Is the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe a Good Car? 5 Pros and 4 Cons

Is the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe a Good Car? 5 Pros and 4 Cons

05/13/2021

The Hyundai Santa Fe came out on top of Cars.com’s intensive head-to-head comparison test of mid-size SUV competitors back in 2019 — but not by much. Now, for the 2021 model year, the Santa Fe hopes to widen its lead with big updates and much needed improvements.

Related: 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy Review: The Rich Get Richer

In addition to a welcome (if pricey) hybrid variant joining the lineup, 2021 brings to the Santa Fe an applause-worthy powertrain upgrade, a Top Safety Pick rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and just a modest increase in starting price to just over $28,000, including a destination charge.

The overhaul indeed improves some of the shortcomings that could’ve cost it our top endorsement among rivals like the Honda Passport, Nissan Murano and Chevrolet Blazer — but that’s not to say we don’t still have a few, um, notes for Hyundai on what’s still not quite do in’ it for us in the five-seat family hauler. For the full context, be sure to check out Cars.com reviewer Brian Normile comprehensive critique via the related link above. But for a rapid-fire roundup of the pros and cons, keep reading.

Here are five things we like, and four things we’re not so fond of, about the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe:

Things We Like

1. Powertrain Problems: Solved!

The new 2.5-liter turbo four-cylinder’s 281 horsepower and 311 pounds-feet of torque, increases of 20% apiece, make for both spritely acceleration from a stop and passing at highway speeds — enough to leave its former 2.0-liter self comfortably in the rearview. All that extra oomph is aided by a new eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that moves agilely through the gears both up and down.

2. Less-Palatial Palisade

If you love the Hyundai Palisade (Cars.com certainly did when it debuted in 2020) but not its nearly $34,000 base price, you may find a satisfying alternative in the Santa Fe, literally. The Santa Fe’s cabin feels like a pared-down Palisade, which — take it from the owners of a Palisade for an entire year when it was part of our fleet of long-term test cars — is a good thing. (That is, so long as the Santa Fe isn’t so similar inside that the Palisade’s upholstery-stench issue plagues the Santa Fe, too.)

3. Roomy in the Rear

The Santa Fe’s second and only other row of seating reclines only versus sliding, but you won’t find even taller riders in the rear complaining. Normile found abundant legroom and headroom back there. Meanwhile, the Santa Fe’s 36.4 cubic feet of cargo room behind the second row may be more than 25% less than that of the Palisade, but it’s still very accommodating.

4. User-Friendly Interface

An easy-to-use infotainment system is not only a convenience but a veritable safety feature, keeping the driver’s eyes and hands on the important task of, y’know … not crashing. The Santa Fe’s updated 10.25-inch multimedia touchscreen is simple and intuitive, and comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring to further aid the driver’s familiarity with the interface.

5. Blind Spots Begone! 

The blind spot view monitor activates when you hit the turn-signal stalk for both right- and left-hand maneuvers, giving you a real-time image of your would-be blind spot on the corresponding side the 12.3-inch digital instrument display. This nifty safety feature comes standard on upper trims.

More From Cars.com:

  • Shopping for a 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe? Research One, Here
  • How Much Does the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Cost?
  • How Do Car Seats Fit in a 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe?
  • 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid and 2022 Santa Fe Plug-In Hybrid Add Efficiency to Updated Santa Fe
  • 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid Puts Premium Price on Being Green

Things We Don’t

1. More Fast Than Fun

The new 2.5-liter’s output is spritely, indeed. Unfortunately, the ride and handling don’t deliver on the promise of the powertrain, making it feel like a bit of a tease. Plus, with 19-inch wheels the Santa Fe starts shimmying a bit on the highway, so “upgrading” to 20-inchers may make things shakier at speed.

2. We Don’t Take Plastic

Large expanses of hard plastic on the Santa Fe’s interior door panels undermine its more upscale aspirations — particularly when you’re dropping an extra two grand for the top trim. Its Nappa leather, faux suede and full-color head-up display are nice to be sure, but the Calligraphy isn’t quite as fancy as its name would suggest.

3. Console Crowding

The “larger, taller and more angular” new center console, as Normile describes it in his review, giveth storage space underneath — but may taketh away lateral legroom for taller drivers. Manspreaders, you’ve been warned.

4. Pay More, Plug In

Upper trim levels are available only with wired versions of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, while wireless versions are offered on the lower S and SEL trims … with the option to upgrade to wired on the latter. We’re not quite sure we get it.

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