2021 Hyundai Santa Fe

By March 12, 2021

The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe makes big strides in refinement even while it downsizes its engines for better fuel economy.

The Santa Fe’s updated styling bears more resemblance to the larger Hyundai Palisade. Inside the cabin buyers will find a modern look with more available tech. Three new engines enlarge the Santa Fe’s breadth of performance and efficiency.

Of those new engines, the base 2.5-liter inline-4 is the least exotic with 191 horsepower, front-wheel drive, and an 8-speed automatic. It should return 25 mpg city, 28 highway, 26 combined, or a few ticks less with the available all-wheel drive.

Those wanting a bit more oomph can opt for the turbocharged version of that engine. Adding the turbo boosts total output to 277 horsepower and 311 lb-ft of torque. The conventional 8-speed auto is subbed out for a dual-clutch 8-speed automatic transmission to make the most of the added power. All-wheel drive is still optional. Expect 22/28/25 mpg with front-drive or 21/28/24 mpg with all-wheel drive.

Coming soon: a pair of hybrids. The traditional hybrid will use a 1.6-liter inline-4 paired up to a small battery and electric motor; total output is estimated to be 178 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. A plug-in variant is in the cards as well.

All Santa Fe crossovers have automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, active-lane control, blind-spot monitors, and automatic high-beams LED headlights. Move up the ranks and parking sensors, a surround-view camera system, and a blind-spot camera monitoring system all become available.

The 2021 Santa Fe hasn’t been tested for crashworthiness.

Model Lineup

Besides a new Calligraphy model gracing the top of the trim hierarchy, the Santa Fe is available in the same flavors as last year. That means things start off with the base SE, which starts at $28,035. It gets features like an 8.0-inch touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, cloth upholstery, and 18-inch wheels.

Moving into the $29,835 SEL brings remote start, heated front seats, an 8-way power driver seat, wireless device charging, and satellite radio. More options are on the menu here as well.

The Limited goes for $39,785. It gets the turbo-4, upgraded LED headlights, 19-inch wheels, front and rear parking sensors, cooled and heated front seats, a surround-view camera system, and heated rear seats.

The most luxurious model is the new range-topping Calligraphy, which begins at $43,285. It justifies its price with features like massaging seats, quilted nappa leather upholstery, 20-inch wheels, ambient lighting, and a head-up display.


Hyundai has gotten progressively more ambitious with their designs lately, and the new Santa Fe continues to push the envelope for the brand. It doesn’t adopt the blocky, pseudo-adventurer themes that have been trending recently; instead, the Santa Fe is aiming for a more urban, chic feel. A chrome-laden grille, monotone cladding, and a simple yet stylish rear end do most of the heavy lifting in this regard.

It’s not all perfect. The fenders are particularly fussy, as the well wells are shadowed by bulky arches that mar the flowing bodysides. The rest of the body is typical crossover, neither dull nor exciting.


With the updated styling comes an interior to match. Hyundai has incorporated a new dashboard design that looks clean and contemporary. The edges of the dash bleed into the door panels to create a seamless, flowing design.

The new look also brings a wider, deeper binnacle for the instrument cluster and a front console that slopes upward to meet the dash.

The new touchscreens are either 8.0 or 10.3 inches. Curiously, only the smaller screen features wireless smartphone compatibility—the larger unit still requires you remember your USB cord. While they are touchscreens, Hyundai mounts a rotary dial in the console as well. Either method of control is easy to use.

Seats are comfortable and well cushioned, especially the fronts, which can be equipped with heating and cooling functionality. The back seat has nearly 42 inches of leg room, which is generous among mid-size crossovers.

Lots of cargo space is also on offer. Hyundai claims packaging improvements have yielded a net of 36.4 cubic feet aft of the rear seats and 72.1 cubic feet in total. More storage hides under the cargo floor as well, and lots of nooks and crannies are scattered around the cabin.

Driving Impressions

The revised and enhanced engine lineup is the most interesting aspect of the updated Santa Fe. While we’re eager to get our hands on the hybrid models, the new gas engines are enlightening on their own accord.

The new base inline-4 only adds 6 horsepower over the outgoing base engine, so don’t expect any remarkable breakthroughs in performance. It’s suitable for daily driving and is apropos for the price point. Refinement and smoothness are adequate for the class.

The turbo-4 is more interesting. It shares the same displacement as the base engine but its addition of the turbo begets an additional 87 horsepower, for a total of 277 hp. It is quick and gutsy, the choice for those who like to power up on-ramps with verve.

The turbo-4 pairs to a dual-clutch transmission. These transmissions are known for quick shifts during hard acceleration, but can be less smooth while trundling around at lower speeds. Fortunately, that’s not the case here. It also has a Sport mode that speeds up its responses and adds steering weight.

The Santa Fe rides well, even on the larger wheels that are available. Handling is competent, and the chassis is always composed; the rear always seems to know what the front is doing and vice versa.

Some suspension noise filters into the cabin over rough pavement. It’s an audible reminder that the Santa Fe, for all its luxury aspirations, is still not a stand-in for a true luxury car.

Final Word

The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe does what drivers want their mid-size crossover to do. It rides well, has very good passenger and cargo space, and this year offers a premium trim to soften the blows of daily living. We’d recommend an SEL—and we could be convinced to spend up for the upcoming plug-in hybrid.


—by Anthony Sophinos, with driving impressions from The Car Connection

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