2023 Hyundai Santa Fe Calligraphy 2.5T AWD
Class: Midsize Crossover
Color: Stormy Sea
Miles driven: 144
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Observed fuel economy: 21.2 mpg
Driving mix: 80% city, 20% highway
EPA-estimated fuel economy: 21/28/24 (mpg city/highway/combined)
Fuel type: Regular gas
Snow Performance: Excellent
Base price: $43,750 (not including $1295 destination charge)
Options on test vehicle: Carpeted floor mats ($210)
Price as tested: $45,255
The great: Luxury crossover experience for mainstream money
The good: Ample space for four passengers, excellent snow performance
The not so good: Transmission can be clunky in slow driving
Remember when TV was free? Sure, we had to watch whatever the big networks were showing at any given time, but we didn’t pay anything to do so. Things change. In 2022, the average American monthly cable bill came to $83 dollars, with many households coughing up as much as $350.
And, as a nation, we’re buying more car than we used to as well. A lot more. It wasn’t that long ago that air conditioning was optional, even on some premium-brand vehicles, and many of us made do without power windows or FM radios.
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Compared to cars of just twenty years ago, all vehicles in the U.S. now come with antilock brakes, traction control, an anti-skid system, side-impact protection, some form of mobile-device connectivity, voice recognition, a suite of advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS), plus the aforementioned Air condition, power windows, and power door locks.
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And, like the 93 TV stations we all now have access to, we’ve become a bit callous about what now is standard equipment on our cars and crossovers. Indeed, we not only expect a lot of stuff on our cars, we expect that stuff be presented well, in a fashion once reserved for luxury-brand vehicles. Which brings us the Hyundai Santa Fe.
Few new vehicles are offered in a broader array of configurations than is the Santa Fe midsize crossover. Standard 4-cylinder models are offered in entry SE, midlevel SEL, and trail-ready XRT trim. Turbocharged models come in more-premium Limited and Calligraphy trims.
Also available are a hybrid version of the Santa Fe offered in Blue, SEL Premium, and Limited levels. Finally, plug-in hybrid variants of the Santa Fe are offered in SEL Convenience and Limited trims. Add to the mix option packages and colors, and we wonder how a dealer decides how many of each version of the Santa Fe to keep in stock.
While even lower-level versions of the Santa Fe present well, it’s the surprisingly popular topline Calligraphy we’re going to talk about today. New for 2021, the Calligraphy—which starts at $43,895 with front-wheel drive—is positioned above the Limited model ($41,895). Note that the Santa Fe is offered only with seating for five passengers. Hyundai shoppers looking for a 3rd-row will need to step up the brand’s excellent Palisade.
For the extra money Calligraphy owners get head-up display, cool-looking ambient lighting, and, among other things, an upgraded cabin which includes a micro-fiber headliner and Nappa-leather seating. Twenty-inch alloy wheels (up from 19-inchers) and unique exterior trim are also part of the deal.
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Like the Limited, the Calligraphy is powered by a turbocharged 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine. The 277-horsepower powerplant mates exclusively to 8-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard. Adding AWD pads the bottom line by a reasonable $1700.
Consumer Guide recently spent a week with an AWD 2023 Santa Fe Calligraphy in Stormy Sea (that’s the color). Little changed for 2023, the Calligraphy returns as the Santa Fe flagship, and is offered pretty much fully equipped. Our test vehicle came to $45,255, including delivery and optional carpeted floor mats.
When we talk about American consumers expecting more “stuff” in and on their popular-price vehicles, the Santa Fe Calligraphy is exactly what we’re talking about. We’ve said it before, Hyundai cabins—especially upper trim-level cabins—present as legitimately premium. Indeed, looking around our test-car’s interior, it’s difficult to accept that this crossover comes in under $50,000.
The perforated leather seats and quilted door-trim accents look as if they belong in something on the order of an Audi or BMW, and the workmanship is apparently top notch. But, unlike many luxury vehicles, the Santa’s controls are elegantly simple to use. We’re grateful that many oft-used functions are handled via old-school knobs and buttons, with most less-used operations relegated to touchscreen menus.
The cabin is more than handsome, it’s very roomy, with this large author finding ample space in all four outboard seating positions. Additionally, getting in and out of the Santa Fe is pretty easy too, thanks to large door openings and adequate door height. A cabin issue noted by one of our drives: Visibility from the driver’s seat to the rear corners is compromised somewhat by the vehicle’s thick rear pillars.
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Underway the Santa Fe continues to feel upscale. Though falling a little short in the area of sportiness, the crossover handles well, and rides especially well. Adding to the sense of chassis sophistication is the cabin’s overall quietness. Higher trim-level Santa Fes are treated to additional laminated side glass, which seems to go some distance towards keeping things hushed when in motion.
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The big turbocharged 4-cylinder engine provides plenty of power, and the 8-speed dual-clutch transmission is mostly smooth and refined in operation. We noted a few awkward, ill-timed shifts at low speed in stop-and-go traffic, but generally consider this drivetrain part of the luxury equation.
We aren’t often afforded the opportunity to evaluate vehicles in serious snow, we got a chance with our test Santa Fe. Our test vehicle endured a couple of days of deep-snow—and later slush—commuting, and faired impressively well. The basics of Hyundai’s branded HTRAC AWD system vary in design based on the vehicle in question, but on the Santa Fe we found the system to work impressively well in accelerating from a stop, in deep snow, and in cornering under throttle.
That snow likely took a hit on our observed fuel economy, though given the power available, our 21.2 mpg performance feels pretty reasonable.
We named the 2023 Hyundai Santa Fe a Consumer Guide Best Buy and stand by the honor. If you haven’t come to expect luxury-level content from your popularly priced midsize crossover, you may be better served by an SEL or Limited instead of the Calligraphy. But, given the content and refinement of the Santa Fe in Calligraphy trim, we have no problem with the price. It’s like paying for HBO when Deadwood was still in first run—and getting Showtime for free.
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