2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander Diesel AWD Review
Price & Specs8.5
Interior & Practicality9
Performance & Economy8
Ride & Handling9
Running Costs & Warranty8.5
What we like:
  • Lush interior with great quality
  • Torquey diesel enigne
  • Good value in the SUV market
What we don't like:
  • Some equipment missing
  • Curtain airbags don't cover the third row
  • Um...
8.6DiscoverAuto Rating

Previously the brand’s largest SUV before the arrival of the larger Palisade, the Hyundai Santa Fe was one of the more popular SUV’s on the market offering seven-seats and relative luxury to the masses. SUV sales of late have skyrocketed with buyers scratching the itch to sit higher off the ground and have more interior space. The new Santa Fe seems to offer everything the seven-seat SUV buyer is looking for, a high driving position, plenty of interior space, a good amount of safety features and new technology. We tested the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander Diesel AWD to see if it can come out on top of the SUV boom.

Hyundai facelifted the Santa Fe for the 2021 model year. It added a new look, more technology, more leather options and some more safety features to the already tech-filled SUV. But is it enough to take on the Mazda CX-9, Skoda Kodiaq, Kia Sorento and the Toyota Kluger?

Price & Specs: 8.5/10

The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe range kicks off with the entry level model dubbed ‘Santa Fe’ at $44,700 plus on-road costs (just above$49,000 drive away) with the front-wheel drive 3.5-litre V6 – the 2.2-litre diesel engine that also features all-wheel drive starts at $48,200. Our test was the top-spec 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander with the diesel engine, which is priced at $65,200 plus on-road costs (around $70,600 drive away).

Rivalling the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander are the $68,864 Toyota Kluger Grande, the $66,190 Mazda CX-9 Azami, the $64,290 Kia Sorento GT-Line and the $65,990 Skoda Kodiaq RS. In this bunch the Santa Fe comes out as the second cheapest, only beaten by its mechanical cousin the Kia Sorento. All these cars have relatively close specification levels as well – the Skoda is the sportiest of the group, while the CX-9 is largest and the Kluger offers an efficient hybrid AWD option as well.

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander

Being the top of the range model, the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander comes with every piece of equipment offered on the Santa Fe range. This includes 20-inch alloy wheels with a full-sized alloy spare wheel, a 10.25-inch colour touchscreen with wired Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, a satellite navigation, digital radio, live traffic alert, a 12.3-inch digital driver’s display, a 10-speaker Harmon Kardon audio system, heated, cooled and electric front seats with driver’s memory functionality, Nappa leather upholstery, heated and auto-folding exterior mirrors, a heated steering wheel, automatic LED headlights, LED tail lights, a heads-up display, drive mode selection, terrain response control, a power tailgate, rain-sensing wipers, keyless entry with push button start, wireless smartphone charging, dual-zone climate control, a panoramic glass sunroof and ambient lighting.

Just to make the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander even more appealing there is also the full suite of Hyundai safety systems on offer. There is automatic high beam, front and rear parking sensors with a 360-degree camera, low and high speed autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control with stop and go functionality, rear auto braking, forward collision warning, blind-spot monitoring with a blind-spot camera and rear cross-traffic alert, hill descent control, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, driver fatigue detection, an alarm, six airbags and a five-star ANCAP safety rating. There really isn’t much that the Santa Fe Highlander doesn’t have, though the curtain airbags don’t cover the third row of seating, which is disappointing.

While the Santa Fe is an all round very well equipped package to make it a more complete product we would like to see the addition of tri-zone climate control, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and front-cross traffic alert. The Skoda Kodiaq RS comes with all of these features – minus the front cross traffic alert.

The two standard colours for the Santa Fe are ‘Lagoon Blue’ and ‘Glacier White’. Metallic paint colour options such as ‘Abyss Black’, ‘Phantom Black’, ‘Taiga Brown’, ‘Rain Forest’, ‘Typhoon Silver’ and our test car’s ‘Magnetic Force’ come at an additional $695 cost. Black upholstery is standard but some colours also offer the option of an attractive tan colour, which costs an additional $295.

Performance & Economy: 8/10

The standard engine offered in the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander is a 3.5-litre V6 engine that produces 200kW of power and 331Nm of torque. The V6 is silky smooth but that is where the positives stop. Unfortunately to get the power out of the V6 you have to rev it out which therefor makes the fuel consumption climb, and climb it does. The peak power for the V6 engine comes in at at 6,400rpm and peak torque is at 5,000rpm, which is just too high for normal driving. The engine is also old, and its 244g/km combined emissions are quite high as well, making the all-wheel drive diesel worth every cent of the initial outlay.

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander

The engine fitted to our test car is the 2.2-litre turbo diesel four cylinder, which comes at a $3,500 additional cost, but is well worth it as we said in our CX-9 vs Santa Fe comparison. The diesel engine produces 148kW of power at 3,800rpm and 440Nm of torque between 1,750 and 2,750rpm. While this is 53kW less power than the V6, it is also has 109 more Nm of torque, which is important in a large family SUV.

The diesel engine is paired with an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission in the Santa Fe, while the V6 is paired with an eight-speed torque converter automatic gearbox. While both options are great, we ultimately prefer the dual-clutch offering with the diesel. It is one of the better dual-clutch transmissions we have experienced as there is very little of the jerky nature that comes with typical dual-clutch autos and once on the move, it is smooth and intuitive.

Comparing the Hyundais diesel engine to rivals is quite interesting. The Kia Sorento has the exact same engine and transmission options as the Santa Fe. The Skoda Kodiaq RS has a 2.0-litre twin turbo diesel four-cylinder engine that produces 176kW of power and 500Nm of torque, which is 28kW more power than the Santa Fe and 60Nm more torque. The Mazda CX-9 Azami uses a 2.5-litre turbocharged petrol four-cylinder engine that produces 170kW of power and 420Nm of torque – 22kW more power but also 20Nm less than the Santa Fe. The new Toyota Kluger Hybrid comes with a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine paired with an electric motor with a combined output of 184kW of power, the petrol engine produces 270Nm of torque and the electric engine produces 121Nm.

Another reason to choose the turbo diesel engine over the V6 is fuel economy. The claimed average fuel consumption figure of the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander diesel is 6.1L/100km, which is exceptional for a large SUV. The Skoda Kodiaq RS’s average fuel consumption is only 0.1L/100km behind the Santa Fe diesel (though it does produce more power and torque). The only competitor that is more fuel efficient than the Santa Fe diesel is the Toyota Kluger hybrid, which has a claimed fuel consumption of 5.6L/100km.

New for the facelifted 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander is the function to remotely start the car to get the cabin cool or warm before you get in. There is also a function on the key to move the Santa Fe either forwards or backwards out of a parking spot or out of the garage without being in the car – the Sorento also features this tech.

Ride & Handling: 9/10

Hyundai tailors the Santa Fe’s suspension to suit our roads and while it may seem trivial, it make a difference. The suspension does wonders at keeping Sydney roads at bay – you barely feel the potholes and speed humps on the road. In our opinion it is one of the best riding of the seven-seat SUV’s currently on the market under $80,000. The CX-9 does feels a little harsher and the sportier Kodiaq RS is firmer too.

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander

For a large seven-seat SUV, the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander handles well as there is very little body roll and when in sport mode the transmission will hold gears while cornering so it doesn’t upset the balance when cornering at speed. The steering is quick and well-weighted – unlike the heavy system in the CX-9 – and it strikes a nice balance between ride and handling, as do most Australian-tuned Hyundai and Kia products.

The active safety features in the Santa Fe work well. Everything works behind the scenes to make driving a safer experience and to protect everyone on board. The only gripe we have which is typical of most Hyundai products is that the lane departure warning is a little on the sensitive side and makes a quite annoying noise when it activates.

Interior & Practicality: 9/10

Practical is a word that sums up the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander’s interior very well. While the interior is very practical it is also well laid out and attractive too. The design is quite nice, especially with the curved portion atop the dash that leads down into the door panels. The quality is great as well, with lots of soft touch materials and soft Nappa leather upholstery making the Santa Fe feel very premium – not quite to the standard of the CX-9, but not far.

The seats of the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander are very comfortable and offer quite a good amount of support. They are heated and cooled with the two front seats offering electric adjustment. For the Highlander model of the Santa Fe range, you can choose the colour of the Nappa leather (which is fantastic quality) out of the standard black leather or a caramel tan leather option. There is also a suede headlining which makes the cabin feel decidedly more premium.

The centre console design of the Santa Fe is interesting and offers a lot of functionality. Underneath the infotainment shortcuts and climate control settings is the drive mode selector, which also doubles as the terrain mode response controller. To the right of that is the gear selector, gone is the traditional lever style gear knob as the Santa Fe now uses buttons to control the gears. There is a button for Park, Neutral, Reverse and Drive, with the paddles behind the steering wheel being used to select individual gears if you desire. While it is unconventional, we did get used to this with our time in the Santa Fe.

The centre screen offered in the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander is a 10.25-inch unit that sits atop the dash. The screen itself offers a good resolution and the screen quality is great – it’s much better than the screen offered in the Toyota Kluger. The navigation is easy to set and the maps look great, although it is easier to just connect Apple CarPlay or Android Auto and use the maps on your phone. The reversing camera is also of fantastic quality and the 360-degree camera is very handy.

The second row of seating in the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander has a plethora of features, but unfortunately it does miss out on its own set of climate control. What it does have, however, are rear outboard heated seats, sun shades for each of the rear doors, rear air vents, a centre armrest with cup holders and two USB-A charging ports. The rear seats are also manually adjustable. The third row of seating is surprisingly not too bad with its own fan speed control, air vents, and two USB-A charging ports. There isn’t as much leg and knee room in the third row as there is in the Mazda CX-9, but that is to be expected as that is a bigger car. The third row room is about on par with what you see in a Kia Sorento or Skoda Kodiaq – not huge, but more than enough for smaller kids.

For the 2021 model year, Hyundai gave the Santa Fe a little more boot space, with all seats in place the boot can handle 130-litres of cargo space and folding them increases that to 571L. Folding the second row down increases this space dramatically, although Hyundai do not say how big this space is – we’d say over 2,000L in total.

Service & Warranty: 8.5/10

Hyundai offers a five-year unlimited/kilometre warranty with the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander, which is the same warranty that is offered by Skoda and Toyota. Kia, however, offers a seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty with the Sorento. The Hyundai also comes with 12 months of roadside assistance, which is extended by a further 12 months at every scheduled service for up to five years.

For the first five years, each service for the diesel Santa Fe costs $459 with the same 12 month/15,000km intervals as the Kodiaq, Kluger and Sorento – and longer than the Mazda’s 10,000km intervals. The five-year/75,000km service cost for the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander is $2,295. A Kodiaq RS costs $347 more over the same time period, although Skoda offers a $1,700 service pack at the time of purchase for the same time length and that includes roadside assistance. The mechanically identical Kia Sorento costs $2,393 over five-years/75,000km, which is curiously $98 more than the Santa Fe.

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander DiscoverAuto Rating: 8.6/10

The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander has a large boot, good fuel consumption, an interesting and high quality interior and is backed by a decent warranty. What else does one need in a seven-seat SUV? As far as drivability is concerned, we think that the Santa Fe is one of the best driving SUVs available as it isn’t as bulky as the Mazda CX-9, nor as firm as the Skoda Kodiaq RS.

Out of the current selection of large SUVs, would we choose the Hyundai Santa Fe? It would certainly make the shortlist. It all comes down to what you’re looking to get out of an SUV. If you want a sporty SUV you buy the Kodiaq RS. If you want one to fit as much as possible you buy the Mazda CX-9, if you want a stylish SUV then you buy the Kia Sorento. But if you want a mixture of all these things, buy the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander as we think it offers the greatest mix of all-round ability in the large SUV.

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