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Hot off a style refresh, the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe looks a lot different than the outgoing model, inside and out. This vehicle slates between a compact and mid-size SUV, both in terms of its size and its price tag. Roomier than most crossovers, its price tag is a lot more affordable than what you will find slapped on to a larger SUV. Combined with its overhaul for the 2021 model year, this gives the Santa Fe an advantage over much of the competition in both the crossover and larger SUV segments.
Let's talk about the refresh before we jump into what makes each trim level on this year's line-up unique. On the Santa Fe's revised front end you will find a restyled rectangular grille that is pinched from the exterior and given vertically-oriented LED headlights. If you take a look at the rear bumper, you will find that there is a new T-shaped design for the taillights and that a horizontal light bar connects the two. Inside, you will find a bigger touchscreen display for the infotainment center and the swapping in of transmission selector buttons instead of the old paddle shifters.
There are a lot of changes to take note of underneath the hood too. This year, there is a slightly larger 2.5-L 4-cylinder engine that generates a power output of 191 hp and 182 lb-ft of torque (a boost of 6 hp and 4 lb-ft of torque from last model year's engine), and fuel economy sees a minor boost as well. The EPA estimate for a front-wheel drive (FWD) model has gone up 1 mpg combined from 25 last year to 26 mpg combined this year.
The previous year's turbo engine has been overhauled too. Now, you get a 2.5-L turbo that creates 277 hp and 311 lb-ft of torque; the old 4-cylinder turbo only generated 235 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. It is also more efficient as well, with an EPA estimate of 25 mpg combined on the FWD models, falling just 1 mpg shy of the standard engine's estimate. For a turbo with that much power, that is hardly anything to scoff at. Take note that this engine comes standard on the Santa Fe's new line-topping Calligraphy trim level, which we will talk about more in-depth in just a little bit.
Rounding out the list of changes for 2021 is the addition of a hybrid model. The hybrid comes with a turbo 1.6-L engine and hybrid components that together put forth 225 hp. All-wheel drive (AWD) is standard, as is a 6-speed automatic transmission. While no fuel economy estimates are available for it, it should fall somewhere in the 35-40 mpg combined range as an average.
So, should you buy the new Santa Fe? Should you base your decision on a particular trim level and its offerings? We will give you a run-down of the Santa Fe's five different trim levels so that you can go into your decision with some knowledge. Stick around until the end since that is where we will announce our trim level pick for the best overall deal.
Compare the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe SE vs SEL - What is the Difference?
Let us start things off by comparing the first two trim levels - the base SE and the SEL. They both come with the standard 2.5-L inline-4 cylinder engine and 8-speed automatic transmission with SHIFTRONIC technology. Both are 5-passenger vehicles with a high-strength steel uni-body construction and motor-driven power steering. They both can tow up to 2,000 pounds with trailering brakes and come with a 4-pin trailer wire connection. Also, both have 18-inch alloy wheels equipped with all-season tires.
As far as standard safety features go, both are outfitted with everything you would expect to see in a new vehicle: rear child safety locks, a LATCH child safety seat system, a tire pressure monitoring system, a button for power window lock-outs, and electronic stability control and traction control with brake assist. Also, you get a rear seat occupant alert, forward collision alert, smart cruise control with stop and go, lane keep assist, and a driver attention warning on both trims. However, the SEL adds more driver aids, such as blind spot collision avoidance, a rear cross traffic alert, and safe exit assist. Options include an Ultrasonic Rear Occupant Alert (Ultrasonic ROA), highway driving assist, and lane following assist.
A lot of features make their exteriors look alike, but there are some differences. Both vehicles have LED Daytime Running Lights (DRL), a Roof-mounted Center High-Mount Stop Light (CHMSL), automatic headlights, body-colored side mirrors, automatic headlights, rear privacy glass, solar control front glass, variable intermittent front windshield wipers, an intermittent windshield wiper/washer for the rear, a rear spoiler, and a shark-fin style roof-mounted antenna. The SEL adds roof rails, a chrome accent front grille, and heated side mirrors. Options open up for puddle lamps, LED interior lighting, LED taillights, side mirrors with LED turn-signal indicators built in, acoustic-laminated front side glass, a panoramic sunroof, a hands-free smartgate, and the Hyundai Digital Key.
These trims share some core fundamentals inside the cabin too. The SE and SEL share features like YES Essentials stain-resistant cloth seats, a 60/40-split folding rear seat that can recline and has adjustable head restraints, an underfloor storage tray, an 8-inch color touchscreen audio system including AM/FM radio, wireless smartphone app integration through Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, rear seat quiet mode, a rear-view monitor, a cloth headliner, air conditioning, an external temperature display, HVAC vents for the rear, a Bluetooth hands-free phone system and audio streaming, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, a 4.2-inch color Multi-Information Display, power windows with driver auto-down/up, and power liftgate and door locks.
To this, the SEL adds an 8-way power-adjustable driver's seat with 2-way power lumbar support, heated front seats, Blue Link Connected Car Service, 3 years of complimentary service with the Blue Link Connected Care Package, 3 years of complimentary service with the Blue Link Remote Package, 3 years of complimentary service with the Blue Link Guidance Package, HD Radio, wireless charging, one-touch auto-up/down on the power passenger window, and push button start with the proximity key. A bunch of new options open up here, including those for LED interior lighting, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror with HomeLink integrated into it, manual rear side sunshades, a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, a steering wheel wrapped in leather, dual automatic climate control, leather-appointed seating surfaces, an 8-way power-adjustable front passenger seat, and a power release for the second-row seats. There is also an optional Harman Kardon Premium Audio with a total of 12 speakers and the impressive Clari-Fi Music Restoration Technology and QuantumLogic Surround. You can also opt for an upgraded 10.25-inch infotainment system with built-in navigation and traffic flow data.
Package-wise, you can't get anything on the SE, but you can on the SEL. On the SEL, you can opt for the Convenience Package and the Premium Package. The former gives you things we've already mentioned, such as the hands-free liftgate, LED taillights, puddle lamps, auto-dimming rear-view mirror with HomeLink, and ultrasonic ROA. The Premium equips more of the creature comforts, such as the leather-appointed seats, the 10.25-inch touchscreen, and a panoramic sunroof.
Compare the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe SEL vs Limited - What is the Difference?
The Limited trim level has a starting MSRP of about $10,000 more than the SEL. The price jump might seem staggering, but there is a reason for that. It literally takes everything that is optional for the SEL and makes it standard. It also gives you a massive power upgrade by equipping the new 2.4-L turbo engine.
Yes, that's right - everything from the Convenience and Premium packages comes as standard equipment on the Limited trim level. That means you get those leather-appointed seats, the 14-speaker Harman Kardon sound system, Highway Driving Assist, and a panoramic sunroof. It also gets an upgraded melange headliner, a surround view monitor, and the blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic control.
Of course, the big difference here is the 2.50-L turbo engine, which gets 277 hp and 311 lb-ft of torque. FWD is standard, but HTRAC All Wheel Drive (AWD) does come as an option for the Limited. You also get upgraded to the 8-speed wet Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT) with SHIFTRONIC, Drive Mode Select, and Idle Stop & Go. Your max towing capacity increases to 3,500 pounds with the trailering brakes equipped and comes with Trailer Sway Control and a 7-pin trailer wire connection. The whole contraption rides atop 19-inch alloy wheels with all-season tires slapped on.
Compare the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited vs Calligraphy 2.5T AWD with 19-inch Wheels. What is the difference?
The final step up is the Calligraphy trim, which comes as either the Calligraphy 2.5T AWD with 19-inch Wheels (which we will shorten to just the Calligraphy 2.5T) and the Calligraphy. The Calligraphy 2.5T remains similar to the Limited in many ways, even retaining the same 19-inch alloy wheels. On the outside, all it does is add a few dark chrome features (to the chrome accent front grille and the satin chrome door handles).
Inside, you will see more refined luxury features. This trim gets upgraded to quilted premium Nappa leather seats, for starters. Also, a windshield type head-up display comes standard. An eco-suede microfiber headliner gets swapped in for the Limited's melange design. Th leather wrapping on the steering wheel becomes perforated. There are also power rear passenger windows with auto-down/up. On top of that, you get an expanded interior lighting display.
Compare the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy 2.5T vs Calligraphy Trim. What is the difference?
For only a few hundred dollars more than the Calligraphy 2.5T, you can get the standard Calligraphy, which comes with 20-inch alloy wheels instead of the 19-inch design from the lower trim levels. This is honestly the only difference between these to variants, so it really just depends on which wheel size you prefer. The larger wheels do involve sacrificing some ride comfort.
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Which Trim to Choose?
As you can see, the 2021 Hyundai Sante Fe has a lot to offer with its overhaul this model year. A lot of people will want to save money by going with one of the lower trim levels (the SE or the SEL), but we are actually going to go out on a branch and say that, if you can swing it, get the Limited.
We are really digging the new turbo engine option. It delivers a nice balance of power and efficiency, marking a strong upgrade over the outgoing turbo. And its towing capabilities are respectable for a vehicle in its segment. Spending more gets you a lot more on the Limited. The Calligraphy is nice, but the extra luxuries really are not that necessary. The Limited strikes the right balance all around.
• Compare the 2020 Hyundai Santa Fe Trim Levels