CHATHAM, Mass. – “$43,000 for a Hyundai?!” “This is a Hyundai Santa Fe?!”

The surprise in my passenger’s voice about both the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe price and the overall vehicle reflects the image many Americans have of the South Korean automaker’s products, thanks to its humble beginnings some 35 years ago and several generations of value-oriented, non-descript vehicles.

That image is badly out of date and every drive in one of the newer Hyundai sedans, sport utility vehicles and crossovers reinforces the new reality: Hyundai is still a value-packed product, but its vehicles match or exceed its competitors in almost all categories.

The 2021 Santa Fe is no exception to this evolution in design, performance, engineering and satisfaction. It is a great sport utility vehicle (SUV or crossover, if you wish to use the other descriptor).

New for 2021, and the vehicle we spent the previous week driving, is the Calligraphy top-of-the-line version with standard all-wheel drive and virtually any and all features you could imagine or ask for in a VERY competitive (and within this category, value-priced) package for $42,100 ($43,130 as tested including inland freight & handling).

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One of the most comprehensive ADAS available in any vehicle

For 2021 the Santa Fe received a number of upgrades and enhancements to the relatively newly designed SUV, including additions to its already comprehensive suite of advanced driver-assist systems (ADAS).

The forward collision-avoidance assist with pedestrian detection receives an additional feature: cyclist and junction-turning detection. Also new for 2021 are rear parking collision avoidance assist; highway drive assist; lane-following assist and navigation-based smart cruise control with road-curve control.

Standard on the Santa Fe is the latest version of Hyundai’s SmartSense ADAS including:

•           Blind-spot Collision-Avoidance Assist, Rear Cross-Traffic Collision-Avoidance Assist
•           Lane Keeping Assist and Lane Following Assist
•           Blind Spot View Monitor
•           Safe Exit Assist and Ultrasonic Rear Occupant Alert
•           Driver Attention Warning
•           Smart Cruise Control with Stop and Go
•           Parking Distance Warning (Forward and Reverse)

Blind-Spot View Monitor

The Blind-Spot View Monitor with the Santa Fe’s outside mirror-mounted cameras offers the driver an enhanced field of vision, scanning for vehicles entering the driver’s blind spot. When a turn signal is activated, an image of the view from the corresponding wing mirror is displayed in the 12.3-inch cluster display.

Ultrasonic Rear Occupant Alert

Ultrasonic Rear Occupant Alert monitors the rear seats to detect the movements of children and pets, reminding drivers to check the rear seats when exiting the vehicle; if the system detects movement in the rear seats after the driver leaves the vehicle, it will sound the horn and send an alert to the driver’s smartphone.

Safe Exit Assist

Santa Fe also features Hyundai’s standard Safe Exit Assist system that uses radar to help detect cars approaching from the rear and cautions passengers seeking to exit the vehicle. If a passenger attempts to open the door when a car is approaching from behind, a visual and acoustic warning on the center cluster may alert the driver and the door may be locked.

Inside a comfortable, luxurious well-thought-out cabin

The Santa Fe appears sleek and smaller than its midsize SUV dimensions would suggest (188 inches long, 74 wide and 66 high) and inside is a cozy, intimate cabin for four comfortably and a fifth in a pinch.

Those passengers will be sitting on heated leather seats (also ventilated in the front; the driver’s has memory for its eight-way power adjustment), be comfy regardless of the weather due to the automatic dual-zone climate control, and have large windows with which they can view the world around them. And if the driver opens the large shade, the skies above thanks to the panoramic sunroof.

The heating and cooling settings can even be programmed to get the Santa Fe’s interior to the correct temperature before you get behind the wheel.

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Speaking of the steering wheel, it is also leather covered, heated and adjustable for reach and rake, thus making finding the right driving position just a matter of time and adjustment. Once settled, the driver’s view through the steering wheel is at a 12.3-inch electronic instrument cluster which can be customized to show a variety of information.

At the top, center of the dash is the new for 2021 10.25-inch multi-function color display which is part of the standard (in the Calligraphy model) navigation system. The screen interacts with the navigation system, climate-control system, vehicle settings, vehicle connectivity and infotainment system.

The latter includes AM/FM/SiriusXM satellite radio/streaming audio via Bluetooth or USB cable/Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, all pumping the sound through a Harmon Kardon® Preimium Audio System providing touch functionality for all.

These systems can be operated by a variety of well-placed, well-designed controls including the touch screen, steering wheel buttons and ergonomically placed dash buttons. There are a lot of controls and a fair of amount of education to learn all the features, but this exercise is well worth it to get the most satisfaction, enjoyment and safe operations from the Santa Fe.

The driving experience meets the expectations produced by the rest of the vehicle

As mentioned, the 2021 Santa Fe Calligraphy appears smaller and sleeker than its dimensions indicate, and it drives that way. The intimacy of the cabin, well designed, grippy seats and responsive powertrain (once over the brief turbo lag accelerating from a dead stop) make driving the Santa Fe a pleasure.

I pushed this SUV a bit, especially on several curving, hilly roads with quick changes in elevation and camber, and felt secure throughout. It was fun to drive the Santa Fe aggressively.

Doing so resulted in the 2.5-liter turbocharged engine (281 horsepower, 311 pounds-feet of torque) operating through an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and AWD producing 25.3 miles per gallon of fuel economy. This beat the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s 24 mpg overall rating (21 city, 28 highway) and was very acceptable and competitive in this segment.

The 2021 Santa Fe Calligraphy 2.5T AWD is a lot of SUV for the money. The Santa Fe lineup starts at $28,000 for the front-wheel-drive SEL model, which has a good assortment of standard features.

Throughout the Santa Fe range the quality and thoughtfulness of Hyundai shines through. There is nothing hum-drum or non-descript about this Hyundai – this is as good as it gets in the two-row, midsize SUV world.

Next week TBR Drives the Subaru Forester.