how well it drives, rides, and exudes comfort that could be competitive with many German SUVs from a class above.

The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe is bigger and sleeker than ever

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe
2021 Hyundai Santa Fe | Joe Santos

The Hyundai Santa Fe was redesigned for the 2021 model year. The refresh most notably included a wider front grille, T-shaped LED headlights, and angular taillights. This new iteration of the Santa Fe looks brawnier and beefier than ever, especially from the side angle, which has a high-riding beltline, bold character lines, and indented wheel arches.

To top off the look, the base models come with 18-inch wheels while the upper trims come with 19- and 20-inch ones. Long gone are the days of 16-inch wheels like those found on the original Santa Fe.

The 2021 Santa Fe is surprisingly comfortable and spacious

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe
2021 Hyundai Santa Fe | Joe Santos

Sit inside a 2021 Santa Fe and you’ll be surprised at how spacious it is. According to Hyundai, the Santa Fe now boasts 111 cubic feet of total passenger volume, which is a few cubic feet less than its rivals from Honda and Ford. However, what it lacks in space it makes up for in comfort. My Calligraphy trimmed test car had a Nappa leather interior, which is soft to the touch and comfortable enough for long drives.

The lower trim levels come with a cloth interior, although it can be upgraded to leather when the Premium package option box is checked off. There’s also a push-button gear selector that comes with a shallow learning curve in addition to some pleasant ambient lighting and soft-touch materials on most of the other surfaces in the cabin. Overall, Hyundai really stepped it up with the Santa Fe this time, so much so that it’s almost ready to contend with a more luxurious segment.

Which Hyundai Santa Fe trim level is the best for you?

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe
2021 Hyundai Santa Fe | Joe Santos

When shopping for a 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe, it’s important to know which trim level will suit you best. As such, there are five different trims to choose from: SE, SEL, XRT, Limited, and Calligraphy. My test car was a Santa Fe Calligraphy dressed in a Quartz White paint job with a beige interior.

There are six other exterior colors to choose from including blue, black, red, silver, and two shades of gray. As for the interior, there are only three different available colors: black, gray, and beige.

What type of features does the Hyundai Santa Fe have?

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe
2021 Hyundai Santa Fe | Joe Santos

With so many different trim levels to choose from, the 2021 Santa Fe is available with a wealth of features. The most notable standard features that come on the base SE trim include select driver-assist features – adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, high-beam assist, and a driver-attention warning – a YES Essentials stain-resistant cloth interior, and all power amenities including the cargo door.

There’s also an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system up front that comes with wireless Apple Carplay and Android Auto. Opting for the higher trims will give you more luxurious amenities including a leather interior – quilted Nappa in the Calligraphy – heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, a larger 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment system with navigation, an eco-suede headliner, and a full LED head-up display.

A 12.3-inch digital instrument panel is also standard on the higher trims and if you opt for the Limited and Calligraphy models, you’ll be treated to a 12-speaker Harmon Kardon premium sound system. Needless to say, the audio quality that it puts out is simply sublime.

There are also more safety features to be unlocked in the higher trim levels. Those features include blind-spot collision-avoidance assist, rear cross-traffic alert, safe-exit assist, and a surround-view camera. Also, the Limited and Calligraphy come with Smart Parking assist.

The SE trim level is also available with a “Convenience package” that includes a hands-free power liftgate, dual-zone auto climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, Hyundai’s digital key, a digital instrument panel, and front and rear parking sensors.

The 2021 Santa Fe handles well for its size

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe
2021 Hyundai Santa Fe | Joe Santos

Despite its heftier size, the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe handles pretty well. It can take turns competently at speed if you’re in a hurry, but if you’re not, then you’ll enjoy its overall smoothness. The Santa Fe’s suspension soaks up bumps and road imperfections well no matter how fast you’re going and its cabin is as quiet as almost any luxury car that you’ll find in the market today.

Couple those refined driving dynamics with all the aforementioned tech and convenience features and it’s safe to say that the Hyundai Santa Fe feels like less of a budget-friendly crossover and more of a luxury-minded cruiser. Also, I found that it’s really easy to park, especially with the surround-view camera and parking sensors.

If you want more power, go for the higher trim levels

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe engine
2021 Hyundai Santa Fe | Joe Santos

The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe is available with two different engine choices: a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder and a turbocharged 2.5-liter engine. The naturally-aspirated engine can be found under the hood of the lower trim levels while the turbocharged variant is reserved for the Limited and Calligraphy trims.

The base engine produces 191 hp and 181 lb-ft of torque while the turbocharged one puts out 281 hp and 311 lb-ft of torque. Having experienced the Calligraphy trim level, I can say that the extra power is worth the extra money. Car and Driver clocked the Calligraphy model with a 0 to 60 time of 6 seconds, which is no surprise. This crossover feels very quick off the line and has enough power for passing at highway speeds, even at a mile-high elevation. Additionally, the eight-speed dual-clutch transmission shifts smoothly and quickly, although it does hunt for gears sometimes under partial throttle.

As far as fuel economy, the EPA estimates that the naturally-aspirated engine can achieve up to 22 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway in front-drive form while the AWD version gets three fewer mpg on the highway. Surprisingly, the turbocharged engine is almost identically efficient as it gets an EPA-estimated 22 city/28 highway mpg in front-drive form and 21 city/28 mpg in AWD form. During my week of real-world driving in mixed conditions, I achieved an average of 20 mpg.

The Hyundai Santa Fe is a very safe crossover SUV

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe
2021 Hyundai Santa Fe | Joe Santos

Buyers won’t need to worry too much about the 2021 Santa Fe being safe. In addition to the wealth of driver-assist features, the Santa Fe also hill-start, vehicle stability management, and an ultrasonic rear occupant alert to ensure that you don’t leave the kiddos or anything else behind. Rest assured that all of the safety features play their parts well, which is why the 2021 Santa Fe took home the highly-coveted “Top Safety Pick +” award from the IIHS. Additionally, NHTSA gave it a five-star overall crash rating.

Is the Santa Fe expensive to maintain?

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe  rear quarter shot
2021 Hyundai Santa Fe | Joe Santos

The Hyundai Santa Fe might look expensive, but it’s relatively inexpensive to maintain. Car Edge reports that it can cost an average of $2,146 to maintain a Santa Fe during the first five years of ownership and Consumer Reports gave it a four out of five when it comes to reliability.

Luckily, any new Santa Fe owners won’t have to worry too much about maintenance and repairs during the first few years of ownership because it’s also backed by the brand’s comprehensive warranties. Like the other vehicles in the Hyundai stable, the 2021 Santa Fe carries a 5-year/60,000-mile basic warranty and a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. Additionally, new owners will benefit from five years of 24-hour roadside assistance.

If you want a near-luxury crossover SUV that doesn’t break the bank, check out the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe rear
2021 Hyundai Santa Fe | Joe Santos

It’s safe to say that the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe is vastly different than the crossover that it was 20 years ago. Judging by its convenience and safety features, upmarket styling, and potent powertrains, the 2021 Santa Fe has the near-luxury panache that makes it worth every penny of its MSRP, no matter the trim level. Fortunately, it won’t break the bank.

MotorBiscuit gives the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe an expert rating of 8.0 out of 10

The editors at MotorBiscuit gave the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe an expert rating of 8.0 out of 10. The Hyundai Santa Fe’s redesign makes it a true competitor in the segment and offers buyers a great value. Its updated styling and potent yet efficient powertrains make the Santa Fe a good choice to add to your car shopping shortlist.


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