The Santa Fe is Hyundai’s long running large SUV which now has a larger sibling, the Palisade.
But this has allowed some twisting and tweaking of the stalwart within the Hyundai stables.
New bumpers, lights and grille freshen the look of the updated Santa Fe, especially from the front, while the maximum tow capacity has improved half a tonne, to 2500kg.
There are still four trim levels to choose from, starting from $44,700 plus on-roads for the front-drive V6 base model.
An extra $3500 adds an all-wheel drive diesel, with minor price rises across the line-up.
The base car misses out on a redesigned interior, with a larger 8.0-inch touchscreen its biggest point of difference from its predecessor.
Riding on 17-inch alloy wheels, it now gets wireless phone charging and an auto braking system for intersections.
With Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, auto braking, blind spot warning and ventilation to all three rows it’s respectably priced despite the basic interior presentation.
Whereas the Palisade can keep adults content in the third row, the Santa Fe is best left to the flexibility of young bodies at its rear-most point.
Elsewhere, space is generous.
Stepping into the Active (from $48,300) adds a new floating centre console with a large storage area and power outlets beneath.
It’s a classier look which also ushers in push button gear selectors, while all controls easy to navigate.
Dual-zone ventilation and smart key entry are a few of the extras, plus 18-inch wheels — a combination providing incentive to dig deeper over the base car.
But the Elite (from $54,300) and Highlander (from $61,700) have traditionally appealed to more Santa Fe buyers.
Larger 20-inch wheels and a 10.25-inch infotainment screen incorporating navigation and digital radio tuning are the start of the tempters.
There’s also a Harman Kardon sound system, blinds for the back doors and a powered tailgate.
The Highlander gets a digital instrument cluster incorporating blind spot cameras, panoramic sunroof, Nappa leather, ambient lighting, heated and ventilated front seats and heated rear seats.
The external body cladding which is black on other models is painted on the Highlander, while inside there are aluminium highlights and a suede roof lining.
The 3.5-litre V6 has taken a slight drop in power, but still delivers a healthy 200kW and 331Nm.
There weren’t any to sample at the launch event, although the 2.2-litre four-cylinder is more relevant anyway as it’s expected to account for the bulk of sales.
With 148kW and 440Nm, its outputs are almost identical to the model it replaces (there’s a single extra kilowatt), however it’s a very different engine.
Now constructed to aluminium, it’s lighter and has a broader spread of pull across the rev range, in turn making it nicer to drive.
Refinement has also been produced for less diesel clatter.
But the biggest difference is the transmission, which has switched from a traditional auto to a twin-clutch unit helping lower fuel use from 7.5L/100km to a claimed 6.1.
It’s not quite as progressive as the old auto on steep take-offs, but it’s a terrific example of a dual-clutch transmission, generally shifting smoothly and precisely.
With a smaller, lighter body than the Palisade there’s some truth to the sportier promise: the Santa Fe is respectably agile for a seven-seat SUV.
The top models’ 20-inch wheels deliver more grip, with a minimal penalty to comfort.
The Santa Fe is also nicely controlled, its suspension dealing admirably with large lumps and thumps; some occasional suspension noise is a rare blip on an otherwise calm cabin.
It adds up to a car getting the basics right without tingling the senses.
The base model misses out on the interior flair of the latest update, but all others look and feel classier while bringing more equipment and a sweeter diesel engine.
2021 HYUNDAI SANTA FE SPECIFICATIONS
- Variants Base; Active; Elite; Highlander
- Price $44,700; $48,300; $54,300; $61,700 (add $3500 for diesel AWD)
- Engines 3.5-litre V6 petrol; 2.2-litre turbo four-cylinder turbo diesel
- Outputs 200kW/331Nm; 148kW/440Nm
- Transmission Eight-speed automatic, FWD (petrol) or AWD (diesel)
- Fuel economy 10.5L/100km; 6.1L/100km