2021 Hyundai Santa Fe

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Martin Padgett Martin Padgett Editorial Director
July 10, 2021

Buying tip

Option up the Santa Fe SEL for the best value; at under $36,000 it gets many of the luxury touches but skips the turbo-4 engine.

features & specs

Calligraphy AWD
Calligraphy FWD
Limited AWD
21 city / 28 hwy
22 city / 28 hwy
21 city / 28 hwy

The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe makes premium gains with hybrid and turbo-4 power and a Palisade-like interior.

What kind of vehicle is the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe? What does it compare to?

The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe is a mid-size crossover SUV featuring more potent gas engines, new hybrid models, and a snazzy top Calligraphy trim. Larger than the Tucson compact crossover but smaller than the Palisade three-row crossover, the Santa Fe competes against other mid-size crossovers such as the Honda Passport, Chevy Blazer, Nissan Murano, Kia Sorento, and Jeep Grand Cherokee. 

Is the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe a good SUV?

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We rank the latest Santa Fe above most of the competition with a TCC Rating of 6.8 out of 10. That rating should increase as crash-tests scores are reported. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

What's new for the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe?

For 2021, the Santa Fe wears a fresh face that covers three new available engines. We’re more fans of the new cabin than the updated body. The exterior has a classic crossover shape, but it’s over-adorned with stampings and cutlines that work too hard to make it look sporty and undercut the handsome new grille. The cabin’s more confident in its style, with a low dash, pod-like vents, and an infotainment screen as big as 10.3 inches.

Power comes from 4-cylinder engines in various configurations. We haven’t driven the base 191-hp inline-4 yet, but in other applications it’s been a mild-mannered if unremarkable choice. The Santa Fe’s 277-hp turbo-4 responds with good low-end power and decent fuel economy, though its 8-speed dual-clutch transmission isn’t as smooth as a conventional automatic. A Santa Fe Hybrid has arrived, making a combined 226 hp, in a version of Hyundai's system paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission, but we haven't yet driven this version. Like the other Santa Fes, we expect they’ll have precise but feedback-free steering and a very well-damped ride, whether they’re on 17-inch wheels or the 20-inchers offered on the Calligraphy.

The Santa Fe’s cabin spaces out in the best sense of the phrase. It can tote four 6-footers with ease, and can offer them leather-covered, power-adjustable, heated and cooled front seats and heated and leather-covered second-row seats with plenty of head and leg room. The Santa Fe’s cargo space swells to 72.1 cubic feet when the back seats aren’t in use (and there’s no tiny third row, as there is in the Sorento).

All Santa Fes have automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitors, and automatic high-beam headlights. Upper trims have a head-up display and a surround-view camera system, but no Santa Fe has crash-test scores just yet.

How much does the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe cost?

The $28,035 Santa Fe SE has LED headlights, cloth upholstery, an 8.0-inch touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and 18-inch wheels—as well as a 5-year/60,000-mile warranty with 3-year/36,000-mile coverage for scheduled maintenance. Hybrid versions start at $34,835 for the base Blue model, ranging to $38,785 for the Hybrid SEL Premium and $41,135 for the Hybrid Limited. We like the $29,835 Santa Fe SEL, which gets an 8-way power driver seat, wireless smartphone charging, and heated front seats; for under $36,000 it can add a power tailgate, leather upholstery, a 12.3-inch digital display, a power front passenger seat, a 10.3-inch touchscreen with navigation, 12-speaker Harman Kardon audio, and a panoramic sunroof. 

Where is the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe made?

Gas-only models are produced in Alabama, while the Hybrid is made in South Korea.


2021 Hyundai Santa Fe


A busy body begets a better interior in the 2021 Santa Fe.

Is the Hyundai Santa Fe a good-looking car?

It’s better looking inside than outside. We give it a 6, with an extra point for the cabin’s high-style rendering.

The Santa Fe’s body has the usual crossover proportions, but a lot of stamped-in and cut lines mar its shape. On the outside, the Santa Fe flashes new front and rear ends with revised LED head- and taillights. The lower bumper is wider and supports a front skid plate matched at the rear, while the grille stretches into new headlights that form a T shape with narrow daytime running lights above it. In profile, the rounded wheel arches with a rear kick and the creased door panels look like its big sibling, the Hyundai Palisade. Still, there’s a lot going on here: the half-circles that echo the wheel cutouts and the body-side oversculpting make too much of a fuss.

A new tiered dash layout headlines the interior, crowned with an available 10.3-inch touchscreen. Either screen size reigns over a center stack that blends into the center console. An electronic gear shifter replaces the mechanical one to save space, which resolves in lots of buttons and switches on a control pad below the touchscreen and a beanpod-shaped set of vents. An available 12.3-inch digital cluster, nappa leather, ambient lighting, and soft-touch padding refine the interior; it’s sleek enough, but those Calligraphy touches nudge it into luxury status.

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2021 Hyundai Santa Fe


Turbos sell spendy power and hybrids high EPA numbers; all Santa Fes deliver a smooth ride.

As of this writing we’ve only driven the turbo-4 Santa Fe with all-wheel drive, but we’ve spent lots of time in the related Kia Sorento and its hybrid model. We’d give both a point extra for ride quality; the Santa Fe’s base inline-4 doesn’t promise much magic, though, and turbo-4 cars get expensive. We’ll give the Santa Fe a 6 now with a point for its ride, and explain more here once we’ve driven a hybrid or a base model.

Is the Hyundai Santa Fe 4WD?

All models can be fitted with all-wheel drive, and it’s standard on Hybrid versions as well as in the most expensive Calligraphy edition.

How fast is the Hyundai Santa Fe?

Its quickness depends on its powertrain. We rate its performance based on the most common configuration, which carries the 191-hp 2.5-liter inline-4, an 8-speed automatic, and front-wheel drive or available all-wheel drive. Given its weight and power output, we’d expect a 0-60 mph time in the mid-eight-second range, unremarkable but not slow. 

Hyundai’s 2.5-liter turbo-4 boosts output to 277 hp and 311 pound-feet of torque. It uses a dual-clutch 8-speed automatic that can change gears more quickly than a conventional automatic, but doesn’t always have the low-speed shift smoothness of the usual transmission. Still, it’s eager to please, and has a Sport drive mode that filters off the reluctance to shift into lower gears and drops the rubber-band-like behavior. It weighs about 4,000 pounds, but the turbo-4 Santa Fe never struggles for power—and it’s able to tow up to 3,500 pounds, according to Hyundai. 

The Santa Fe’s available all-wheel-drive system isn’t meant for off-roading, but with a maximum of 8.2 inches of ground clearance, the Santa Fe’s all-weather traction’s a plus in climates that call for it.

A pair of hybrids come soon. The Santa Fe Hybrid uses a 1.6-liter turbo-4 and a version of Hyundai's single-motor hybrid system, nesting a 44.2-kw (60-hp) electric motor between a 177-hp, 1.6-liter turbo-4 and a 6-speed automatic transmission—with a disconnect clutch allowing the engine to be detached from the whole system for brief engine-off running when coasting, or gliding along at low speeds.

The Santa Fe crossover has electric power steering and a front strut/rear multi-link suspension. It drives well, with unremarkable handling but a composed ride that’s intact even on the 19-inch wheels that come standard with Calligraphy models. There’s some suspension noise as it thumps over ruts and potholes, and it’s better at damping low and long ripples in the road, but the Santa Fe’s conservatively tuned running gear responds capably to quick steering inputs without setting the vehicle into exaggerated poses.

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2021 Hyundai Santa Fe

Comfort & Quality

The Santa Fe’s sized for five and cargo.

With seats for as many as five people, the 2021 Santa Fe skips the teensy third-row seat found in the related Kia Sorento. Good call. We give it an 8 here, for comfortable front and back seats and for its expansive cargo space.

By the numbers, the Santa Fe measures 188.4 inches long, and rides on a 108.9-inch wheelbase. In practical terms, it’s small enough to park easily, but big enough for tall people in back to ride behind tall people in front. 

We’re impressed by the Santa Fe’s top-drawer seats, and though we haven’t driven a base model yet, even the chairs in the cheaper Sorentos earned our nod. They’re supportive, power-adjustable from the SEL trim on up, and covered in cloth in the Hyundai until you spend into the SEL trim level and select two option packages (more on that in a bit). Heating and cooling are offered, too, as is a power front passenger seat.

Between the two, Hyundai carves out plenty of small-item storage, from a set of cupholders in the console and a next-door nacelle that can hold the key fob, to a lidded compartment aft of the shifter buttons.

The Santa Fe’s second-row seat is broad enough for two adults plus one medium-size passenger. It’s blessed with good foot room and head room for a 6-footer even under the optional power sunroof, and great leg room; it doesn’t have the Sorento’s sliding second-row seat, but it’s good for 41.7 inches of leg room in back.

Fold down those back seats for a nearly flat and copious cargo space. Hyundai says clever packaging has boosted cargo volume one-half cubic foot, for a net of 36.4 cubic feet behind the rear seats, and 72.1 cubic feet behind the second-row seats. Under the cargo floor there’s more storage, in the space usually occupied by a full-size spare tire. The cargo floor’s high loading point is convenient, as is the power tailgate standard on higher trims.

Improved aerodynamics combine with the powertrains for a more efficient ride that’s sometimes quieter, but the turbo-4 still groans noticeably. Calligraphy cars wear lots of luxury details, from woven-look material on the console to a plush headliner to quilted nappa leather upholstery—and they’re quieter thanks to laminated glass. As we’ve seen on other Hyundai vehicles, upper trims put a toe in the premium category; the base model wears more durable-looking fabric and lots of black plastic.

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2021 Hyundai Santa Fe


Safety ratings and the equipment list suggest the Santa Fe and Santa Fe Hybrid will protect you and yours very well.

How safe is the Hyundai Santa Fe?

Very much so. The new Santa Fe is laden with the latest safety technology, and the suite of safety ratings from the IIHS and the NHTSA are top-notch.

All Santa Fe crossovers have automatic emergency braking, active lane control, blind-spot monitors, adaptive cruise control, and automatic high-beam LED headlights.

Higher-spec models can be equipped with front and rear parking sensors, and Limited and Calligraphy models come with a surround-view camera system and blind-spot monitor display in the gauge cluster. A head-up display comes with the Calligraphy as well.

The federal government's NCAP program gave the Santa Fe five-star ratings overall, including frontal and side categories. Insurance-funded IIHS testing resulted in top "Good" ratings in every single test category—except for the LED headlights used in SE and SEL versions. Other Santa Fe headlights are good.


2021 Hyundai Santa Fe


The Santa Fe’s lavish equipment list includes nappa leather and wide-screen infotainment.

Sold in SE, SEL, Limited, and Calligraphy trim, the 2021 Santa Fe earns a 9 for features thanks to great standard equipment and value, good infotainment, and an excellent warranty.

It starts with the $28,035 Santa Fe SE, which can be outfitted with all-wheel drive for another $1,700. With its base drivetrain, it also gets LED headlights, 18-inch wheels, adaptive cruise control, 8.0-inch touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and cloth upholstery.

Another standard feature is Hyundai’s peerless 5-year/60,000-mile warranty with 3-year/36,000-mile complimentary scheduled maintenance.  

Which Hyundai Santa Fe should I buy?

We’d choose the $29,835 Santa Fe SEL, which gets brake support for blind-spot monitors, remote start, an 8-way power driver seat, heated front seats, wireless smartphone charging, and satellite radio. Options on this model include a power tailgate, a 12.3-inch digital display, leather upholstery, a power front passenger seat, 12-speaker Harman Kardon audio, a 10.3-inch touchscreen with navigation, and a panoramic sunroof. With all those, it’s $35,585—a great value, we think.

The $39,785 Santa Fe Limited gets all the SEL gear plus the turbo-4, 19-inch wheels, front and rear parking sensors, better LED headlights, cold front seats, heated rear seats, and a surround-view-camera system.

Hybrid models come at a pretty steep premium, with the Santa Fe Hybrid Blue starting at $34,835 and the mid-range SEL Premium adding leather, Harman Kardon audio, a panoramic sunroof, and the upsized 10.3-inch touchscreen. The top Hybrid Limited costs $41,135 and includes all that we've described above for the non-hybrid Limited. We should also point out that all Hybrid models include all-wheel drive.

How much is a fully loaded Hyundai Santa Fe?

The $43,285 Santa Fe Calligraphy gets standard all-wheel drive, quilted nappa leather upholstery, ambient lighting, and a head-up display; it’s also available with 20-inch wheels.

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2021 Hyundai Santa Fe

Fuel Economy

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.

Is the Hyundai Santa Fe good on gas?

The base inline-4 is the most common, so we rate the crossover a 4 for fuel economy, based on EPA ratings of 25 mpg city, 28 highway, 26 combined for versions with this engine and front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive pushes the numbers down to 22/25/24 mpg.

It actually gets much better than that. Hybrid versions of the Santa Fe rate at 36 mpg city, 31 highway, 34 mpg combined for the base Hybrid Blue and 33/30/32 mpg for the other Hybrid versions. Depending on how widely Hyundai makes these models available, we might revisit our rating in this category.

Turbo-4 versions earn EPA ratings of 22/28/25 mpg, or 21/28/24 mpg with AWD.

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