Calligraphy Trim Adds an Upscale Feel
The midsize Santa Fe has been one of Hyundai’s best-selling SUVs, so when it was time for some updates they weren’t going to just make it prettier, but also better to keep ahead of the pack. With the addition of the top-of-the-line Calligraphy trim model, Hyundai also gave the 2021 Santa Fe more power, two new engines and improved fuel economy.
Big upgrades for this year
Clean Fleet Report drove the all-wheel drive 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy with the turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. Running on unleaded regular, this 277 horsepower (hp) and 311 pound-feet of torque (lb.-ft.) engine is standard on the Santa Fe Limited and Calligraphy models. All four wheels are driven through a wet eight-speed dual clutch automatic transmission (DCT) with a manual shift mode, paddle shifters and driver-selectable drive modes of Smart, Comfort, Snow and Sport.
The “wet” part of the Santa Fe’s DCT means it uses oil to improve lubrication and cooling. A “dry” DCT does not use oil, but is the more fuel efficient of the two types. Regardless, a DCT is the most efficient automatic transmission you can get. Note: For our purposes here, a continuously variable transmission (CVT) does not have gears, so is not part of this comparison. ZF, a German manufacture of automatic transmissions, provided this explanation of a wet DCT.
Sportier than expected
The EPA has rated the fuel economy at 21 mpg city/28 highway/24 combined. In 198 miles of mostly freeway driving through Southern California, and aided by the Idle Stop and Go (start/stop system), we averaged 25.6 mpg. We did a bit better on a 110-mile freeway run, with the adaptive cruise control set at 65 mph, achieving 30.7 mpg. Cracking 30 mpg on the open road with a midsize AWD was a nice surprise, but it really shouldn’t be that big of deal as Clean Fleet Report feels all AWD cars, at a minimum, should get 30+ mpg on the highway.
The 2.5T has peak torque pulling through 3,500 rpms, easily negotiating highway onramps and passing big rigs. Select the Sport mode for that extra oomph. The engine was pleasantly quiet and smooth once out of the first couple of gears, as pulling away from a stop there was hesitation upon acceleration, but this quickly went away, delivering seamless power when needed. The other Santa Fe engines are the 1.6L four-cylinder Hybrid that gets up-to 36 mpg city/31 highway/34 combined, and the 2.5L non-turbo, rated at 25/28/26 mpg. A plug-in hybrid is expected to launch soon, giving buyers a wide range of choices.
Driving Experience: On the Road
The 4,076-pound Santa Fe Calligraphy AWD handled well, was easy to drive and was sportier than anticipated. The relaxed feel in-town and at highway speeds extended to maneuvering, which was solid and predictable thanks to the Hankook DynaPro 235/55 all-season tires mounted on 19-inch aluminum-alloy wheels. The responsive steering delivered taught handing with little body roll when pushed on corners. In general, the Santa Fe is a comfortable riding and handling SUV. The 2.5T has a tow rating of 3,500 pounds with trailer brakes and 1,650 pounds without.
Three engines offered (and more options coming)
Drive Mode Select helps you get the most performance from the engine, offering choices of Smart, Comfort, Snow and Sport settings. Comfort provides the best of performance and fuel efficiency, with Sport adjusting the steering effort and holds the transmission in each rev band a bit longer, sending more available torque to the wheels.
Stops were solid and consistent with a good brake pedal feel. The power-assisted braking system consists of vented front and solid rear discs, four-wheel anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution. The latter adjusts brake proportioning to compensate for added weight from passengers or cargo, and even adjusts as fuel is consumed. This is invisible and instant to the driver and passengers, making for a comfortable and controlled ride. The Santa Fe with all-wheel drive comes with towing features of downhill brake control, trailer pre-wiring and trailer sway assist.
Driving Experience: Exterior
More style on the outside
The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy stands out with a sharp-looking black chrome grille. Below are two black grilles that are separated by a contrasting silver strip, sort of a sandwich effect that looks really nice. The grille is bordered by LED head and daytime running lights that sit above operational air scoops.
The sides are smooth with a silver strip along the door bottoms, the handles, trimming the windows and roof rails. The Calligraphy gets unique 19-inch alloy wheels with a star pattern, 20-inch wheels are optional. The lightly raked roof has a power panoramic sunroof, rack rails and a body-color shark fin antenna. Clean Fleet Report’s Santa Fe was painted in a deep blue, which Hyundai calls Stormy Sea. The LED taillights have an attractive LED design–imagine the letter “T” lying on its side–that are connected by a red reflector strip.
In the rear the hands-free power lift-gate sits above the sliver lower fascia where there is a single, horizontal exhaust port. Clean Fleet Report is seeing more and more lift gates with the rear wiper hidden under the spoiler. Hyundai probably will go to this clean design in the coming years.
Driving Experience: Interior
The Santa Fe Calligraphy seats five, with black-on-black front heated and ventilated Nappa leather seats. The rear heated seats were a nice touch. The driver seat gets eight-way power and memory, while the passenger gets six-way power adjustments. The front seats were comfortable and supportive, and with the multiple power adjustments and the tilt and telescoping steering column, finding a comfortable driving position was easy. The door pockets were a bit small for large bottles, but the large and deep center console has cup holders, and there are storage areas on the dash and under the center console.
Moving upscale inside
Rear leg and head room was plenty for six-footers, with up-market touches being the reclining rear seat, second-row HVAC vents and power ports, and window shades. Oddly, there were no pockets on the back of the two front seats. Storage space behind the rear seat was good, but improves significantly when the 60/40 split-folding seat (with power release) was in the full down position. There is a dual level cargo floor and an underside storage tray.
Sliding behind the wheel reveals a 12.3-inch full-color LCD multi-information display with a curved split level dash design that elegantly connects to the front doors. The Santa Fe Calligraphy interior is a clean design, coming with a push button gear selector, top stitching on the soft and hard touch surfaces, ambient lighting, brushed aluminum trim, very cool textured speaker covers and a suede-like headliner. The deep-set analog tachometer and speedometer gauges are easy to read with white lettering on a black background. The heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel has audio and telephone controls with the paddle shifters peeking out from behind.
Operating the sound system was easy and met Clean Fleet Report’s minimum requirement for a driver-friendly system, as it had channel and volume knobs. Our Santa Fe Calligraphy came with the 10.25-inch high definition, color touchscreen with navigation and a multi-view front and rear camera system. The powerful and great-sounding 630-watt Harmon Kardon surround sound premium audio system came with an external amplifier, subwoofer and 12 speakers. SiriusXM satellite radio is included (three-month trial subscription) as is the AM/FM/CD/MP3 radio, USB ports with iPod connectivity, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Aux-in jacks and Bluetooth streaming audio with voice recognition completed the system. The Blue Link and Digital Key offer connected services, including being able to start the Santa Fe remotely. One of the best features that adds to driver safety is the full-color head-up display, which allows the driver to keep his/her eyes on the road while vital information is projected onto the windshield. Clean Fleet Report feels the head-up display should be standard on all cars.
Make sure to check out the Sounds of Nature, where you can listen to calming and soothing sounds of Snowy Village, Lively Forest, Calm Sea Waves, Rainy Day, Open Air Café and Warm Fireplace. Ahhhh.
Adding to the interior comfort and convenience were an acoustic laminated windshield and front side glass, rain-sensing wipers, wireless phone charging, push button start, dual zone automatic climate control, power windows with one-touch up/down, power door locks, power heated outside mirrors with turn indicators, carpeted floor mats, an auto dimming rearview mirror with a compass and Homelink, multiple beverage holders, 12-volt accessory outlets and a 110V power inverter.
The 2021 Santa Fe comes with a long list of safety features including six air bags, and advanced driver assist systems (ADAS), including forward collision avoidance, lane keep assist and warning, blind spot detection, back-up warning, electronic parking brake, hill start assist, surround view monitor, tire pressure monitoring system, tire mobility kit, automatic stop/start, and electronic stability control. One very cool feature is when using the right or left turn signal, a camera comes on, automatically, that shows the sides of the Santa Fe, depending on which direction is being turned.
The 2021 Santa Fe earned a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) 5-Star Overall Vehicle Score, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awarded it their Top Safety Pick. These are the highest ratings from each organization.
Pricing and Warranties
As far as we know–the first car-based fireplace
There are 10 different 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe models to choose from, ranging in base price from $28,185 to $46,545. These prices, before any optional items, depend on the engine, drive system and trim level. Clean Fleet Report’s Santa Fe Calligraphy 2.5T AWD, with $155 in options, had a MSRP of $43,440. All prices include the $1,185 freight and handling fee.
The 2021 Santa Fe comes with these warranties:
Powertrain – 10 years/100,000 mile
New Vehicle – Five years/60,000 mile
Maintenance – Three years/36,000 mile
Roadside Assistance – Five years/Unlimited mile
Anti-perforation – Seven years/Unlimited mile
Observations: 2021 Santa Fe Calligraphy 2.5T AWD
The first Santa Fe debuted in 2000 as a small SUV. Twenty years later it has grown into a very comfortable and stylish SUV that falls between small and midsize. The Calligraphy trim kicks the comfort and style up a notch. When you see the Calligraphy badge on a Hyundai SUV, you know it is the most luxurious they make.
Hyundai’s not standing still
The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe offers clean, contemporary styling and a class-up comfortable interior with convenient and desirable seating and storage flexibility. The features list is long and deep, including a full safety suite, making the Santa Fe a true value proposition. Having choices of front wheel and all-wheel drive, three engine options with one of them being a very efficient hybrid, means everyone looking for a midsize SUV will find something to fit their needs.
The Santa Fe is sized right for parking, and has a ride that is quiet and calming with respectable handling. The Santa Fe’s high safety ratings are also a plus when driving any tall vehicle, and the warranties are outstanding.
The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe should be on your shopping list.
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Story by John Faulkner. Photos by John Faulkner and Hyundai.
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Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.
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