When it comes to great crossovers, the 2021 Hyundai Santa Cruz Calligraphy ranks as one of the best. It's the new top level trim for the Santa Fe as of this year, slotting in above the Limited trim. To prove the Santa Fe Calligraphy's mettle and refinement is the, we took one out to Washington State and Orcas Island in the Pacific. 

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy front 34
Up on a hilltop on beautiful Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington.

What's important to note about the segment in which the Santa Fe competes (compact crossover) is that these vehicles have to do a lot. They need to comfortably hold a family of 4 to 5, have good cargo capacity, decent gas mileage, and great safety while still looking stylish, driving smoothly, and provide optional, of not standard, all-wheel drive. The Santa Fe has its work cut out for it against a large field of competitors including the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Mazda CX-5, Jeep Cherokee, Ford Escape, Nissan Rogue, Chevrolet Equinox, and the Subaru Forester. But nothing at the Santa Fe Calligraphy's price offers its level of luxury appointments. 

What are the Santa Fe Trim Levels?

2021 Santa Fe Calligraphy front

The Santa Fe has come a long way, and the top-tier Calligraphy trim is new to the model for 2021. What was once a great model now has a trim level that creeps up into premium territory without the premium pricing. It pulls nearly the same level of opulence directly from the bigger three-row Palisade. In order for you to understand what the Calligraphy trim level is, you have to take a look at the full range of Santa Fe models starting with the base-level SE trim. Here are the trim levels and prices. 

  • SE:  $27,200
  • SEL:  $29,000
  • XRT:  $32,300
  • Limited:  $38,960
  • Calligraphy:  $40,960

2021 hyundai santa fe calligraphy interior

Even the SEL, the second-level up from the base trim gets a hefty dose of great standard features that include heated seats, heated side mirrors, eight-way power driver's seat with two-way power lumbar, proximity key with pushbutton start, wireless device charging, blind spot collision avoidance assist, and rear cross-traffic collision avoidance assist.

If you jump all the way to the top-tier Calligraphy trim, some of the standard features include HTRAC All-Wheel Drive, Nappa leather seating, power-release second-row seats, rear side window sunshades, 10.25" navigation touchscreen, full-color head-up display, Harman Kardon premium audio, 12.3" digital instrument cluster, Ultrasonic rear occupant alert, smart cruise control w/ stop and go, and surround-view monitor. There's also a special 20" set of chunky, two-tone Calligraphy wheels that look fantastic.

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How Does It Look?

2021 hyundai santa fe calligraphy 58
From the side view, the Santa Fe Calligraphy looks both rugged and refined.

The Santa Fe has gone through a refresh for the 2021 model year, and it's not insignificant by any means. First of all, the front fascia is all new. The fascia gets a wider grille with a new triangular mesh pattern and T-shaped headlights. The shoulders are now more sharply creased. Unbeknownst to most folks, the 2021 Santa Fe also migrated to a whole new platform that's shared with the newly redesigned 2021 Kia Sorento.

2021 hyundai santa fe calligraphy grille

We think the Santa Fe is one of the better-looking compact crossovers around, really only bested by the Mazda CX-5 in terms of proportions. But its overall appearance is more premium thanks to the fancy grille and the chrome trim that's tastefully used. My wife has a 2014 Santa Fe Sport 2.0T AWD, and it still looks great. But if you put it side-by-side with the 2021 Santa Fe, it definitely looks cheaper and less refined. It's hard to believe how far the Santa Fe has come in a mere seven years, having been elevated to near-premium status. 

2021 hyundai santa fe calligraphy taillight

The result is a body that's longer, slightly wider, and lower than before. The profile is longer and more elegant with great use of creases and sculpting in the doors. There's a nice uptick in the side rear window just in front of the D-pillar. The use of chrome is nicely balanced without going overboard. The back end is pretty much unchanged from the 2020 model year, and that's a good thing because the taillights already looked great, and the contours in the liftgate give it character from the back view. 

The Interior Shines

calligraphy dash
We loved the two-tone dash and the expansive waterfall center stack and console.

The interior truly shines thanks to a clean layout, crisp digital instrumentation that changes based on driving mode selected. The upgraded but standard 10.25" infotainment touchscreen on the Calligraphy (and Limited) has great graphics, solid responsiveness, and easy menu navigation. The presence of physical buttons and knobs for audio and climate is most welcomed in an age where many manufacturers are going full touchscreen. 

calligraphy seats

We're not huge fans of the pushbutton transmission, mostly because we like conventional shifters or good rotary shift controls. But it's done well here for what it is. We just wish it would have quicker engagement. You have to wait a half second, and that's a bit annoying when you're trying to quickly get out of a parking spot or do a three-point turn. The advantage of the pushbutton setup for the transmission is the space it frees up to put most of the controls right there on the console. Everything is remarkably easy to find, and other automakers should follow suit. 

calligraphy console

The rear seats were great for our three kids (9, 6, and 4). They had no problem fitting into the seats and getting comfortable for the numerous drives we took. There's a big 39.4 inches of legroom and 58.3 inches of shoulder room. Even the middle position of row two, which in most vehicles is uncomfortable and overly flat and raised in the cushion, was plenty comfortable. Visibility for all occupants is very good with only the slight obstruction of the thicker D-pillar.

calligraphy rear seats

The safety tech works great, as well. Adaptive cruise control with stop and go is flawless, and the surround-view monitor provides peace of mind when parking with the cacophony of kids screaming at each other. We also really enjoyed the great sound of the premium Harman Kardon audio system that's standard on the Calligraphy trim, and the wireless device charging worked like a charm, too. 

How Does It Drive?

santa fe calligraphy road
Miles and miles over gravel roads and uphill on Orcas Island were no problem.

The Santa Fe Calligraphy gets the more powerful 2.5-liter turbo four that churns out 277 horsepower.  While there's a little bit of lag, there's plenty of grunt to get the Santa Fe moving. 0-60 arrives in a little over six seconds, and the dual clutch transmission manages shifts incredibly well. Thank goodness Hyundai didn't opt for a CVT. The Santa Fe with the turbo-four has plenty of passing power, even with the family and luggage loaded up. We were surprised by the level of steering feel, and turn-in is quick. The ride is balanced, and it never felt out of sorts on gravel roads, over bridge gaps, or on less-than-perfect pavement.

Fuel economy was also quite good. We drove in Sport mode most of the time, and we were at slow speeds on rural roads about 80 percent of the time. Our combined number was 18.6 mpg, which is a bit lower than the EPA 24 mpg estimate. That's pretty good considering we were fully laden with less-than-ideal road conditions and speeds. 

santa fe calligraphy ferry

We don't have many complaints about the Santa Fe Calligraphy, to be frank. If we could change one thing, it would be the pushbutton transmission, but then you'd lose out on some storage space and the centrally located controls. It's a small price to pay, and most families won't really consider it a demerit. In terms of pricing, the total came to under $45,000 (the average price of a new car as of the fall of 2021). That's more than a loaded Honda CR-V Touring, but the Santa Fe Calligraphy looks better, drives better, and has more power, amenities, and there's no CVT. 

  • 2021 Santa Fe Calligraphy Base Price: $42,100
  • Inland Freight & Handling: $1,175
  • Total Price of our Tester: $43,430

We really loved the 2021 Santa Fe Calligraphy, and we would easily consider this for our own family. If you don't need a three-row crossover, then you should definitely put this on your shopping list. It also ranks high in safety tests, so parents should have peace of mind. Not many automakers are making their top-trim vehicles fully loaded with everything standard, but the Santa Fe Calligraphy is one of them. There wasn't a single option that cost extra, and it provides both tremendous value and luxury for far less than you'd think.

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