2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy Review
Updated June 21 at 10:07 a.m. CDT
Time flies. Hyundai’s Santa Fe SUV proves it.
Santa Fe debuted 20 years ago as the South Korean automaker’s mid-size SUV. It was nothing special, just economical and reliable. Reminds me of how Toyota, Honda and Nissan started out in this country, except with small cars, not utes.
Now in its fourth generation the Santa Fe has grown some, matured if you will. The awkward looking SUV has turned into a handsome youngster with a more muscular profile, snazzy features, a fair amount of sex appeal starting with its T-shaped headlights, reminiscent of Volvo’s sporty “Thor’s Hammer” headlights.
But don’t think knockoff. Nope, Hyundai’s designers are always pushing the styling envelope and this latest tailoring job with its bolder nose, longer more defined hood, LED taillights and those LED T-lights is another excellent example. Visually, Santa Fe looks new and leading edge.
Pricing remains impressive, all the way from a front-drive SE for $28,185 up to the tested blue blood Calligraphy model, its top-ender with a starting price of $43,275, and $43,730 as it sat glowing in my driveway swathed in sparkling Quartz White, just $300 extra. AWD is available on the seven trims and standard on some, such as the Blue Hybrid and the Calligraphy, naturally.
For 2021, Hyundai ditched its old engines and goes with two new ones, plus offers a hybrid and soon a plug-in hybrid. The base engine is a 191-horse 2.5-liter I4. That’s 6 more horses than the old one. While the upscale 2.5-liter I4 turbo found in Calligraphy belts out 277 horses and touts a 311-torque rating. Car and Driver magazine says the Santa Fe with this engine will do 0 to 60 mph in 6.0 seconds with a top speed of 130 mph, not bad for a large mid-size ute.
The power is strong, making highway merges simple. I tested this on a roundtrip to Indianapolis on Indy 500 weekend and felt the highway drive akin to qualifying for the race. Few of my highway counterparts were cruising at less than 80 mph. The Santa Fe was up to the challenge and remained surprisingly quiet inside.
You can thank Hyundai for using more acoustical glass to blunt exterior noise, better undercarriage coverings to cut wind noise and increase fuel efficiency, and more sound deadening materials in the firewall and floor. The result is luxury level quiet.
There’s a smoothness to the Santa Fe too that you might not have witnessed in the past, or expected in the present. A slick 8-speed automatic transmission helps deliver power in a silky fashion, although on startup there seems to be a little lag for the first half-mile or so.
Hyundai includes a big dial on its console that blends with a center stack to engage various drive modes. Comfort is best around town and Sport for the freeway, at least when merging onto it. Snow and Smart modes also are available.
I was happy with the Comfort setting as the ride was smooth and comfy with moderate steering effort. Sport firmed things up a bit, but not drastically. Yet it made acceleration much kickier.
Braking is solid too with 13.6-inch vented discs up front and 12-inchers in the rear. Plus remember the Calligraphy comes with AWD, a boon in sloppy weather and in case you want to trundle off-road a bit or when towing a boat or small camper. Ground clearance is 8.2 inches.
Tires are 19-inch Continentals for now, but 20-inchers will be available on Santa Fes soon for those who subscribe to the bigger-is-better theory of traction.
Inside? Well, on Calligraphy models you’ll be coddled a bit with quilted leather seats that are soft to the touch and look fantastic. The test model’s were a caramel brown with black trim and the dash black over brown, as are door panels. The leather adorned steering wheel is black and a mesh-like metal trims the dash while satin chrome trims air ducts, doors, door releases, and buttons. It’s a high-end look.
I love the button and toggle laden console/center stack design because it’s obvious where all the functions are located, no confusing screen with layers of functions buried inside. Temperature controls are toggles too, so are easy to tap up or down. The transmission is push-button too, and also on the console, but I’m not a big fan, especially with the Park button off to one side.
Info screen visibility is good. An 8-inch screen is standard, but the 10.3-inch model comes on Calligraphy and is optional for other trims. Functionality is simple.
Cool too that the 12.3-inch instrument panel screen changes its appearance depending on the drive mode selected and features Hyundai’s helpful safety feature that I call turn-signal cameras. Flip the turn signal to go right and a round camera image of the right side from your car’s tail on back appears. Same with the left turn signal, the images appearing on the appropriate side of your instrument panel. Bravo!
I’m not sure how many of us need a head-up display, but this one is standard and is color, so puts the speed limit and your current speed in red and green.
Front seats are powered and include a button to extend the lower driver’s seat cushion, an aid for long-legged drivers. A power lumbar control is offered too. Around town I was perfectly comfy in these seats, but for a longer drive I feel the bottom cushions need more snug hip support. I found my tailbone burning after 100 miles. Jamming my wallet under my right hip helped some, but that seems like something a driver shouldn’t have to do to avoid leg and hip fatigue.
Others had no butt issues and riders found the rear seat roomy enough for three adults, plus the outer rear seats are heated. The front seats are both heated and cooled, and Calligraphy adds a heated steering wheel.
Other features are plentiful. Inside is a snazzy Harman Kardon premium sound system, a panoramic sunroof, power hatch and wireless phone charger where you insert the phone vertically right by the cup holders. Nice fit, but I forgot my phone regularly. I prefer a tray where you can lay a phone and still see it.
There also are manual sunscreens for the rear seat’s side windows and a huge storage area behind the second row seats, including large bins under the floor. Hyundai claims 36.4 cubic feet of space and that’s believable. Put the rear seats down and that expands to 72 cu.ft. That’s better than even some larger SUVs.
Hyundai’s safety lineup is stout on the Calligraphy with semi-autonomous drive modes that keep the car in its lane, even on turns. This worked really well on the highway, but insisted the driver keep his or her hands at 10 and 2 or 9 and 3 on the wheel. I rested mine near the bottom of the wheel on a long straight stretch of Hoosier highway and the instrument panel got mad, saying I should hold the wheel. I was. Also it lit up once when I was holding the wheel with just one hand.
Better safe than sorry I suppose.
Blind-spot, forward-collision avoidance, high-beam assist, rear cross-traffic assist and braking, smart cruise control, and a 360-degree camera are standard.
One sort of safety system that wasn’t intuitive, at least to me, was the rear door safety locks for kids. I’m used to these being near the door latch mechanisms with a tab to flip up or down. Hyundai couples the door locks with the rear-seat child window locks. You engage that and the kid can’t put the window down or get out. Might be fine for wee ones, but my 12-year-old grandson got tired of being locked in, until grandpa figured out the buttons.
On the plus side, Hyundai also offers standard wireless Apple Car Play and Android Auto on all Santa Fe models.
Likewise, fuel economy is up about 30% across the lineup. The test SUV was rated 21 mpg city and 28 mpg highway by the EPA. I got a fine 26.4 mpg in my highway drive that included some city driving at each end of the trip. We had three of us and luggage aboard.
For now, there are the two gas engine choices and a hybrid with 226 horsepower from a 1.6-liter turbo and two electric motors, plus 6-speed automatic and AWD. A plug-in hybrid model is expected late in 2021.
If the Calligraphy sounds nice, but is a bit rich for your budget, consider the second level SEL model for $29,985. It adds heated seats and mirrors, a blind-spot warning system, satellite radio and keyless entry with push-button start. The Blue hybrid model starts at $34,835 and includes AWD.
Santa Fe moves Hyundai deeper into the SUV mainstream with leading-edge design and luxury features and finish in the Calligraphy trim. Test one to see how it fits your derriere!
Overview: 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy
Hits: Sharp redesign, more powerful engine, good ride and handling, plus AWD. Cool T-shaped lights, Harman Kardon stereo, panoramic sunroof, power hatch, 10-inch screen, clear button arrangement on center stack, turn-signal activated side cameras, nice visuals on instrument cluster, heated/cooled front seats, heated wheel, heated rear seats, large cargo area w/underfloor storage, roomy interior, wireless charger, rear side window screens, and stout safety device lineup.
Misses: Lower seat cushion is hard and not as supportive as many, leading to tailbone burn on drives over 100 miles, but lower cushion will extend for tall drivers. Rear door locks are activated by rear window child-proof locks and not intuitive.
Made In: Montgomery, Ala.
Engine: 2.5-liter turbo I4, 277 hp
Transmission: 8-speed automatic w/ Shiftronic
Weight: 4,060 lbs.
Wheelbase: 108.9 in.
Length: 188.4 in.
Cargo: 36.4-72.1 cu.ft.
Tow: 3,500 lbs.
MPG: 21/28, 26.4 (tested)
Base Price: $43,275 (includes delivery)
Major Options: Quartz white paint, $300
Carpeted floor mats, $155
Test vehicle: $43,730
Editor's Note: Mark Savage's auto review column, Savage On Wheels, looks at a new vehicle every week and tells consumers what’s good, what’s not so good, and how the vehicle fits into the marketplace.