2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy vs. 2021 Kia Sorento SX X-Line: Compare Crossover SUVs

March 1, 2021

Higher-priced mid-size crossovers now get all the luxury touches, but does the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy or the 2021 Kia Sorento SX X-Line do premium better?

If you’re paying more than $40,000 for a non-prestige-badged crossover, it’s hard to overlook this new duo. Still, you’ll have to look over—and past—their overstyled bodies to get to the good stuff. The new Santa Fe has a classic crossover outline, but it’s cut and stamped to excess, with lots of busy lines that try to make it look sporty. The Sorento’s frenetic in its own way, with its fillips and flags of metallic trim and its electric-razor grille. We want to tell them both to calm down. 

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy interior

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy interior

The Santa Fe may have already taken that to its heart. Its cabin wears lozenge-shaped vents, a big touchscreen, a low-set dash, and in its highest Calligraphy spec, a lovely quilted nappa leather and plush headliner that set a quiet and soothing tone. The Sorento’s still trying to come down from a caffeine buzz: its center console has a game-controller aesthetic, with bat-wing vents trimmed and lots of fingerprint-friendly gloss-black trim, even in top X-line trim. Should we drive it, or hunt for a cheat code? 

2021 Kia Sorento

2021 Kia Sorento

The Calligraphy and X-Line share a top-end turbo-4. The Sorento and Santa Fe still come with a base inline-4 and both now have a Hybrid edition, but the turbo-4 and 8-speed dual-clutch automatic deliver the satisfying acceleration that spendy trucks must deliver. The dual-clutch isn’t faultless, but spun into a Sport driving mode it’s eager and out to impress. Power ratings are nearly identical, at 277 hp for the Hyundai, 281 hp for the Kia. Both the X-Line and Calligraphy have all-wheel drive, and wheels sized up to 20 inches, so steering isn’t either’s strong suit; ride quality remains the best reason to recommend either. They’re both compliant and composed, though suspension noise is never more than a hard pothole away, and though both are better at high-speed damping than low-speed wheel control.

2021 Kia Sorento

2021 Kia Sorento

If you need to carry seven people, the Sorento SX X-Line’s the only choice here. Just make at least two of them small. The Sorento sports a teensy third-row seat that seems incapable of handling humans out of the larval stage; the Santa Fe’s a two-row for five people, without the Sorento’s second-row sliding seat or its available second-row captain’s chairs. Four adults fit in either with ease, and top leather-lined models have heated and cooled front seats, fold-away back seats, and more than 70 cubic feet of cargo space above a nearly flat load floor—not to mention available power tailgates.

Both the 2021 Sorento and 2021 Santa Fe have standard automatic emergency braking, but the Hyundai also has standard adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitors, and automatic high-beam headlights; Kia upsells adaptive cruise control and blind-spot monitors on lower trims. The Calligraphy and X-Line models get all of that plus a head-up display and a surround-view camera system. Both also come with an exceptional 5-year/60,000-mile warranty, but the Santa Fe throws in a 3-year/36,000-mile bonus of free scheduled maintenance. 

The $43,285 Santa Fe Calligraphy (unless you want 20-inch wheels, in which case it’s $43,485) also has a 12.3-inch digital display, a 10.3-inch touchscreen with navigation, a power front passenger seat, a panoramic sunroof, and 12-speaker Harman Kardon audio.  The $43,765 Sorento X-Line gets most of that, but has 12-speaker Bose audio.

We give both crossover SUVs a 6.8 out of 10, with identical ratings in each category. They’re not so different from each other as they are from rivals such as the Ford Edge or Honda Passport, but there are critical distinctions in styling, seating, and service that shouldn’t escape any shopper. It’s up to the IIHS and the NHTSA to find a numeric difference between these two. For our cash, even without the crash data, the 2021 Santa Fe Calligraphy gets the W.

Summary

6.7
Expert Rating
The 2021 Kia Sorento crossover SUV strikes out in a new styling direction, and brings hybrid and plug-in models along for the adventure.
7.2
Expert Rating
The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe makes premium gains with hybrid and turbo-4 power and a Palisade-like interior.

Styling

6.0
Expert Rating
We’re confused by some of the new Sorento’s details.
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6.0
Expert Rating
A busy body begets a better interior in the 2021 Santa Fe.
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Performance

6.0
Expert Rating
The Sorento rides well; the power move may be the plug-in hybrid.
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6.0
Expert Rating
Turbos sell spendy power and hybrids high EPA numbers; all Santa Fes deliver a smooth ride.
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Comfort & Quality

8.0
Expert Rating
The Sorento seats up to seven, but call it four plus smalls.
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8.0
Expert Rating
The Santa Fe’s sized for five and cargo.
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Safety

6.0
Expert Rating
The Sorento aims for top safety scores, but they’re not in yet.
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9.0
Expert Rating
Safety ratings and the equipment list suggest the Santa Fe and Santa Fe Hybrid will protect you and yours very well.
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Features

9.0
Expert Rating
The Sorento’s nearly peerless in mid-size crossover features.
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9.0
Expert Rating
The Santa Fe’s lavish equipment list includes nappa leather and wide-screen infotainment.
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Fuel Economy

5.0
Expert Rating
The Sorento’s new hybrid edition earns an efficiency gold star.
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5.0
Expert Rating
A Santa Fe Hybrid is new, with a combined rating of up to 34 mpg; but the rest of the lineup is no efficiency standout.
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MSRP

from $29,390
from $27,000

Invoice

from $28,362
from $25,732

Fuel Economy - Combined City and Highway

24
24

Engine

Regular Unleaded I-4, 2.5 L
Regular Unleaded I-4, 2.5 L

Drivetrain

All Wheel Drive Read Full Specs
All Wheel Drive Read Full Specs
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