Besides the Calligraphy trim, every 2021 Santa Fe gets a new interior design that makes it feel like a smaller, two-row Palisade. It has a larger, taller and more angular center console design with ample storage underneath, topped by an 8- or 10.25-inch touchscreen above a push-button gear selector. I found that the wide console cut into my leg space a bit while driving, but your legs and seating position may produce a different result. In the backseat, I had copious amounts of headroom and legroom, even though the backseat only reclines and doesn’t slide. Cargo room is also impressive thanks in part to the lack of a third row, and though Hyundai provides only a tire repair kit instead of a spare, it makes up for it by having significant underfloor storage space.
So, given the Santa Fe now looks like a Palisade on the inside, is it a two-row alternative? We’ve already discussed how the Santa Fe and Palisade’s cousins, the Kia Sorento and Telluride, step on each other’s toes, but I think the Hyundais do a better job of avoiding that problem.
For starters, the Santa Fe isn’t available with a third row. If you want to seat more than five people in a Hyundai, your only choice right now is the Palisade. And while the Santa Fe’s cargo space is nothing to sneeze at, the Palisade has it beat, both by Hyundai’s measurements and our own; Hyundai cites 45.8 cubic feet behind the Palisade’s second row to the Santa Fe’s 36.4. The Palisade also has a towing capacity advantage, maxing out at 5,000 pounds versus the Santa Fe’s 3,500 max.
Our measurements didn’t reflect as great a difference as Hyundai’s, but the Palisade still has the advantage. We developed our system to eliminate inconsistencies in the ways trunks and hatchbacks are reported, and to erase troubling differences we’ve observed between brands. Our numbers typically render specs that are lower for hatches (measured only to the top of the rear seatbacks) and higher for trunks when compared with manufacturer data. We measured the Santa Fe’s volume behind the second row at 25.3 cubic feet, roughly 1 cubic foot less than the Palisade. For comparison, we measured the same space in a 2021 Sorento at 22.1 cubic feet.
Among Hyundai’s competitors, a five-seat 2021 Toyota Venza had 15.5 cubic feet, the five-seat Toyota RAV4 Hybrid had 20.7 cubic feet, and a three-row Toyota Highlander had 24.0 cubic feet behind its second row.
One clear advantage for the Santa Fe over the Palisade is its fuel economy: The 2.5-liter turbo is rated 3 mpg combined higher than the Palisade’s naturally aspirated 3.8-liter V-6. Another is price: The Santa Fe costs more than $5,000 — sometimes $6,000 — less than a virtually identical Palisade. The Santa Fe’s 2.5 turbo is also torquier, with 49 more pounds-feet to work with in a lighter vehicle than the Palisade.
The Santa Fe may poach a Palisade sale here or there, but only among shoppers who aren’t set on having three rows of seating. The two vehicles are different enough that most shoppers won’t consider both, unlike the three-row Kias.
As of this writing, the 2021 Santa Fe has yet to be fully rated by either the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; you’ll find IIHS results here and NHTSA results here if/when testing takes place at a later date. The Santa Fe had solid child-safety seat scores in our Car Seat Check.
New safety features for 2021 include Hyundai’s hands-on semi-autonomous Highway Drive Assist, cyclist and junction-turning detection for the forward automatic emergency braking system, new rear low-speed automatic emergency braking, lane-following assist and curve-adaptive cruise control.
My favorite safety feature, however, remains a blind-spot view monitor that activates when the turn signal is engaged and displays a real-time image of what’s in either of the Santa Fe’s blind spots in one of two areas on the 12.3-inch digital instrument panel, which comes standard on the Calligraphy and Limited and is available on the SEL. The feature is incredibly useful, and I appreciate that the image is displayed on the side of the screen that corresponds to the turn indicator being used.
Pricier, but Still a Value Leader
Despite being the new highest trim of the Santa Fe, the Calligraphy still feels like a relative bargain. With 19-inch wheels, the Calligraphy is only $2,000 more than a Santa Fe Limited before options. With $300 Quartz White paint and $185 carpeted floormats, plus a destination fee of $1,175, our test vehicle came out to $43,730. That’s a solid chunk of change, and definitely a departure from the previous generation’s ability to be fully loaded for under $40,000.
That price, however, would still be the lowest as-tested price in our 2-year-old mid-size SUV comparison test. Since that time, top trims of the Nissan Murano and Honda Passport have both risen in price, while the Ford Edge costs a bit less but also comes with fewer standard features.
The last time we compared this class of vehicles, the Santa Fe narrowly won in spite of itself. With significant improvements to its optional turbocharged powertrain and an even nicer interior, the new generation of Santa Fe looks poised to sit atop the group a bit longer.
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