2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy Review: The Near-Luxury SUV That Hits On Most Fronts

Even the 'misses' are minor, at worst

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy
(Images: Hyundai)
√ Sharper look, upscale interiorX Steering is too light
√ Smooth and spaciousX The soft ride can occasionally get fidgety
√ QuickX No third-row seat option


The fast acceleration, upscale interior and smooth ride of the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy reminded me of a 1960s American luxury sedan. A coast-to-coast trip would probably leave a driver refreshed.

This mid-size SUV is the top-line 2021 Santa Fe, which comes in several versions, including a hybrid. I was happy to get the Calligraphy version, which has standard all-wheel drive, a premium finish front grille with an aggressive new wider design shared by all Santa Fe models, new rear bumper fascia and premium materials. There’s even automatic up-down rear windows. It also has a fast-acting sunroof that really opens up the interior.

Performance, ride and handling

Powering the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy is a new 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 277 horsepower and 311 pound/feet of torque. 0-60 comes up in 6.2 seconds, which is pretty good for an approximately 4,000-pound SUV. The engine works with a responsive eight-speed automatic transmission. Console push buttons, instead of conventional gear selectors, take a driver from the Park to the Drive position. Some prefer the physical lever, but I found the new setup handy.

A driver can choose from four driving modes: Comfort, Sport, Smart and Snow. Comfort is naturally the best for typical driving, although the ride doesn’t deteriorate much when the Santa Fe firms everything up in Sport mode. The steering is quick, but also surprisingly light in all modes. Handling is good — almost sporty — and the revamped Santa Fe is easy as ever to maneuver in tight spots. Brake pedal action is nearly ideal.

Estimated city fuel economy is about what you’d expect from a fast, rather heavy SUV. You should get around 21 MPG, but the highway figure is a more efficient 28 MPG. Considering today’s high premium gas prices, it’s nice that Hyundai only requires regular grade (87 octane) fuel.

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy

Comfort and features

The church-quiet interior of the Santa Fe Calligraphy is upscale, especially for a “mainstream” model. It’s got premium Nappa leather seating surfaces and door trim, a trim-exclusive headliner and nice seat stitching throughout. On the tech front, you get a new Harman/Kardon premium audio system with a rear-seat quiet mode, a full-color heads-up display, dual-automatic temperature control, heated and ventilated front seats, air conditioning rear air vents, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard equipment.

The new 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster display and new 10.25-inch touchscreen display are easy to use with a little practice. Small dashboard buttons for various functions are clearly marked. There’s also a heated tilt/telescopic perforated leather steering wheel and rear seats and rear side-window sun shades. However, the rear driver-side sun shade obstructs over-the-shoulder driver visibility when it’s raised.   

The Santa Fe easily seats up to five tall persons in power front and rear supportive seats. Unlike the larger Hyundai Palisade SUV, the Santa Fe has no third-row seat. But this is just as well because the Santa Fe is more nimble with, for instance, a shorter 108.9-inch wheelbase and 188.4-inch length. Those dimensions are also slightly smaller than the closely-related Kia Sorento, which does include a third row. Front and rear cupholders are handy, door pockets can handle lots of stuff and the front console covered storage bin is roomy.

There seems to be pickup-style cargo roominess when the rear seat backs are flipped down. The cargo area is good with the seat backs in an upright position, although the Santa Fe is rather tall (at 66.3 inches), so the load floor is somewhat high. The hands-free cargo hatch comes in handy when arms are loaded.

Then there’s the safety tech

This Hyundai’s safety technology includes Forward Collision Avoidance Assist with pedestrian detection, new Parking Collision Avoidance Assist, blind-spot monitoring and collision avoidance, Rear Cross-Traffic Collision Avoidance Assist, lane keep assist, driver attention warning, Smart Cruise Control with Stop and Go, lane follow assist, and the brand’s new Highway Drive Assist, which takes over steering and keeps the vehicle centered in the lane if the GPS knows its own a controlled-access freeway.

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy


Hyundai keeps upping its game, and it shows with the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy. This model includes that 2.5T engine and all-wheel-drive as well as 19-inch wheels, and lists at $43,100. That undercuts some major rivals, although my test car’s $300 Quartz White paint, $155 carpeted floor mats and freight charge upped the bottom-line price to $43,730.

TFL’s latest experience with the Santa Fe includes a comparison against the Mazda CX-5, shown below: