By on June 3, 2020


It seems potentially controversial front end treatments are today’s theme. After teasing its upcoming Santa Fe last week, Hyundai let it all out on Tuesday, debuting a wildly different fascia with which to temp buyers on the hunt for an “ultimate family adventure vehicle.”

If you’re not up on your corporate marketing-speak, that’s how Hyundai refers to its popular midsize crossover. Despite bowing in fourth-generation form in mid-2018, the Santa Fe rolls into 2021 with a new platform in tow, begging to be noticed — not that it already wasn’t.

Indeed, that 2019MY revamp sent Santa Fe sales soaring, earning smiles among company brass eager to see its crossover surge pay off. With this new, strategically reworked Santa Fe, buyers might be confronted with something that turns them off; however, that’s a danger that comes with any attempt at facial improvement. The past half-decade, it should be noted, was not kind to refreshed Hyundais (*cough* previous-gen Sonata and Elantra *cough*).

Stretching the full width of the vehicle’s face, the new grills is big and comes filled with geometric shapes that reflect the light in a visually striking way. And clearly the 2020 Sonata is no longer alone in the adventurous external lighting club. The Santa Fe now sports a pair of T-shaped daytime running lights that either resemble a snake’s eyes or its fangs… or both. Below it all is a fairly conventionally shaped lower air opening.


As before, a strong crease connects headlamps to tail lamps, and the wheel arches grow in size.

Out back, the Santa Fe grows new taillights that, like the grille, span the with of the vehicle via an LED light bar. I guess it’s another heckblende for Corey to gush over. Hyundai insists the “majestic” new Santa Fe is more than just a refresh, though specs on this new, “roomier” Santa Fe remain a mystery. Within the wheel wells you’ll find standard 20-inch hoops, though — something this writer takes issue with, given the terrible state of much of the continent’s pavement.

Significant changes occur inside, too, as the ’21 Santa Fe loses its traditional shift knob. In its place is a push-button array, joined by quick access to other oft-used functions. The console also rises in height, “giving the driver and front passenger the feeling of sitting in an armchair,” Hyundai claims. Elsewhere, soft-touch materials abound. Hyundai calls the cabin “classy,” which amuses this writer. More automakers should use this swaggering, mustachioed term.


Should you go for an all-wheel drive model, a new terrain mode selector arrives to bolster the vehicle’s off-road cred. Sand, snow, and mud modes are included, as are eco, sport, comfort, and smart modes.

The Santa Fe’s dash seems to ape that of its big brother, the Palisade. There, you’ll find an available 10.25-inch touchscreen.

As Hyundai didn’t make any mention of additional power, it’s assumed that the previous model’s 2.4- and turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinders carry over for 2021. When it goes on sale (likely) later this year, buyers of the Santa Fe will be greeted by new paint choices and interior color combinations.

[Images: Hyundai]

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28 Comments on “Face Time: 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Drops the Towel...”

  • avatar

    Maybe we’ve been in the COVID era for too long, but it kind of looks like it’s wearing a face mask.

    Some outlets are reporting that this thing rides on a new platform, despite resembling a face lift. Wonder what’s going on there. At any rate, you really gotta admire how committed Hyundai and Kia are to improving their vehicles. Along with Mazda, they constantly make incremental (or major) year-over-year upgrades to stay competitive.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      The Santa Fe inherited the face debuted by the Venue.

      I just noticed that this face inverts the lines of the Kia tiger grille.

      I have the pushbutton gear selector on my 19 Ioniq EV, and I really like it. It opens up the passenger compartment a bit, and the DPR arrangement is easy to get used to. Plus, no more crumb collector!

    • 0 avatar
      Steve Biro

      I’ve enjoyed most of Hyundai’s styling efforts in recent years. But this one looks a bit off to me.

      I think the front end of the current Santa Fe looks much better. And I think the Venue is hideous.

      And… standard 20-inch wheels? Okay, then it doesn’t matter what I think because this vehicle is not for me.

      • 0 avatar

        Maybe this will look better in the “flesh,” but the pre-F/L SF had the best iteration of the design language Hyundai was using for its CUVs (basically having the only front clip that was actually decent looking).

        One thing for sure, this will stand-out from the crowd.

    • 0 avatar

      My first thought was, I could grate a block of cheese for my tacos with that.

  • avatar

    My first impression of the picture is that the ’21 Santa Fe looks like I feel right after I’ve visited the dentist. That’s not to say that it’s a bad thing – I like a clean, smiling mouth. But this front end is definitely a bold statement. Have to think about it before I give a thumbs up or thumbs down.

    And while we are at it, I’m one of the rare people who actually likes/prefers the last gen Sonata (have a white 2015 Limited that I think looks timeless and classy). But I know I’m in the minority, so I don’t divulge my opinion in mixed company very often.

  • avatar

    Very Cheshire cat.

  • avatar

    I don’t dislike it. I admire Hyundai for at least trying something different.

  • avatar

    From the angle of those pics, the wheels are very unattractive.

  • avatar

    The next time you’re out driving check your rear view mirror a little more often, busy grilles are all the rage, because what’s left to do with crossover/SUVs then to offer-up a distinctive grille?

    • 0 avatar
      Steve Biro

      I get your point. But there’s distinctive… and there’s ugly. Most of these SUV grilles are offshoots of the cartoon pick-ups that have been blighting the nation’s roadways in this century.

      • 0 avatar

        Yes, but those cartoon pickup grilles say “manly”, “He-Man”, and “I-Have-a-teeny-weenie”. Automakers follow that look for SUVs so they can claim they’re trucks, with more generous CAFE rules.

  • avatar

    All this commentary on the F/L SF and aside from the platform switch, SW misses the biggest thing – the addition of hybrid and PHEV powertrains (likely will also see the 2.5T motor).

    Also, don’t get why SW claims the the dash design “apes” that of the Palisade when aside from getting a larger nav sceen, the dash design remains the same – which is quite different from what’s in the Palisade.

    Many commentators sees to like the new front clip over the current one, but not so sure about that.

    Difficult to tell based on crappy CGI images.

  • avatar


  • avatar
    Greg Hamilton

    First it was iPads on the dash, now we’ve entered the giant grill phase. Two trends worth forgetting.

    • 0 avatar

      Giant grills were a thing long before the iPad thing.

      • 0 avatar

        That’s true, but early on, big grilles covered big radiators, because flathead engines tended to overheat. By the late ’30s, grilles were tall and narrow.

        Then in the ’50s, chrome waterfall grilles just got bigger as the chrome spread all over the cars. The 1960s saw horizontal electric shaver grilles, and the ’70s and early ’80s had Mercedes grilles everywhere.

        With body-colored bumpers, grilles almost disappeared, only to later appear as tasteful ovals earlier in this century. Now we’re back to a big grille competition.

        Where we go from here is anybody’s guess, but I overheard two young guys talking. One was describing his girlfriend and mentioned “She wears a grille”. He meant she wore braces. Maybe we should prepare for a more toothy look?

  • avatar

    Swing and a miss.

    They have some nice looking vehicles, but this isn’t one of them.

  • avatar

    Bad wheels, not the worst, but bad. Horrible grill. The snake eye lights are interesting, not horrible, The rest of it’s just generic, and in some ways, that’s better than the alternative.

  • avatar


    They took the worst feature of the pre-facelift Cherokee (those horrible headlights) and stuck them on top of ponderous, dopey grill.

    Do car companies not have market tests or focus groups anymore? I mean its not multipla-levels of badness, but is this really the best they could do?

    • 0 avatar

      The Cherokee’s DRLs were derpy; much better done on the SF, plus, it was Citroen that did it 1st.

      Now, everyone from Chevy to Renault to Mitsu to Chinese brands are doing it.

  • avatar

    I’ll add another counterpoint to ever larger wheels. With each added inch of wheel diameter, the price of replacement tires goes up. 20 inch tires are dang pricey!

  • avatar

    FWIW, I forgot about it for 24 hours, then came back for a second look. I agree with most of the others – this is not an improvement. The grille looks overwrought, almost as if Hyundai is trying too hard to design something glitzy. The present grill is much better. This isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, but it would make me less likely to pull the trigger on a ’21.

  • avatar
    CKNSLS Sierra SLT

    Sales of the Palisades and the more boxy shape of the Telluride are not far apart-at all. So the grill on the Palisades isn’t an issue with buyers.

    S0-I don’t see an issue with this grill on the Santa Fe.

  • avatar

    What an unfortunate looking car.

  • avatar

    Cheese grater front end.
    Std 20″ rubber
    Push button shift system

    Answers to questions nobody was asking! Instead they should have put some of this money into upgrading to the new 2.5 engine from the Sonata with a higher torque rating and some type of improvement to the not very powerful 235 Hp 2.0T and the way the 8 speed downshifts and hesitates with this engine. A revised grille and the current headlights would have sufficed for a visual upgrade!

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