The refreshed model rides on a new platform and comes with significant changes inside out

Hyundai revealed the 2021 Santa Fe, which is supposed to be a facelift but features some big changes. The current-gen SUV was released in 2018 and just over two years later, the company has refreshed it.

You’d expect the standard aesthetic changes and upgrades, but for the 2021 model, Hyundai has moved the Santa Fe to a new platform altogether. The South Korean automaker has also added new colors to the palette. There are many changes in the tech department as well. Is it right to call this a mere facelift?

What Are The Changes On The Outside?

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Hyundai has swapped the cascading grille up front with a much wider and louder one. The detailing on the inside is different depending on the trim.

The headlight cluster now looks to be a part of the grille, unlike the setting from the current model where it sits in a separate housing on the bumper and looks pronounced. The daytime running lights now come in a split ‘T’ design. Two vertical parallel strokes on each side start at the top and run into the headlight cluster below with a break in between. The LEDs have an uncanny resemblance to the Tesla logo. But, the integration is fantastic and it looks pretty sharp. Even the lower part of the bumper is redesigned.

Structurally, the Santa Fe remains the same. All the cuts, creases, body panels, ribbed hood etc. remain the same.

The wheel arches on the side are slightly widened. Hyundai is offering new 20-inch wheels. No other changes are made to the side profile. Move to the rear and you’ll notice a few prominent changes. The automaker has redesigned the elements inside the taillights and it looks cleaner now. The shape is still the same, though. A slim LED bar that runs on the tailgate connects both the taillights. It replaces the chrome strip seen on the current iteration.

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe - What's New for 2021? Exterior
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The rear bumper looks fresh with a neat pattern of elements on it. The reflector blocks are now replaced with a slim bar. The skid plates have less ‘teeth’ and the exhaust pipes are now out of view. Overall, it looks clean and has a minimalistic design when compared to the model it replaces.

Is There Anything New On The Inside?

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Hyundai has redesigned the center console completely. The waterfall console now sits a lot higher, “giving the driver and front passenger the feeling of sitting in an armchair.” The Santa Fe’s eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system is now replaced by a 10.25-inch touchscreen. It loses all physical knobs and buttons. The center console now houses all the HVAC controls and a few new controls that weren’t there before (more on it later). The traditional gear lever is also dropped in favor of a push-button gear selector. Hyundai has also used soft-touch materials throughout to give a premium feel.

Are There Any Changes Mechanically?

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe - What's New for 2021? Drivetrain
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Yes, the 2021 Santa sits on a new platform altogether. The Santa Fe becomes the first seven-seater to be underpinned by the third-gen architecture that already underpins the Sonata.

It is capable of supporting electric powertrains as well. Hyundai says this platform will offer “improved performance, efficiency, and safety.” The automaker has moved all the heavy components at the bottom of the chassis for a lower center of gravity, resulting in better handling overall.

The Santa Fe’s steering arms are also relocated, and a new ventilation system is in place to improve the airflow in the engine bay. Better insulation equipment is also added to control sound and vibration.

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe - What's New for 2021? Exterior
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There is no word on the engine yet, but the Santa Fe is most likely to carry the same mills. Currently, it is available with two engine options to choose from – a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder mill that makes 185 horses and 178 pound-feet of torque, and a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder turbocharged engine that churns out 235 ponies and 260 pound-feet of torque. Power is either sent to the front wheels or all the wheels via an eight-speed automatic gearbox.

It is likely to receive a hybrid powertrain as well in the European markets. It could be the 1.6-liter, T-GDi powertrain from the Kia Sorento that makes 227 horses and 258 pound-feet of torque. The powertrain is paired with a 1.49-kWh lithium-ion polymer battery pack and a 44.2-kW electric motor. There is no word if the U.S. market will receive this mill. Hyundai has also introduced a Terrain Mode Selector to the 2021 Santa Fe. It comes with basic modes like Eco, Sport, Comfort, Smart, and terrain modes like Sand, Snow, and Mud.

2020 Hyundai Santa Fe specifications
Type Theta-II 2.4 GDI, 16-valve, DOHC, 4-cylinder in-line Theta-II 2.0 T-GDI, DOHC D-CVVT (Dual Continuously Variable ValveTiming) 4-cylinder R 2.2, 16-valve MLA, DOHC, 4-cylinder in-line
Bore & stroke (mm) 88 x 97 86 x 86 85.4 x 96
Compression ratio 11.3:1 10.0:1 16.0: 1
Displacement 2.4 liters / 2,359 cc 2.0 liters / 1,998 cc 2.2 liters
Horsepower 185 HP @ 6,000 RPM (est.) 235 HP @ 6,000 RPM 190 HP @ 3,800 RPM
Torque 178 LB-FT @ 4,000 RPM (est.) 260 LB-FT @ 1,450 3,500 RPM 322 LB-FT @ 1,750 - 2,500 RPM

Final Thoughts

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe - What's New for 2021? Exterior
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The 2021 Santa Fe comes with a whole lot of changes and for most of the parts, it’s a big improvement over its predecessor. The exterior looks sharp and a lot more modern than the current-gen, especially at the rear. The cabin looks and feels plush. The gear selector buttons are not something I’d prefer in a car and it could potentially be a deal-breaker for me. It clears up space from the center console and might even be the trend these days, but I’m not sure how many people like this. The drive-by-wire system is replacing a lot of things in vehicles these days and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.

What layout do you personally prefer – push buttons, rotary knobs, or a traditional gear lever? Let us know in the comments section below.

Sidd Dhimaan
Associate Editor and Truck Expert - sidd@topspeed.com
Sidd joined the Topspeed.com team in 2017 as an intern and in less than a year he earned a full-time position as an associate editor and junior automotive expert. He is currently our pickup truck expert and focuses his attention on heavy-duty and off-road vehicles.  Read More
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Press Release:

Hyundai Motor Unveils Design of New Santa Fe SUV, the Ultimate Family Adventure Vehicle
Redesigned SUV emphasizes bold and majestic styling, family-focused features and a classy new interior

• Makes a unique statement in the SUV segment, combining a rugged stance with distinctive wide grille and integrated T-shaped DRLs. New interior

provides a premium experience with more space, comfort and convenience features

• New paint colors and an array of interior color combinations offer customers plenty of choices

SEOUL, June 3, 2020 – Hyundai Motor Company today unveiled the design of its upcoming New Santa Fe, showcasing charismatic styling and value-added features that make the SUV the ultimate family adventure vehicle.

Developed to offer a premium experience while meeting the complete needs of an entire family, the redesigned fourth-generation Santa Fe goes beyond a mere facelift. A fresh look and feel along with new features can be seen from all sides of the car as well as the interior.

“We modernized the New Santa Fe with premium features and appealing aesthetics that are sure to add value,” said SangYup Lee, Senior Vice President and head of Global Design Center. “The bold lines that extend from one side to the other and from front to back give Santa Fe a rugged yet refined look that SUV customers want. Besides, we’ve added numerous features and functions to create a truly family-focused SUV that is a pleasure to drive.”

The New Santa Fe’s front section is defined by the wide grille that extends across the entire width of the vehicle. The clamped shape of the lower air intake harmoniously extends the horizontal line to accentuate the vehicle’s wide and well-balanced stance.

The grille, with its signature geometric patterned inlay, also integrates the headlamps, a signature style found on many Hyundai cars. The eye-catching LED Daytime Running Lights (DRL) start at the top of the grille and cut through it to create unique T-shapes at each corner when lit.

Each side section of the New Santa Fe is characterized by a seamless line that connects the DRL to the taillights, giving the car a sensuously sporty look. The increased width on wheel arches accentuate the SUV’s rugged and powerful character, which is also emphasized by 20-inch wheels.

The New Santa Fe’s redesigned taillights are connected across the rear hatch by a slim illuminated bar that complements the horizontal design theme on the front and sides of the vehicle. The theme is once again expressed by the wide rear reflector and skid plate, creating a unique three-layer look.

The New Santa Fe’s redesigned interior now provides more space, comfort, and convenience compared to the previous model. It takes the car to a new level of luxury with every component finished in premium soft-touch materials. The center console sits high, giving the driver and front passenger the feeling of sitting in an armchair.

The buttons are all centered for intuitive and ergonomic use. In the middle of the redesigned center console sits gear shift buttons along with other functions that are used often. The shift-by-wire system allowed the designers to put buttons instead of the conventional shift knob.

For the first time, the new Santa Fe comes with a Terrain Mode selector: a control knob located in the center console to conveniently switch between different drive modes, optimising performance and HTRAC® All-Wheel-Drive (AWD) settings for a variety of driving situations. This feature includes unique modes for sand, snow and mud, as well as eco, sport, comfort and smart modes, the last of which automatically recognises the driving style and selects a mode so the driver does not have to.

The new center console’s layout freed up space for more storage in the redesigned lower dashboard. The console also accommodates a new 10.25-inch AVN(audio, video, navigation) touchscreen display with pre-loaded maps, satellite-based voice guided navigation, rear camera display, and complete in-car entertainment and connectivity features.

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Press release

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