By on August 4, 2021

We seem to be living in an era where appearance frequently trumps substance. Enter the Hyundai Santa Fe XRT, South Korea’s attempt to convince shoppers that modifying a vehicle to look the part is just as good as making it genuinely capable.

The XRT is the newest trim for the Santa Fe crossover and introduces some aesthetic ruggedization as a way to entice customers that fantasize about weekend blasts at the dunes but have no intention of ever going. It’s an appearance package for an otherwise capable daily driver that can already be customized to suit your needs and price range. But perhaps you’re still curious and want to know everything XRT has to offer — just in case it happens to slot into your lifestyle.

Though I would doubt it.

While the Santa Fe is a solid performer for the segment, particularly when equipped with the turbocharged 2.5-liter (281 horsepower and 311 lb-ft of torque), and just as capable in the dirt as most other crossover vehicles, the XRT doesn’t build upon any of that. Hyundai openly admits that it’s basically just the Santa Fe SEL with the base engine (191 horsepower and 181 lb-ft of torque), Convenience Package (MSRP $30,700 before taxes or fees), and some exterior embellishments that brings the asking price up to $32,300.

But you’re still left with a front-wheel-drive SUV that hasn’t been issued additional ground clearance or even gnarly tires. While all-wheel drive is available, you have to throw down another $1,700.

So what ARE you getting with the XRT? Well, the Convenience Pack comes with a hands-free tailgate and desirable tech upgrades (e.g. dual climate control, 12.3-inch LCD instrumentation, LED taillights, turn signal indicators on the mirrors, puddle lamps, sound-deadening glass) you might be included to consider. But those can just as easily be equipped to the standard SEL, pushing its overall price over the $30,000 threshold.

All you’re really getting is a unique set of lower bumper fascia moldings, front and rear skid plates, side steps, side moldings, a roof rack, 18-inch alloy wheels, and some mirror covers — most of which have been painted black to give a sense of menace. It’s a lot of plastic for $1,600 and perhaps worth it to someone that just wants to add a sense of potency to the vehicle. But your author could help but think the money could be better used elsewhere or rolled into a few payments on the Santa Fe Limited ($38,960) since it comes with everything you’d be getting with the SEL plus Convenience Package and offers the turbocharged motor.

You could similarly use the savings accrued by not buying the XRT trim to purchase the 2021 Santa Fe Hybrid. Its 1.6-liter turbocharged GDI and hybrid system comes with HTRAC all-wheel drive by default and delivers a combined 226 horsepower. The Hybrid also delivers superior fuel economy returning an EPA-certified 36 miles per gallon in the city 31 mpg on the highway. Starting at $33,650 (before taxes or fees) makes it worthy of more serious consideration.

But that’s pretty much true of any Santa Fe that isn’t the XRT. It’s a rather silly trim for an otherwise decent automobile and we’re not seeing much reason to recommended them. If you want to butch up your Hyundai without modifying its handling characteristics, attach some mud flaps. Otherwise, there are plenty of SUVs out there better suited to tackle off-road adventures than the XRT, and look the part.

[Images: Hyundai]

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