By Derek Price
Hyundai continues to roll out products designed for buyers who want more than the basics.
The latest example: an updated Santa Fe is launching its fanciest trim level to date, called the Calligraphy.
The new, high-end package is part of a whole slew of upgrades for the Santa Fe meant to keep it competitive in a world packed with excellent crossover vehicles. Revised lighting and an updated lbody combine with new engines and more standard safety features for a thorough refresh of this popular model.
While all versions, including the base SE priced around $27,000, benefit from a new 2.5-liter engine that replaces last year’s 2.4, it’s the turbocharged version that really impresses.
Coupled to a dual-clutch automatic gearbox, the turbo four-cylinder engine makes 277 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque, putting it squarely in premium-car territory.
It’s the new Calligraphy trim, though, that makes the Santa Fe feel like a luxury car for people who want to spend the money, around $42,000.
Quilted Nappa leather, premium finishes inside and out, a suede-like headliner and classy ambient lighting work in concert to make it feel special. And because all Calligraphy models come with the turbo engine, it really does drive like something you’d expect to see at a luxury dealership.
That’s an interesting decision because Hyundai is also in the process of launching and building its separate luxury brand, Genesis, much like Toyota did with Lexus decades ago. The Santa Fe Calligraphy overlaps with the Genesis GV70, expected to be priced from $41,000 when it launches as a 2022 model. Whether the two models will cannibalize sales from one another is a legitimate debate.
Regardless of its business case, the Calligraphy speaks to the Santa Fe’s broad appeal. This is a crossover that, even in its less expensive forms, feels more upscale than many of its rivals, both in how it looks and how it performs from the driver’s seat.
The Santa Fe isn’t exactly a driver’s SUV in the vein of a Mazda CX-9, nor is it a squishy, silky highway cruiser like its big brother, the Palisade. It falls somewhere in between the two, offering a nice balance between rewarding feedback from the road and quiet isolation.
I loved the snappy, instant shifts from the dual-clutch transmission in my tester. I also loved the practical things about it: the spacious two-row cabin, generous cargo area in back, and especially Hyundai’s driver assistance features that make highway trips more pleasant.
I don’t necessarily love the gas mileage ratings, which are improved from last year but still not what you’d buy this vehicle for. It’s rated for a combined 26 mpg with the base engine and 25 with the turbo.
Fortunately, a hybrid model is available for fuel misers, delivering 36 mpg in city driving in the most efficient Blue model, according to government tests.
The Santa Fe’s greatest strength, though, may be a bit more mundane. It’s a great value for the money.
Pricing starts well under $30,000, which is rare for a roomy crossover, yet it drives and is equipped like a more expensive vehicle.
In a market overflowing with competitors, none of which are weak, bang-for-the-buck can be a great selling point.
At A Glance
What was tested? 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe 2.5T Calligraphy AWD ($42,250). Options: Carpeted floor mats ($155), mudguards ($120). Price as tested (including $1,185 destination charge): $43,710
Wheelbase: 108.9 in.
Length: 188.4 in.
Width: 74.8 in.
Height: 67.3 in.
Engine: 2.5-liter turbocharged four cylinder (277 hp, 311 ft.-lbs.)
Transmission: Eight-speed dual-clutch automatic
Fuel economy: 22 city, 28 highway
Why buy it?
It’s an all-around solid crossover with a lot of content and polish for the money. The new Calligraphy version pushes it into luxury territory.