2021 Hyundai Santa Fe is a segment contender that should be taken seriously

This photo provided by Hyundai shows the 2021 Santa Fe with new styling, upgraded available engines and a lot of equipment at an attractive price. (Drew Phillips/Courtesy of Hyundai Motor America via AP)
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This photo provided by Hyundai shows the 2021 Santa Fe with new styling, upgraded available engines and a lot of equipment at an attractive price. (Drew Phillips/Courtesy of Hyundai Motor America via AP)

Credit: Drew Phillips

Credit: Drew Phillips

It’s funny how so many people still feel like the Hyundai brand is a cheap, bargain automotive brand. They may have been the case when they first launched, but the Korean automaker has made quite a splash with their entire product line over the last 5-10 years and have even started a luxury brand (Genesis).

To be truly successful and taken seriously you must have a competitive offering the midsize SUV segment. This is one of the most lucrative and ultra-competitive segments in the industry. And Hyundai’s offering is a good one.

The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe may not be top of mind but it’s most certainly a contender. For starters it has a refreshed look. But also new for this model year is a slight increase in horsepower and performance and a bigger touchscreen for the infotainment system.

These are all just updates, not a new generation. Hyundai has worked hard to keep the Santa Fe relevant amongst stiff competition. And from what I saw in a week behind the wheel, they’ve done a great job and making it relevant and viable.

An updated front fascia is one of the noticeable differences for the 2021 Santa Fe. It also brings distinctive styling to the profile with a prototypical SUV stance and length. All in all, it’s well balanced in its dimensions being both the right length and the right height. This pays dividends inside with a great view of the road from the driver’s side, but also gives it balance in the way it handles.

Dual vertically-lined up head lights are noticeable improvements for this model year. And they really add pizzazz to the Santa Fe. As attractive and vibrant as the front end and grille is, the Santa Fe does get lost a little bit in the back end styling. It could use more exciting touches and perhaps this is an area Hyundai can focus on next for keeping this SUV modern.

If you’ve ever had a Santa Fe as a rental and judged it accordingly, that’s probably not fair for many reasons. But mostly, if you haven’t experienced the new updated 2.5-liter turbocharged engine you’re missing out. The base, non-turbo engine is indeed pedestrian and dull. But the gasoline-direct injected (GDI) 2.5-liter has more power and is noticeably better.

There is nearly 100 horsepower improvement from the base engine to the turbocharged engine. As such, my tester was peppy and handled itself well and offered up 281 horsepower. Further complimenting the performance is an optional 8-speed dual-clutch transmission. This transmission is smooth with quick shifts.

My tester had optional all-wheel drive (AWD) which improves the overall handling and performance for this SUV.

The interior of the entire Hyundai lineup, including the Santa Fe, is where they shake off any misnomer about cheapness. In fact, it’s Hyundai, not the other Asian automakers who have raised the bar in the segment with high-quality, comfortable interiors.

For 2021, this Santa Fe has soft touch materials. The top-of-the-line Calligraphy trim boasts even better touch points and teeters on the brink of refinement and luxury.

With Nappa leather seats and a perforated leather steering wheel, the Santa Fe looks elegant. Heated and cooled seats add to the refined nature. The aforementioned height and length mean the cabin boasts plenty of legroom along with a great driving angle and view of the road. Often, SUVs in this segment have some nasty blind spots, but that’s not the case with the Santa Fe, even though it’s fitted with blind spot detectors.

There’s 36.4 cubic feet of cargo room behind the second row and 72.1 cubic feet of overall space with those seats folded.

Too often in this segment, the SUV will be rated for five passengers, but really only be ideal for four passengers. That’s not the case with the Santa Fe as the second row seat even has ample shoulder room and comfortable leather-clad seats in the back.

Hyundai’s infotainment system is simple to use and has easy integration with Apple and Android phones. It’s not the most technologically-advanced system but it does everything you could ask while also being intuitive. Others (looking right at you Mazda) could learn a thing or two from Hyundai in this regard.

The top-of-the-line Calligraphy trim has a base price of $42,100. With a small charge for carpeted floor mats and a destination charge, the final MSRP of the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy was $43,440.

The all-wheel drive, five-passenger Santa Fe has an EPA rating of 21 mpg/city and 28 mpg/highway.

I’m not here to convince anyone to buy or consider any vehicle. I’m here to offer my opinion. And believe me when I say it’s time to not dismiss Hyundai as a throwaway cheap brand, but a legitimate car maker that produces vehicles that American consumers will want. Case in point: The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe.

Jimmy Dinsmore is a freelance automotive journalist. Email him at jimmydinsmore73@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @driversside

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy

  • Price/As tested price................................................ $42,100/$43,440
  • Mileage.......................................... 21 mpg/city; 28 mpg/hwy
  • Engine............................................. 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder
  • Horsepower................................. 291 hp/311 lbs./ft.
  • Transmission................................. 8-speed dual clutch automatic
  • Drive wheels................ All-wheel drive
  • Final assembly point................ Montgomery, Alabama

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