2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander 2.2D review

  • Doors and Seats
  • Engine
  • Engine Power
  • Fuel
  • Manufacturer
  • Transmission
  • Warranty
  • Ancap Safety

No longer Hyundai’s family flagship, the seven-seat Santa Fe can relax a little. Big brother Palisade can do all the hard work, while Santa Fe gets to look trendy and feel plush.

  • Interior design dares to be different
  • So much standard equipment for the price
  • Advanced driver assist and safety tech

  • Some low-speed lurching from the transmission
  • Closer to a 5+2 than a true seven-seater
  • Child seat mounts and curtain airbags absent from the third row

As the top model in the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe range, the Highlander shown here isn’t just a family SUV – it’s an incredibly well-kitted family SUV.

With the bigger Palisade above it, buyers have a more roomy option if they need it, but for occasional third-row use, or something a little more city-sized, the Santa Fe fits the bill.

While the cheapest front-wheel-drive V6 Santa Fe starts from $44,700, opt for the range-topping 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander and its available turbo diesel engine and all-wheel drive, and you’ll be looking at $65,200 plus on-road costs.

It’s worth noting, too, that the V6 models are front-wheel drive only and diesels are all-wheel drive only in the Santa Fe range.

A flagship though it may be, the Santa Fe Highlander diesel still sneaks in well under the $70K mark before on-road costs. And its list price undercuts all-wheel-drive rivals like the top-shelf Nissan Pathfinder Ti V6, Toyota Kluger Kluger Grande, and top-shelf version of Mazda’s CX-8 and CX-9 twins.

From the outside, you can pick the Santa Fe Highlander thanks to body-coloured exterior plastics, LED head and tail-lights, power-folding, heated exterior mirrors, a massive panoramic sunroof, and machined-face 20-inch alloy wheels.

Key details 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander 2.2D
Price (MSRP) $65,200 plus on-road costs
Colour of test car Glacier white
Options Camel beige interior ($295)
Price as tested $65,495 plus on-road costs
Rivals Mazda CX-8 | Kia Sorento | Toyota Kluger

While you probably wouldn’t call the Santa Fe’s design direction avant garde, it’s perhaps not as conventional as the rest of its segment.

Major controls are laid out as you’d expect to find them, but a raised centre console, push-button gear selection, and a bold two-tone leather treatment give the Hyundai a distinct interior look.

The plush side of things is taken care of by nappa leather seat trim, electrically adjustable front seats with heating and cooling, heated outboard second-row seats, steering wheel heating, two-zone climate control with booster fan controls for the third row, and a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster.

The bridge-style centre console means that cupholders and oddments storage aren’t huge, but underneath the upper section is a large lower pass-through suitable for stashing a handbag, laptop or similar.

Seat space in the first row is generous, though the high console can (a little deceptively) make the Santa Fe feel a touch more compact than it really is.

The second row packs in plenty of adjustment, is able to slide fore and aft, and has an adjustable backrest. Bigger passengers can use this to get a just-right travelling position on long trips, but for young parents, the flexibility makes it easy to find the perfect child seat fit and ensure the little ones aren’t out of reach.

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The rear doors also feature handy retractable sunshades behind already privacy-tinted glass. Access into the third row is via a one-touch release button that flips the seat backrest forward and allows it to slide easily to load the third-row seats.

The third-row seats don’t quite match the first two in terms of space and versatility. As expected there’s less space back there, but kids will fit with no major qualms. There’s even air ventilation, armrests, and cupholders back there. A proper three-row set-up, not just a cargo space with seats.

As for boot space, with the third row tucked out of sight, Hyundai claims a minimum of 571L or up to 782L depending on where the second row is positioned. With the third row up, there’s 130L available.

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander 2.2D
Seats Seven
Boot volume 130L / 571L-782L
Length 4770mm
Width 1900mm
Height 1710mm
Wheelbase 2765mm

Infotainment and Connectivity

On the infotainment front, a 10.25-inch touch display grants access to inbuilt climate control, Bluetooth, AM/FM/DAB+ radio, wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and an in-car intercom to boost the driver’s voice to the rear seats using the car stereo.

That audio system, by the way, is a 10-speaker Harman Kardon-branded one. As for USB charge points, there are five in the cabin – two up front, two for the middle row, and one in the third row.

There’s a wireless charger up front, but you have to slide your phone in, cassette style. Great for minimising distraction, but hard to do if you’re precious about scratching your phone’s finish.

Hyundai has gone maybe a little over the top with some of its built-in features too.

There’s a Sounds of Nature function for ambient white-noise scenarios, like the sounds of a crackling fire, an outdoor cafe, or a snowy walk. We all know real family life will see the demand for Wiggles from a certain age, or endless Ariana Grande at a later point, so while it seems a little odd, this could be the perfect respite.

As the one with the lot, the Santa Fe Highlander packs in an extensive list of standard safety and assist equipment, like a blind-spot camera feed to assist when changing lanes, 360-degree camera, reverse collision assist, and even the ability to park in or out of a space using the key fob as a remote.

That’s on top of features found in other Santa Fe models, like adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, driver-attention monitoring, safe-exit assist, rear occupant reminder, lane keeping and lane-following assist, rear cross-traffic alert, tyre pressure monitoring and six airbags, with curtain bags for the first and second rows.

Up to three top-tether or two ISOFIX child seats can be mounted in the second row (but not the third row).

The Santa Fe carries a five-star ANCAP score from 2018. The Santa Fe scored 94 per cent for adult occupant protection, 86 per cent for child occupant protection, 67 per cent for vulnerable road users (pedestrians and cyclists), and 78 per cent for safety-assist systems. This score was not upgraded to reflect the changes introduced in 2021 with the addition of intersection-assist autonomous emergency braking on top of the pedestrian and cyclist-detection AEB already fitted.

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander 2.2D
ANCAP rating Five stars (tested 2018)
Safety report Link

In terms of ownership costs, the diesel Santa Fe calls for a scheduled service every 12 months or 15,000km, with capped-price servicing available at $459 per visit for the first five services, or as pre-paid packages for $1377 for three years, up to $2295 for five years.

Hyundai’s warranty is a five-year, unlimited-kilometre term.

Official fuel consumption claims put the Santa Fe at 6.1 litres per 100 kilometres, and on test, admittedly in some very light traffic, we recorded a fractionally higher 6.3L/100km in a mix of highway and urban driving.

At a glance 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander 2.2D
Warranty Five years / unlimited km
Service intervals 12 months / 15,000km
Servicing costs $1377 (3yrs) | $2295 (5yrs)
Fuel cons. (claimed) 6.1L/100km
Fuel cons. (on test) 6.3L/100km
Fuel type Diesel
Fuel tank size 67L

The Hyundai Santa Fe’s drivetrain is a consummate all-rounder. It’s relaxed and smooth enough around town, but it has some muscle to flex if you fill every seat in the cabin, without feeling stressed.

Hyundai’s 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel engine produces 148kW at 3800rpm and 440Nm between 1750 and 2750rpm, and comes paired with an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic and all-wheel drive.

It’s a smooth and composed powertrain able to shrug off low-speed work without feeling jittery, and smooth and swift as you pile on speed. On test we noticed that if you tried for a quick off-the-line start, the Santa Fe could hesitate and counterintuitively slow progress. But roll onto the throttle more gently and it can be quite spry.

There were a few instances where the dual-clutch automatic could pause or shudder, only slightly, but still there all the same. If you have a steep driveway you’re likely to notice it the most, otherwise it may not come into play.

The suspension is tuned more for comfort than dynamics, so you get excellent bump absorption and a brilliant ability to take the edge off the myriad lumps and bumps that litter suburban streets.

The steering isn’t as precise or dialled in as a result, but for a car that’s likely to have the whole family on board at times, that more relaxed and settled feel is reassuring. At parking speeds there’s plenty of assistance too, making parking a breeze.

Engine refinement is good but perhaps not great. While Hyundai’s diesel has recently been treated to a raft of updates to keep it modern, there’s still some trademark diesel clatter at certain points in the rev range.

It’s not so disruptive as to intrude, but you’ll tend to find it at its noisiest and most vibey at those all-important around-town, light-throttle points that the Santa Fe is likely to do the most.

Key details 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander 2.2D
Engine 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel
Power 148kW @ 3800rpm
Torque 440Nm @ 1750-2750rpm
Drive type All-wheel drive
Transmission Eight-speed dual-clutch automatic
Power to weight ratio 76.2kW/t
Weight (kerb) 1943kg
Tow rating 2500kg braked / 750kg unbraked
Turning circle 11.4m

With more compact external dimensions than something like a Toyota Kluger, but an interior that remains both practical and surprisingly plush, the Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander carries plenty of appeal.

Its rearmost dimensions may not be the best fit for families who’ll use the third row every day, but for semi-regular weekend use, or extended family outings, it does the job well.

Hyundai’s incredibly strong list of standard equipment is where the Santa Fe really shines, however. Whereas some rivals will have you in a mid-spec model for similar money, the Santa Fe Highlander’s list of luxuries is long.

Those looking for a prestige experience, without the need to spend six figures to seat seven, need look no further.

Ratings Breakdown

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander Wagon

8.2/ 10

Interior Comfort & Packaging

Infotainment & Connectivity

Kez Casey migrated from behind spare parts counters to writing about cars over ten years ago. Raised by a family of automotive workers, Kez grew up in workshops and panel shops before making the switch to reviews and road tests for The Motor Report, Drive and CarAdvice.

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