The Hyundai Santa Fe has received a complete design overhaul for its fifth generation. What was its inspiration?
The South Korean automaker is forging ahead with a new design chapter as it goes further upmarket – demonstrated with the retro Ioniq 5 and 'streamliner' Ioniq 6 EVs, edgy Tucson midsize SUV, and the futuristic-looking Staria van, Kona small SUV, and upcoming Sonata sedan facelift.
The small details are new, too.
New Hyundai models now feature 'flat' exterior badges, the steering wheel has done away with the traditional logo in favour of morse code, its full-width LED ‘Seamless Horizon Lamp’ has become a signature element, and square pixel-dot signatures adorn its electric models.
Is it ‘just’ a cut-price copycat from South Korea, or something more unique?
Things we like
- Santa Fe: Bold, rugged SUV design
- Defender: Iconic design refreshed, modern yet loyal
Not so much
- Santa Fe: Radical new design proving polarising for some
- Defender: Could look more aggressive to signal its 4x4 prowess
It seems clear Hyundai has taken some styling cues from the long new Defender 130, seen today as the ultimate off-roading luxury SUV.
The boxy and long silhouette, available coloured C- and D-pillars (the Defender has two strips at the C-pillar instead), and aggressive wheel arches on the new Santa Fe certainly gives off the rugged off-roading Land Rover vibe.
However, the Hyundai SUV still achieves its own distinct identity with separated H-shaped daytime running lights and a full-width LED light strip that looks more aggressive than the rounded, recessed eyes on the Defender.
The signature H shape also carries to the body-coloured front bumper, flanked by big, angular wheel arches in gloss black and body colour – as opposed to the Defender’s is more rounded arches that flow into the bodywork.
It also has a smaller front fender trim piece with 'Santa Fe' lettering and blacked-out pillars, although it doesn't have the middle portion between the dual sunroofs painted in black, too.
The H-shaped tail-lights are horizontally laid out lower down the tailgate – this being one of the more controversial design aspects on the new Santa Fe – connected by a black strip, with a reflector panel extending to the side of the body.
Meanwhile, the Defender has more rounded vertically-stacked ‘squircle’ tail-lights, with a similar black strip extending up into the rear glass.
Of course, only the Land Rover attaches the full-size spare wheel at the back of the tailgate, though it opens with a less practical swinging barn door mechanism instead.
Things we like
- Santa Fe: Upmarket-looking interior
- Defender: Balances luxury and utilitarian design
Not so much
- Santa Fe: Button-heavy centre console stack no longer
- Defender: Arguably too utilitarian for its price point
The 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe carries the Land Rover-esque theme inside, but appears less utilitarian than the Defender in pictures.
Both large upmarket SUVs feature a prominent centre console divider, undertray storage, and double-stitched armrest.
Hyundai has strangely adopted a morse code design in a silver strip on its steering wheel. There's also now a more prominent three-spoke design – with a design similar to the company’s flagship Grandeur limousine in South Korea. The Land Rover’s wheel has a more purposeful, rugged-looking four-spoke design.
The Santa Fe’s centre console appears to be deeper, too, with dual Qi wireless charging pads and a UV-C sanitising mode. It connects to a slanted touchscreen climate control panel flanked by two Defender-esque protruding temperature dials. But, while the Defender has a protruding gear stick, the Santa Fe has attached it to the steering wheel column.
The Hyundai also has slicker dual curved 12.3-inch widescreen displays running its newest operating system, whereas the Land Rover adopts its latest 11.4-inch Pivi Pro system with a more square aspect ratio and is also on curved glass, albeit vertically convex.
In a way, the Defender's infotainment treatment is refreshingly old-school, with so many new models adopting the same, nearly identical expansive displays used by the Santa Fe.
The Santa Fe offers an additional storage box on the dashboard, H-shaped air vents positioned lower down, swaps the faux screw holes on the doors for wood trim (at least on the variant pictured), and includes ambient lighting and environmentally-conscious materials throughout the cabin.
Hyundai hasn’t provided any pictures of the rear seats, though.
A budget Defender 130 rival? Nah.
The new Santa Fe might look like it's ready to take on the Defender in a desert-crossing duel, but it'll be far happier on the road.
Still, for any buyer drawn to the Defenders looks more than its off-road capability, the new Santa Fe could be considered a half-price Defender.
The current Santa Fe starts from $46,050 before on-road costs, so expect a price rise. For context, it’s now $5100 more expensive to get into the recently-released Hyundai Kona small SUV, due to its larger design and the removal of poorer-specced, entry-level variants.
The all-new Santa Fe is the boldest and most upmarket approach yet in its 23-year-old history – and even makes the larger Palisade SUV look middling. However, Hyundai’s ambitious new design move may also polarise some, especially for existing owners.
The carmaker will announce full details next month, ahead of an Australian launch in the first half of next year.