Hyundai Santa Fe (2021) Launch Review

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Hyundai has introduced the extensively enhanced 4th-generation Santa Fe to the South African market! We sampled the noticeably bolder-looking Korean 7-seater Adventure SUV at its local launch in Cape Town recently – take a look at what the updated Santa Fe has to offer... 

The Santa Fe is by no means the bestselling product in its segment (primarily because it's an upmarket unibody-based vehicle that competes with a slew of more affordable bakkie-based Adventure SUVs), but it's been around for more than 20 years! Hyundai recently applied a significant mid-lifecycle update to the Santa Fe in an effort to enhance the model’s packaging and improve its value proposition. 

Which models does it compete against? Well, the Santa Fe rivals other 7-seaters (Adventure SUVs) such as the wildly popular Toyota Fortuner, as well as the Ford Everest, Isuzu MU-X, Mitsubishi Pajero Sport and Land Rover Discovery Sport. So, in a bid to keep its contender relevant in this cut-throat segment, the Seoul-based firm has pulled out all the stops to give the Santa Fe a thorough makeover. 

Bold Styling for Santa Fe

Hyundai Santa Fe front
The expressive face of the latest Santa Fe might divide opinion but we think it has its place. 

This latest Santa Fe adopts Hyundai’s new Sensuous Sportiness design language; indeed, the most noticeable change to the 7-seater SUV is its face, which now bears a cascading grille – a hallmark of many of Hyundai's latest models, particularly of the SUV variety. It’s a bold grille, but we suspect that it’s likely to divide opinion or, to put it another way, it probably won't be to everyone’s taste. Hyundai has also reworked the design of the daytime running light clusters, which now incorporate the shape of a "T" and the front bumper has also been reshaped to complete the frontal look.  

There are 2 Santa Fe derivatives on offer: the front-wheel-drive Santa Fe Executive and the range-topping all-wheel-drive Santa Fe Elite; the former rides on 18-inch alloys, while the Elite can be shod with either 19-inch alloys (which is standard equipment), or specified with optional 20-inch wheels.

What’s the Santa Fe’s interior like? 

The interior is comfortable, spacious and well-equipped with standard features. 

Comfortable and spacious, the Santa Fe’s interior represents a marked improvement over that of the pre-facelift version. 

Apart from the 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system, which is Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatible, the Santa Fe's cockpit now features a floating centre console that provides access to features such as the premium-looking drive-by-wire transmission- and climate control buttons, as well as the drive-mode dial. A vertical wireless charging "slot" (for keeping a smartphone topped up) is also fitted.

The interior is mostly decked out in leather trim and high-end luxury appointments such as ventilated electrically adjustable front seats, a panoramic sunroof and a 12.3-inch LCD digital instrument cluster are offered exclusively on the range-topping Santa Fe Elite derivative. 

For convenience, both derivatives are equipped with a Smart Power Tailgate, as well as a Remote Start function. With the latter, a driver can use the key fob to remotely start the Santa Fe's engine and prime its climate control to 22°C before getting into the vehicle to start a journey – how very fancy, Hyundai! 

A vertical wireless smartphone charger is but one of the many nice-to-haves inside the Santa Fe. 

Buyers will appreciate that the perceived build quality of the Santa Fe's cabin is excellent and incidentally, Hyundai has improved the interior's noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) suppression, which means that the cabin is quieter and ultimately more comfortable. 

In terms of practicality, Hyundai says the load bay can accommodate 634 litres of luggage when the 3rd row of seats is folded flat, while 2nd-row passengers have more than enough legroom to stretch out on longer journeys. 

What’s the new Hyundai  Santa Fe like to drive? 

The Santa Fe's overall performance will please most buyers in this segment. 

The changes to the Santa Fe are not just cosmetic, however. The big news regarding the powertrain is that a new-generation 2.2-litre 4-cylinder turbodiesel engine delivers improved power and torque outputs and the motor is paired with a new Smartstream 8-speed wet dual-clutch transmission, the latter of which should prove to be more efficient and reliable over time.  

Outputs are now pegged at 148 kW and 441 Nm, which is 3 kW and 5 Nm more than the outgoing Santa Fe... while those are not substantial increases, any improvements are better than none! 

Out on the road, we found this new engine and transmission combination to not only deliver adequate performance in terms of acceleration and cruising ability, but also higher levels of driving engagement and responsiveness, thanks to the presence of steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles.

When left to its own devices, the transmission changes gears smoothly and unobtrusively. Meanwhile, Hyundai claims an average fuel economy figure of 7.9 L/100 km and we saw returns of around 9.5 L/100 km during our test drive, which was encouraging.

Hyundai Santa Fe drive modes
A neat drive-mode dial allows the driver to choose a suitable driving mode to suit road conditions. 

We drove both derivatives during the local launch event and while the base Executive derivative offers drive modes such as Eco, Comfort and Sport (which can be accessed using the drive dial in the centre console), the all-wheel-drive Elite derivative additionally features terrain modes such as Sand, Mud and Snow, which are useful when you need to venture off the tar. Furthermore, a Smart mode can be selected; when engaged, the Santa Fe will automatically select the appropriate driving mode based on the driving situation.

We were able to drive the Santa Fe on dirt roads too; the suspension (front MacPherson struts and rear multi-link) provided excellent driving comfort on the dirt with a confident and sure-footed demeanour. 

As far as safety is concerned, this latest Santa Fe comes well specified with a total of 6 airbags, ABS with EBD, brake assist, electronic stability control with traction control, hill start assist, downhill brake control, reverse parking collision assist, rear cross-traffic alert and blind-spot monitoring.  A reverse-view monitor is also included.


Based on our initial impressions, the latest Santa Fe represents a substantial improvement over its predecessor, with better performance and efficiency, enhanced practicality and a comprehensive standard features list that strengthens its buying proposition considerably. Also, Hyundai’s 7-year/200 000 km drivetrain warranty 5-year/150 000 vehicle warranty adds further peace of mind for prospective buyers. 

Despite the Santa Fe’s obvious strengths, it remains to be seen how the market will respond to this latest iteration because it still exists in a grey area between bakkie-based offerings and Executive SUVs. The Santa Fe is a "softer" and arguably prettier alternative to traditional Adventure SUVs and we think it deserves to be your shortlist if you are in the market for a high-specced 7-seater SUV.   

We will hopefully have the latest Hyundai Santa Fe on test soon so look out for a thorough review coming your way in the near future! 

How much does the new Hyundai Santa Fe Cost in South Africa? 

The updated Hyundai Santa Fe is sold with a 7 year / 200 000km manufacturer warranty 6 year / 90 000km service plan and there's 7 year's / 150 000km roadside assistance

Hyundai Santa Fe R2.2 Executive 8sp DCT MY21 - R769 500

Hyundai Santa Fe R2.2 Elite 8sp DCT AWD MY21 - R869 500

Further Reading

Hyundai Santa Cruz Bakkie Officially Revealed

Hyundai Staria Confirmed for South Africa

Hyundai Alcazar Expands Creta Range