2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Getting Facelift, New Powertrains

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Hyundai has sent the Santa Fe in for surgery for the 2021 model year, but there was little reason for us to worry about a botched facelift. With the notable exception of the mildly polarizing Elantra refresh from 2019, the brand has been on an extended roll with its refreshes. They’ve come often, typically bringing a model into the brand’s current design language without diluting the visual characteristics underpinning its own individuality. Considering most automakers can’t help but drop a steaming dud onto the carpet at least once every couple of years, we think Hyundai should be praised just for screwing things up so infrequently.

That said, the Santa Fe update goes quite a bit further than simply not ruining anything. The family-focused crossover is getting some meaningful tech upgrades, improved interior options, a whole new platform (despite this being a “refresh”) and a selection of new powertrains. A SmartStream 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine replaces the base 2.4-liter from the outgoing model and doesn’t offer much additional performance at just 191 horsepower and 182 lb-ft of torque (estimated). But Hyundai says customers should notice a bump in fuel economy as the motor doesn’t have to work quite so hard in its daily duties. Those wanting more might enjoy the turbocharged variant — which features a new eight-speed, dual-clutch transmission and 277 horsepower/311 lb-ft of torque (estimated) — or the brand’s soon-to-follow hybrid option.

Whereas the gasoline-driven models should be available before 2020 comes to a close with a choice between front and all-wheel drive, the hybrid option only comes in the latter flavor. Customers can expect a Smartstream 1.6-liter, direct-injected, turbocharged four-cylinder engine coupled with a new HEV-tuned six-speed automatic transmission Hyundai has optimized for efficiency. The engine is said to produce 178 horsepower by its lonesome, resulting in a combined (but still estimated) 225 horsepower with peak torque somewhere around 195 lb-ft.

While every motor in the 2021 Santa Fe’s quiver now comes with idle, stop and go to help save fuel, it’s the hybrid option targeting the largest savings. It comes with a 13kW starter-generator and an electric drive motor rated for 44kW powered by a small 1.5kWh (270V/5.5 Ah) battery pack with a maximum output of 64kW. Since the vehicles have yet to be tested/certificated by the EPA, we’ve no clue what that means for fuel economy. Hyundai says everyone should be ready to be impressed, however.

On the safety side of things, the crossover gets a slew of advanced driver assistance features — including Lane Following with Assist, Parking Collision-Avoidance Assist, and Highway Drive Assist. The Santa Fe’s adaptive cruise control system has likewise been updated to utilize the GPS network while its Forward Collision Avoidance-Assist (with Pedestrian Detection) has been modified to better identify cyclists and identify hazards at junctions. But we’ve never been all that confident when it comes to driving nannies and think the interior upgrades will ultimately be the things offering drivers peace of mind.

While the nicest items come via the new range-topping Calligraphy trim, all trims now come with a larger 10.25-inch touchscreen navigation system that can now facilitate both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Wireless device charging has also been added, along with voice commands that we doubt anybody is going to use for anything more important than asking the car about the weekend forecast. Customers can similarly option the brand’s new roof rails, power-folding side mirrors with turn-signal indicators, and puddle lamps to complement the new exterior and a deluge of wheel designs on offer.

Of course, those going with the nearly premium Calligraphy trim get all that and then some. Pretty much anything on the Santa Fe that can be changed has its own unique Calligraphy version. The model also comes with the 2.5-liter turbo by default, adding HTRAC all-wheel drive (with downhill brake control), 20-inch alloy wheels, quilted Nappa leather upholstery, eco-suede headliner, a head-up display, premium grille, premium accenting (both inside and out), and additional ambient lighting themes.

Hyundai said more details (including pricing) will be made available closer to launch. Fortunately, the internal-combustion versions of the new Santa Fe are supposed to hit dealerships before the end of this year — giving us an extremely short wait. Meanwhile, the Santa Fe Hybrid is expected in the first quarter of 2021 with a plug-in variant hot on its heels.

[Images: Hyundai]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Tankinbeans Tankinbeans on Oct 14, 2020

    Oh, look! A giant meat mallet. There's a word for that grille. Garish.

  • Ponchoman49 Ponchoman49 on Oct 15, 2020

    Amazing how Hyundai can slip in all new engines and hybrid options on a 2019 based platform but GM not only pushes back the Equinox/Terrain refresh using Covid as an all too convenient excuse but also drops the 252 HP 2.0T engine from the lineup leaving the weak sauce 170 HP 1.5T as the only engine even in the highest trim levels for 2021! Just goes to show who is trying and who is doing barely good enough these days.

  • Ronin The very asking of the question "Are Plug-In Hybrids the Future?" is an interesting one. Because just 2 or 3 years ago we'd be asking- no, asserting- that E cars are the future. We're no longer asking that question.
  • Peter Benn There apparently were some K-code 4-dr sedan Fairlanes. Collectible Automobile Apr 2024 has found a '63 500 with HD 3/spd.
  • Mia Hey there!I recently stumbled upon the Crack Eraser DIY Windshield Repair Kit (check it out here: https://crackeraser.com/collections/diy-windshield-repair-kits) and decided to give it a shot on a small chip in my windshield. I have to say, it worked like a charm! Super easy to use, and it saved me a trip to the professionals. If you're dealing with a similar issue, this kit is definitely worth considering. 😊
  • Rust-MyEnemy Whoa, what the hell is wrong with Jalop1991 and his condescension? It's as if he's employed by Big Plug-In or something."I've seen plenty of your types on the forums....."Dunno what that means, but I'm not dead keen on being regarded as "A type" by a complete stranger"" I'm guessing you've never actually calculated by hand the miles you've driven against the quantity of gas used--which is your actual miles per gallon."Guess again. Why the hell would you even say that? Yes, I worked it out. Fill-to-fill, based on gas station receipts. And it showed me that a Vauxhall Astra PHEV, starting out with a fully charged PHEV battery, in Hybrid mode, on my long (234-mile) daily motorway daily commute, never, over several months, ever matched or beat the economy of the regular hybrid Honda Civic that I ran for a similar amount of time (circa 5000 miles)."You don't use gasoline at all for 30-40 miles as you use exclusively battery power, then your vehicle is a pure hybrid. Over 234 miles, you will have used whatever gas the engine used for 200 of those miles."At least you're right on that. In hybrid mode, though, the Astra was using battery power when it wasn't at all appropriate. The petrol engine very rarely chimed in when battery power was on tap, and as a result, the EV-mode range quickly disappeared. The regular hybrid Civic, though, deployed its very small electric reserves (which are used up quickly but restore themselves promptly), much more wisely. Such as when on a trailing throttle or on a downward grade, or when in stop-start traffic. As a result, at the end of my 234 miles, the Civic had used less gas than the Astra. Moreover, I hadn't had to pay for the electricity in its battery.I look forward to you arguing that what actually happened isn't what actually happened, but I was there and you were not."Regardless, that you don't understand it appears not to have stopped you from pontificating on it. Please, do us all a favor--don't vote."You really are quite unpleasant, aren't you. But thanks for the advice.
  • Tassos Jong-iL Electric vehicles are mandated by 2020 in One Korea. We are ahead of the time.