First Drive: 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Gets New Styling and Updated Technology

The SUV's midcycle freshening brings some improvements and new powertrains

The front view of a 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe.

Over the 20 years that Hyundai has been selling the Santa Fe, the SUV has gone from being a value-oriented option that delivers a lot for the price to a class-leading model with upscale appeal that bridges the gap between compact and midsized SUVs. 

During this time Hyundai gave the third-generation Santa Fe three rows (and renamed the two-row version Santa Fe Sport), then dropped that extra third row when the fourth-generation model debuted for the 2019 model year. 

We were impressed when this generation debuted because it served as a slightly larger alternative to the leading small SUVs. We preferred the nonturbo engine and transmission to the more-expensive turbo version we bought.

More on SUVs

But now, just two years later, Hyundai has put the Santa Fe through an extensive freshening for 2021, giving it more high-tech features, a luxurious Calligraphy trim, and introducing a hybrid version. In addition to more dynamic and upscale styling that makes the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe look more like the three-row Palisade, the SUV gets new engines and a redesigned interior. It’s a lot of change after just two model years.

Most Santa Fe’s will come with the standard 2.5-liter four cylinder engine and eight-speed automatic transmission. This is the powertrain in the all-wheel-drive SEL trim that we recently bought for our test program. But later this year Hyundai will be offering a new hybrid powertrain in the Santa Fe. In order to get some experience with that, we rented a Limited trim hybrid from the automaker.

We’re finishing the process of logging break-in miles on our SEL before we put the Santa Fe through our rigorous standardized tests. Our full report will be available soon. In the meantime, CR members can read our initial thoughts about this unique vehicle.

If you haven’t signed up yet, click below and become a member to access this full article and all of our exclusive ratings and reviews for each vehicle we buy and test. Joining also gives you full access to exclusive ratings for the other products our experts evaluate in several categories, including electronics and home appliances.

Sign up for CR's Cars email newsletter to be notified when we post our latest road-test results.

What we bought: 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe SEL 2.5L AWD
Powertrain: 191-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine; eight-speed automatic transmission; all-wheel drive
MSRP: $30,350
Options: $1,800 Convenience package (rear occupant alert, 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, LED taillights, hands-free liftgate, power release 2nd-row seats, leather steering wheel, rear side window sunshades, auto-dimming rearview mirror); $3,950 Premium package (panoramic sunroof, LED interior lights, leather seats, power passenger seat, 10.25-inch navigation system, highway drive assist, premium audio system); $155 carpeted floor mats; $190 cargo cover
Destination fee: $1,175
Total cost: $37,620

What we rented: 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid Limited
Powertrain: 178-hp, 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder hybrid; six-speed automatic transmission; all-wheel drive

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe rear three-quarters view
112
SUVs Tested
Access Ratings