Hot on the heels of Kia’s all-new Sorento, sister company Hyundai has updated its own seven-seat SUV – the Santa Fe – for 2021.
Along with a tweaked look inside and out, the 2021 Santa Fe wades back into the large-SUV battleground with some extra tricks up its sleeve.
And if you think what we are looking at is just a facelifted Santa Fe without any big embellishments going on under the skin, you’d be wrong. We've got a 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Elite with a 2.2-litre diesel engine and all-wheel drive to find out more. The asking price for this is $57,800 before on-road costs, which is $2700 more than a comparable 2020 model.
While the pre-facelift Santa Fe, which dates back to 2018, was based upon the older Kia/Hyundai platform, the model you’re looking at here scores new gear under the skin.
That means despite the relatively familiar facelifted look, the 2021 Santa Fe shares its bones with the likes of Kia’s new Carnival and Sorento, as well as other cars that we aren’t treated to in Australia.
|2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Elite diesel|
|Engine||2.2-litre, four-cylinder turbo diesel|
|Power and torque||148kW @ 3800rpm, 440Nm @ 1750–2750rpm|
|Transmission||8-speed, wet dual-clutch automatic transmission|
|Drive type||All-wheel drive|
|Fuel consumption (claimed)||6.1L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||7.0L/100km|
|Boot size||571–782L (VDA)|
|ANCAP safety rating (year)||Five-star (2018)|
|Warranty (years/km)||Five years/unlimited kilometres|
|Main competitors||Kia Sorento, Mazda CX-9, Toyota Kluger|
|Price as tested (ex on-road costs)||$57,800|
This new platform has allowed Hyundai to use a new powertrain – a familiar-sounding 2.2-litre turbo diesel four-cylinder engine. It’s a new engine, however, with slightly less overall capacity (2151cc) and a lighter alloy block. This new donk sports one whole kilowatt more of power and the same amount of torque: 148kW at 3800rpm and 440Nm at 1750–2750rpm.
Although the new platform and powertrain shed around 44kg compared to a comparable pre-facelift model, overall dimensions remain mostly the same. It’s barely a smidgen wider at 1900mm (up 10mm), but the wheelbase and length both remain constant at 2765mm and 4470mm respectively. It’s a whisker taller as well at 1710mm, but that could be from the updated rolling stock.
Elite specification now gets some flash-looking 20-inch machined-alloy wheels, which make a big difference to the look, along with the refreshed front end. Previously, this spec of Santa Fe was stuck with 18-inch wheels.
The new eight-speed wet dual-clutch gearbox nets a big reduction in fuel usage, down from a claimed 7.5L/100km to a lowly 6.1L/100km – an impressive number no doubt for a large SUV capable of seating seven and some luggage.
And the end result is a Santa Fe that, from the seat of the pants, behaves very similarly to the previous model. Not that it’s a bad thing, because the Santa Fe has been a well-sorted jigger in terms of ride and comfort. Once again, the Australian ride and handling tune suits our roads and tastes well, and offers a good balance of control and comfort both around town and on the highway.
The Santa Fe’s 11.4m turning circle is good enough for most town and city driving.
Although there is only one kilowatt extra according to the spec sheet, this new powertrain does feel overall perkier than the outgoing model. This could be from small gains made from the redesigned engine, but I reckon it’s mostly from the more efficient gearbox: less loss here translates to more power making it to the wheels.
The engine does start to sound a bit thrashy when revving hard, but the good news is that you rarely need to do this. Its 440Nm just about everywhere below 3000rpm works well, and gives the Santa Fe plenty of punch.
We used on average 7.0L/100km, but that was with plenty of highway kilometres. I’d reckon that number would sit closer to 7.5L/100km with more around-town driving according to what the trip computer was telling me.
The dual-clutch transmission, like in the new Sorento, is very good. You can feel it has a slightly different nature to a traditional torque converter, but is quite easy to live with and operate. Perhaps we can thank the long development time of the i30N's automatic for why this feels so well resolved.
Driving modes of Eco, Sport, Smart and Comfort change up the throttle and gearbox calibration for driving around town. But for most people, Comfort or Smart would be the ticket.
Like most Hyundais and Kias, the lane-departure warning and lane-keep assist technology can be a little overbearing at times, especially when you’re on busy multi-lane roads with inconsistent markings. However, it can be turned off easily enough.
For a bit of soft-roading ability, the Santa Fe is able to delve into sand, snow and mud modes, which will calibrate the all-wheel-drive system accordingly. The Santa Fe no longer has the centre diff lock button, but this would be activated through the driving modes available.
Its 176mm of ground clearance is enough for basic, light off-roading, which suits the Santa Fe. But one big strength is the full-size spare wheel, mounted on an alloy wheel no less, which will suit those living in more remote and rural areas, and those looking to take on longer road trips.
And don't forget, include your spare in your tyre rotations, and increase the mileage you get before your tyres wear out or get too old.
Inside, the Elite specification benefits from leather-appointed seat trimming, but nappa leather is reserved for the top-spec Highlander. Although, the Elite gets the bigger 10.25-inch infotainment display with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, digital radio and native navigation.
The centre console also gets a big redesign. Lower-specced models don’t get the same level of overhaul, but our button-heavy centre stack, which flows into a raised centre console, worked out to be easy to live with during our testing.
Transmission buttons go against the grain of rotary knobs and traditional shifters, and work with the theme of button overload. It might not win any design awards amongst the Europeans, but it’s easy to use after you know where all of the buttons live. Muscle memory kicks in and it's all easy to operate.
Storage is good, with a big centre console bin, cupholders, an extra lidded compartment below the onslaught of buttons, and a dedicated spot to stop your phone from sliding around. Underneath is a huge storage spot, along with an extra 12V and USB power outlet. You could fit a decent-sized handbag down there, and it keeps things out of sight.
The seats combine plenty of quilting and perforations for a premium look, and they’re plenty comfortable to occupy. The ergonomics are great, and visibility in particular works well for the Santa Fe. You notice, in comparison to other SUVs, the Santa Fe feels quite low-slung with a car-like seating and driving position.
You don’t get the same commanding position behind the wheel as you lord it over passenger-car peasants in your high-riding SUV. However, the driving experience is quite similar to what you get in a large sedan or station wagon.
There are some nice additional details that help set the Santa Fe apart. The design feels unique, and is finished off well by the textured cloth headlining and modern speaker covers.
The second row is wonderfully spacious, with oodles of leg room and head room for big adults to sit in comfort. Even the middle seat isn’t too bad thanks to the relatively small transmission hump. There are two USB power outlets on the back of the centre console, along with a couple of air vents.
Third-row access is easy to make on the passenger side, with one-touch buttons to get the second row out of the way. Clamber in and you’ll find a space that has a little bit of leg room for adults but precious little head room. You can help that first point by sliding the second row (and its 60/40 split) forward, but the second point isn’t going anywhere. Therefore, the third row is more suited to kids and big units need not apply.
The infotainment uses a new operating system that is easy to use and has plenty of features to flick through. Although, it would be great if smartphone mirroring was able to automatically scale and use all of the screen, instead of about two-thirds. It just seems a shame that so many pixels are left redundant in an otherwise big and impressive display.
Hyundai lists between 571L and 782L of boot space for the Santa Fe, which is difficult to quantify. I’m not sure if this helps, but as a five-seater I can fit a big two-seater pram into the back without any issues, and have room left over for day bags and all of the other trinkets we carry around as a family. Deploy the third row and you get a smaller but usable space for luggage and cargo. A couple of duffle bags or a small load of groceries would fit fine.
The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe is a good representation of how quickly things move in the automotive world. This Santa Fe has been, and remains, a fine choice for those in the market. It’s got lots of interior space, smart storage, and is easy to drive and live with.
However, I can’t seem to shake this feeling that despite such a big update and plenty of improvement over the pre-facelift model, it has been overshadowed by the new Sorento.
Driving this Santa Fe, you can see the tiny little gains that carmakers get out of each new platform. It’s a bit lighter, more efficient, quieter, and more agile. It’s still a fine choice, but perhaps no longer the finest.