2021 Hyundai Santa Fe review: Trickle-down theory

Smile for the camera!

Craig Cole / Roadshow

Proponents of the cascade economy argue that the tax cut for wealthy or large corporations benefits everyone because their extra money can be invested to create more jobs or pay higher wages. Of course, this is doubtful in reality it makes economic sense, but such a top-down approach works in other fields, such as the automotive industry. Case in point: the Hyundai Palisade. With oodles of refinement and a luxurious interior, it is one of our favorite three-row SUVs. Now, the all-round excellence of the Palisade flows all the way to the smaller Santa Fe, which has been significantly updated for 2021.

Like it

  • Powerful and refined engine
  • Comfortable driving
  • Luxurious interior

I do not like

  • Low speed transmission performance
  • Lack of standard driving aids

The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe features a slightly reworked exterior styling with a wider looking front, new rim designs and some minor tweaks. New powertrains are also offered, including a 2.5-liter base engine and a powerful 2.5-liter I4 turbo. A hybrid version is also available, as well as additional safety and convenience features. Finally, just like its big brother, the Santa Fe is now available in elegant Calligraphy finishes. Inside and out, the vehicle feels expressive without being flashy, a difficult feat to achieve.

Dressed in the sensual Calypso Red paint, this top-of-the-range model gives a convincing impression of a luxury vehicle. Its seats are upholstered with soft Nappa leather and the headlining and roof pillars are upholstered in a suede-like material. Calligraphy also comes with a full-color head-up display, premium finishes, and quick up and down rear windows, to name a few of its countless improvements. Sure, there are some hard plastics here and there, but the dashboard is mostly soft and there are miles of contrasting stitching.

This adventurously designed interior is also extremely functional. Physical climate controls and other secondary switches for things like the sound system are super easy to see and reach, mounted on the Santa Fe’s upward-sloping center console. This is also where the push button shifter resides, which is immediately intuitive. A skosh plus top storage space between the front seats would be nice, but there’s an open bin underneath all those switches and knobs – the perfect place to stash a bag or small order to take away.

Just like the Palisade, comfort is one of the Santa Fe’s strengths. The anatomical front chairs of the Calligraphy model, with their extendable lower cushions, are comfortable over the long haul, as is the rear seat. Passengers who cannot drive the rifle are still pampered with excellent accommodations, as the rear bench bottom cushion is a great height above the floor and there is plenty of head and leg room to get around. The cargo capacity of the Santa Fe comes to 36.4 cubic feet behind the rear seatbacks. Fold them down and you get 72.1 cubes of trash-carrying space. It is more space in each position than you have in a Chevy Blazer or Nissan Murano, although the Ford Edge is Honda passport they are slightly more capacious.

Is it the interior of a luxury car? No, it’s just a Hyundai.

Craig Cole / Roadshow

As with passenger comfort and high-quality finishes, there is no shortage of technology available in this vehicle. Low-end models now get an 8-inch (1-inch larger than before) infotainment screen, but fancier variants come with a 10.3-inch that also features built-in navigation. The Limited and Calligraphy finishes are graced with a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, although this is optional on the mid-range SEL trim. Apple CarPlay is Android Auto they are standard across the range, albeit counterintuitively, they connect wirelessly only on the most basic grades of the Santa Fe. The top-tier infotainment system is easily one of the best offerings available today, being both easy on the eye and quick. The user interface is also extremely intuitive and the system responds promptly to inputs, hardly ever stuttering or slowing down. Really, there’s nothing to complain about here, although the same can’t be said about the broadcast.

Santa Fe’s new 2.5-liter turbo-four is real honey, super smooth and suspiciously quiet. It produces 277 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque, far more than the base engine or hybrid. This prodigious power gives the vehicle ample acceleration, a serious scooter whether you’re taking off from a traffic light or zinging down the highway. Despite this great performance, the Santa Fe is also quite inexpensive. With all-wheel drive available, this example is estimated to return 21mpg in the city, 28mpg on the highway, and 24mpg combined, although in mixed driving, in the real world, I’m getting about 24.5 miles out of every gallon of gasoline, better of the advertised median.

This frugal show is aided by an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. It changes quickly and smoothly once the vehicle is in motion, but it’s not all sunshine and roses. Unfortunately, when starting, the gearbox feels quite unnatural as it connects the engine to the rest of the transmission. Slight vibrations are detectable and there are small peaks and dips, as if it doesn’t respond linearly to throttle inputs. Can we just have the automatic eight-speed torque converter that comes with the naturally aspirated 2.5-liter engine? Please and thank you.

Santa Fe’s 2.5-liter turbo quattro is as powerful as it is refined.

Craig Cole / Roadshow

The Santa Fe transmission may be its biggest dynamic weakness, but the rest of this vehicle’s driving experience is enjoyable. The interior is incredibly quiet and the ride is smooth as butter. Sure, sharper steering would be nice, as this SUV is anything but sporty and the brake pedal is on the touchy side, even if these are minor complaints.

The Santa Fe offers a lot of advanced driver aids, although many of the more desirable ones aren’t standard. The base SE model features automatic emergency braking, lane keeping assistance and a driver attention monitor, although it is necessary to step into the SEL bodywork to achieve blind spot monitoring and cross traffic alert rear. Of course, the Highfalutin Limited and Calligraphy models come with pretty much everything, extras like Remote Parking Assist, lane centering and adaptive cruise control. Hyundai’s implementation of the latter two elements is among the best in the industry. When busy, the Santa Fe follows like a monorail, never saw the wheel or lost track of where it was. Adaptive cruise control is just as smooth and inspires confidence, whether you’re in stop-and-go traffic or bombing the highway.

The redesigned Hyundai Santa Fe is an excellent all-round utility vehicle.

Craig Cole / Roadshow

With its high-end interior, over-the-road refinement and cutting-edge styling, the new Santa Fe is a terrific deal and an excellent midsize SUV, another home run for Hyundai.

Just like the three rows Palisade, the updated Santa Fe is an excellent all-round SUV, offering plenty of features and an almost luxury cabin with Calligraphy trim. You might expect this vehicle to cost a young fortune, but that’s absolutely not the case. A base SE model, with no extras, costs about $ 28,185 including destination taxes, which are $ 1,185. But even the top notch example shown here is still excellent value. While in, my tester stickers for $ 43,440 with only one option filling the bottom line, an additional $ 155 for carpeted floor mats.