2021 sees Hyundai’s popular Santa Fe receive a substantial update. The grill and headlights receive a tidy update, but the real star is the new all alloy diesel and dual clutch automatic transmission. It’s not a revelation, but a nice update on what will be the big selling drivetrain for the Santa Fe. 

As is often the case with Hyundai models, the top-spec Highlander is the sweet spot in the range. At $70k for the diesel all-wheel drive, the seven seat Highlander includes power adjustable heated Nappa leather seats front and back, multi-terrain response, smart park assist (where you can roll forward or back up with the remote key while you are out of the car), 360 degree camera, 10” infotainment display, premium sound, suede headlining along with a few nice chrome embellishments. 

In saying that, the base diesel ‘Santa Fe’ spec, er, Santa Fe comes in at a very tidy $49990 drive away. While it misses out on some of the fruit included in the Highlander, nearly everything that matters is still included: a full size spare, blind spot warning, forward collision warning, intersection collision warning (stopping you from turning in front of an oncoming car), rear cross traffic alert, active cruise control with stop-go traffic function and LED headlights (although high beam is a bit rubbish). The base model is a really compelling family prospect, but you won’t regret stretching for the Highlander. 

While the 3.5 litre petrol powertrain remains relatively unchanged, the diesel is the star of the Santa Fe show. Now matched to a dual-clutch 8 speed automatic, Hyundai are claiming a 19% improvement in fuel efficiency (now 6.1L/100km combined). 

Interestingly, the diesel is now a full alloy unit – unusual given the high internal stresses common to oil burners. Diesel might be on the nose, environmentally, but Hyundai is certainly not giving up on diesel yet.

When fitted to the Santa Fe, the 2.2 turbo diesel is smooth as silk and quiet as a mouse. In fact, I often forgot that I was driving a diesel. Hyundai has decided to go with a dual clutch automatic transmission for the Santa Fe diesel. It’s a good unit and with an oil-submerged wet clutch instead of the regular ‘dry’ clutch it should prove to be reliable and long lived. 

A rev-matching function makes for even smoother progress. While it is seamless when in ‘drive’, at very low speeds in reverse the transmission ‘pulses’ and takes effort to operate smoothly. It is rarely a problem, but attentive audiences during tight parking maneuvers should be avoided.  

Despite this small issue, this is a great car. If you’re in the market for an SUV you’d be mad not having a very close look at the Santa Fe.