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2021 Hyundai Santa Fe SEL

As proof of how critical the SUV market is, automakers are making improvements to their vehicles that are sooner and more significant. Case in point, the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe. Just two years after this mid-size SUV was completely redesigned for its fourth generation, Hyundai debuted an updated version of the Santa Fe for the 2021 model year with major enhancements inside and out as well as under the hood. Some of the big news includes a plug-in hybrid model and a luxurious, range-topping Calligraphy trim level (first introduced on the three-row Palisade), but this review allowed me to check out a more volume-oriented version of the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe with the SEL  and available HTRAC all-wheel drive.

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2021 Hyundai Santa Fe SEL Exterior

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe SEL

While the overall styling update is fairly subtle, the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe is distinguishable with its wider, rectangular grille that signifies a departure from the shield-shaped grille found on all other Hyundais for most of the last decade. This Santa Fe still features Hyundai's signature split-headlight look, but the new lights are far more cohesive and reveal a stunning T-shaped daytime running light design. And speaking of stunning, this SEL tester looked great in its eye-catching Calypso Red hue with the two-tone 18-inch alloy wheels. 

In contrast to the avant-garde front-end styling that makes the 2021 Santa Fe so unmistakable, the redesigned rear end features a more traditional appearance with the turn signals and reverse lights no longer separated from the taillights. LED headlights (with automatic high beams) are now standard on all trim levels. The 2021 Santa Fe carries over the strong body creases along the belt line and asymmetrical wheel openings, but the one thing I've always appreciated from this current Santa Fe is the excellent rearward visibility afforded by the larger rear quarter windows, narrow D-pillar and a more vertical liftgate glass.

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2021 Hyundai Santa Fe SEL Interior

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe SEL

The new Santa Fe was impressive enough when it debuted in 2019, but the restyled interior of the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe looks even better thanks to a completely redesigned center stack and center console. The most significant change is the wider center console that ditches the conventional shift lever for a push-button gear selector, and there's now a rotary knob to control the various drive modes. All of the physical buttons (including volume and tuning knobs) for the audio system have been moved into the center console opening up more space for a wider infotainment screen, which now features an eight-inch display (an inch wider than the 2020 MY) in standard form and an even larger 10.25-inch screen on the higher trim levels. For the driver, a 4.2-inch digital multi-information display is now standard inside the gauge cluster, while top trim levels add even more tech with a 12.3-inch LCD gauge cluster. Overall, these changes give the 2021 Santa Fe a cleaner cabin design not to mention the added functionality like the added storage space beneath the floating center console.  

With the addition of the three-row Palisade, the Santa Fe reverts back to its two-row-only, five-passenger roots, which provides a generous amount of space for front and rear occupants alike. Even with the base cloth seats, the Santa Fe's cabin is comfortable and roomy, and the SEL trim goes a step further with standard heated front seats and an eight-way power driver's seat with adjustable lumbar support. The Santa Fe SE and SEL trims are not offered with on-board navigation, but all trim levels do come standard with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Surprisingly, the changes made for the 2021 model year provide a slight increase for cargo capacity compared to the 2020 model with up to 36.4 cubic feet behind the rear seats (including a covered, partitioned area between the wheel wells) and 72.1 cubic feet with the rear seats folded flat.

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2021 Hyundai Santa Fe SEL Powertrain

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe SEL

Across the board, the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe features all-new powertrain options courtesy of Hyundai's Smartstream family of engines, which includes a more powerful top-trim engine as well as Hybrid and Plug-In Hybrid models. The SE and SEL trim levels both come standard with the new direct-injected Smartstream 2.5-liter four-cylinder paired to a carryover eight-speed automatic transmission. With 191 horsepower and 182 lb-ft of torque, this engine is slightly more powerful than the Santa Fe's previous base engine, but it's less powerful than the turbocharged 2.0-liter engine that was standard in the 2020 Santa Fe SEL. That being said, this engine is also a bit more efficient with EPA-rated fuel economy estimates of 22 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway on this SEL AWD model. 

As I've already experienced from the latest Santa Fe, this SUV is a great choice for a family hauler. Around town, the mid-size Santa Fe is easy to drive with a quick and responsive steering input that makes it perfect for getting into tight parking spots, while highway driving is impressive with a smooth ride and a quiet cabin. While the Santa Fe is no hardcore off-roader, Hyundai's HTRAC all-wheel drive system does feature a driver-selectable locking center differential for use in muddy, sandy or rocky terrain conditions. In addition to that, the base engine delivers a max tow rating of 2,000 pounds, while the optional turbocharged engine can haul up to 3,500 pounds. 

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2021 Hyundai Santa Fe SEL Safety

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe SEL

The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe receives a 5-star overall crash rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration thanks to its abundance of safety features. All trim levels come standard with automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, full-speed adaptive cruise control, rear occupant alert, lane keeping assist and driver attention warning, while the SEL trim adds blind spot collision avoidance, rear cross traffic collision avoidance and safe exit assist. 

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2021 Hyundai Santa Fe SEL Overall

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe SEL

With the recent additions of the Nexo hydrogen fuel cell vehicle and the Ioniq 5 EV, Hyundai now boasts seven SUV nameplates in its diverse lineup, and that doesn't include the Santa Cruz SUV/pickup truck based on the Hyundai Tucson. The current-gen Santa Fe was already an excellent all-around SUV, but the updated 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe is definitely a must-see for anyone in the market for a family-friendly, mid-size SUV. As expected from Hyundai, the Santa Fe packs plenty of value with a starting MSRP of $26,850, and this SEL tester (optioned up with just AWD and carpeted floor mats) had an as-tested price of $31,680, which is significantly less than a base Honda Passport. 

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Jeffrey N. Ross | Nov 19, 2021

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe SEL Specs


4-door, 5-passenger, FWD


Turbo 2.5L I4
191 hp, 182 lb-ft
Eight-speed auto



NHTSA Rating

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AutoNation Drive Test Drive Review: ★ ★ ★ ★

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