For some time now, Hyundai’s been hauling in award after award for new electric vehicles, Ioniq 5 and Ioniq 6 as well as its flagship sport-utility vehicle, the full-size Pallisade.
The Pallisade, which arrived in 2020, has been the topper on the South Korean automaker’s collection of SUVs it’s been working to expand for years. The warm, fuzzy reception of the full-size ute has evened out into multi-year love affair.
It’s almost enough to make you forget it’s got a slew of other impressive utes, notably the ute slotted just under it, the Santa Fe.
The 2023 Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy with all-wheel drive has been a nice compliment to its large sibling. It offers great value as well as a premium feel in the Calligraphy trim level. Consumers seem to agree as sales for the two-row, five-passenger ute are up 8% through April.
It comes in a slew of trim packages, starting with entry level SE and rising through the SEL, XRT, Blue, Limited and finally Calligraphy, which puts the SUV in the near premium range.
The exterior design is simple, but attractive. It’s anchored by a large grille that’s difficult to miss. It makes the Santa Fe look athletic and capable, but not comical. The grille is flanked by slit-like headlights that are ubiquitous in Hyundai’s line-up of crossovers and SUVs
As you move down the side of the Santa Fe, you pick up a crease that emanates from the edge of the headlight, running along its beltline from front to rear, ending at the edge of the taillight. It’s mirrored with a crease along the bottom third of the doors that give it some balance, offering definition and symmetry.
The rear of the Santa Fe is essentially a complement to the rest of the vehicle. That crease that melds into to the taillights splits where the seam for the liftgate is, creating a new “almost” spoiler across the back of the liftgate. Not as compelling as the rest of the vehicle, but it completes the athletic and modern look of the Santa Fe.
Moving inside, our tester’s black interior contrasted nicely with the Shimmering silver exterior, and the light brought in by the panoramic roof gives the ute a premium feel.
That feel carries over to the Nappa leather seats with quilted uppers in both rows of seats. The seats are supple, providing plenty of support while access to the second-row split bench seat is easy and comfortable.
What I enjoy about the Santa Fe is its simplicity. It’s not spare, but it’s not overdone. It’s elegance through efficiency.
That is until you get to the center console where a dizzying array of buttons awaits you. It’s home to the gear selector — buttons, climate controls — buttons, seat warmers and ventilators — buttons, and infotainment controls — yup, you guessed it: buttons.
However, if you take a few minutes when you first get in, and you’ll quickly see there is a method to the madness. And in an era where drivers must plod through multiple touchscreen menus to accomplish the simplest of tasks … this is better.
The Santa Fe Calligraphy is powered by a 2.5-liter turbocharged inline 4, mated to an 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters. It puts out 281 horsepower and features HRTRAC, Hyundai’s all-wheel drive system.
It offers more than enough power for any maneuver you’re inclined to undertake. The inline 4 cylinder, according to the EPA, gets 21 mpg in the city, 28 on the highway and 24 mpg combined. I got a little over 25 mpg without working too hard.
And while it is an SUV with all-wheel drive, its off-road adventure capability is limited … or basically nil. However, the all-wheel drive here is great for snowy days and rain-slickened roads to give you a litte bit of assurance that you’ll be able to get to wherever you’re going.
Safety and Technology
Since we’re talking about getting where you want to go safely, let’s tackle that first. The Santa Fe features plenty of driver assistance and safety technology expected on upper trim level SUVs in this segment. Of note are the cameras that display the vehicle’s blind spots when a turn signal is activated, just giving you an added measure of confidence that comes with better vision — it also help the driver lower the chances of curb rash.
It also features a surround view monitor, blind-spot view monitor, rear cross-traffic collision-avoidance assist, forward collision-avoidance assist, parking collision-avoidance assist, lane following assist and enough airbags to allow the ute to float.
Now that you feel safe, you should be comfortable which starts with heated and ventilated seats in the front row, they’re just heated in the back. The 12.3-inch instrument cluster allows for a clear view of all readouts — although the amazingly crisp head-up display may make it obsolete — while a 10.25-inch touchscreen gives you easy access to all the infotainment controls.
That infotainment is anchored by a Harman Kardon premium sound system so when you link to Apple CarPlay or Android Auto the music or podcasts sound crystal clear — and they do. Again, the gear selector and many of the climate controls are tied to a button-laden panel, but I forgive it due to the easy-to-use wireless phone charger.
I could prattle on about body roll (there’s some), wanting a little more off-the-line power (I do), or are the seats as good as they look (they’re better in my opinion) — but those concerns are secondary when you’re driving a vehicle like the Santa Fe Calligraphy.
No one’s racing this thing around town or traveling out their favorite off-road rock climbing trail in the Santa Fe. They want to put four or five people and their stuff in it comfortably while feeling like the can easily merge with highway traffic and the Santa Fe certainly does that without any problem.
2023 Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy AWD Specifications
|Dimensions||L: 188.4 inches/W: 74.8 inches/H: 66.3 inches/Wheelbase: 108.9 inches|
|Powertrain||2.5-liter inline 4-cylinder engine with electric motor; 8-speed automatic transmission and AWD|
|Fuel Economy||21 mpg city/28 mpg highway/24 mpg combined|
|Performance Specs||281 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque|
|Price||Base price: $43,750; As tested: $45,255 plus $1,295 destination and handling|
|On-Sale Date||Available now|
So, for a little more than $45 grand, you can get a spacious, comfortable, capable near-luxury SUV, which is a tough deal to beat these days.
That makes it worth a look and a test drive in my book.