Product updates can be quite boring but Hyundai’s Santa Fe updates go deeper than just surface-level ornaments.
You won’t miss the surface level stuff though starting with a vastly different grille that is more in line with the larger Hyundai Pallisade SUV. The cascading grille has been lengthened further across the bodywork and it frames the dual cluster lamps that now feature a fantastic T-shaped daytime running light on either side. It brings more character to the Santa Fe and certainly brings it more in line with an SUV design that people will look at.
Further around the car you’ll note new machined alloy wheel designs in 19-inchers for the Exec spec and 20-inchers for the Elite/top spec. Hyundai has also revised the rear design to feature a pair of red strips that now run across the whole tailpiece and with slightly revised rear taillamps.
As striking as the new front design is, the bigger news is within the cabin and under the skin. While Hyundai has retained the 2,2 HTRAC turbodiesel unit, it isn’t quite the same engine as it was in the 2018 launch model. Instead Hyundai has changed a few inner workings. The cam is belt-driven now, the cylinder is no longer steel but aluminium now and there are ceramic glow plugs instead of the metal ones used before. From cooling to oil supply, the engine has had a number of componentry and design updates for an overall unit that is quieter, emits less vibrations, is more powerful and more efficient. Power is up by 3kW and torque by 4Nm. Is it all that much? Well no, but it’s better than before and that counts.
What counts more is a significantly updated transmission. The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe is now equipped with a new 8-speed dual clutch transmission instead of the torque converter from before. It’s now engaged by a new shift-by-wire system and that has allowed for a smoother ride and the freeing up of cabin space where the shifter was previously positioned.
Gone is that perpendicular centre console with a large shift lever in the middle – instead, Hyundai has developed what really is a totally new cabin layout with a floating centre console that features handy storage options and nifty tech.
It is much more premium in its layout and use now with push-button tech for most uses including a new 3-stage climate control system, ventilated and heated seats and a well-positioned central 8-inch infotainment display.
Our launch route was a popular out-of-country route around the Magaliesberg-Hekpoort loop. It features a mix of B-road driving with a number of bumpy, pothole-repaired roads and as a side, we deviated off these onto a 11km gravel section that links the R563 to the R24. As a family SUV, the Hyundai Santa Fe is certainly expected to perform with some level of capability on these sorts of roads and it did so with respectable competence. Ride quality is excellent and less cabin vibration only add to the quiet and comfortable experience.
The steering is quite vague and especially on gravel, there is a bit more delay in getting the comms from the steering to the ground itself. It’s not as focused as an X3 for example but the Santa Fe was never on test for dynamic steering so no issue from this corner.
A new feature on the Santa Fe Elite spec is a new 12,3-inch Super Vision instrument cluster that displays all driver info in a digital display. You can toggle between various settings from power delivery to trip info and more. The Super Vision display also changes graphic layout and colours as you change driving modes via the mode selector on the new centre console.
The Terrain Driving mode selector changes the engine torque maps, transmission patterns and ESC system depending on the terrain you select and I found myself flicking through each of these to discover the behavioural changes in the car. The tech isn’t new but this display and functionality is new for Hyundai and it’s a welcome addition to the car in this highly contested segment.
What is obviously missing from the Santa Fe repertoire even in the top Elite model is any form of Adaptive Cruise Control. Cruise Control is standard but any form of emergency braking, lane keeping, adapttive cruise control etc is not available. The tech is indeed available within the Hyundai stable, but it isn’t available for local derivatives of Santa Fe at all, which is a sad reality for our consumers. Strange but true.
At this price point, the Hyundai Sante Fe plays to a customer that is looking for some premium practicality but won’t scoff at cool tech either. A new party trick on the Hyundai is a keyless, touchless tailgate opening feature that works by simply standing behind the tailgate when needed. So no standing on one leg, no dancing – it simply detects the presence and location of the key and then will open the boot. The function can be switched off from the instrument cluster should you want to but it’s there.
The remote start is also a new feature that allows you to start the vehicle at the push of the button on the key fob. It will start the vehicle whilst locked and set the ambient temperature to 21 degrees so that when you enter the vehicle, the cabin is suitably cooled/warmed depending on the temps outside.
Santa Fe’s 7-seat configuration is a popular and important differentiator to many competitors in the segment. It’s for this reason in part, that Hyundai also classes the bakkie-based Everest and Fortuner as their competitors and I tend to like the Sante Fe most for this practical element. The rear seats recline, slide fore and aft and there’s now an easy one-touch function to open access to the 3rd bench from the 2nd row. It is strangely only on one side of the car.
Playing just under the R800k – R900k mark, the Sante Fe competes with traditionally premium options but it provides a spacious, comfortable, well-appointed and technologically advanced package that allows it to not just play in the space but to be well recognised within.
Its only real downfall is the lack of engine options and a lack of adaptive cruise control. Can you live with that?
The Sante Fe is available at Hyundai dealers nationwide with a 90 000km service plan and that well respected 7yr / 200 00km warranty.